I was over near Les Halles today. Until 1971 it was the great open air wholesale produce market of the city of lights. It was known as the “stomach of Paris.” In 1971 the wholesale market was moved to the suburbs, and it was replaced with a not so very successful underground shopping center.
I was in the neighborhood because we wanted to visit St. Eustache. It is a stunning Gothic cathedral with a Renaissance interior. What caught my eye was a wooden tableau/carving on one of the side altars that had been placed there in 1979. It is titled The departure of the fruits and vegetables from the heart of Paris. It is a lamentation on the end of the open wholesale markets in Paris and what that meant for the life and perhaps the soul of the city.
In this wooden sculptural diorama you see the vendors slipping out of Les Halles in the Parisian night weighted down by their vegetables. The cathedral of St. Eustache is in the background
The artist has placed an explanation of his work nearby, and I find it a very poetic lamentation on what it means to banish the fruits of the garden from the heart of the city. Allow me a loose translation of part of it.
“The market of fruits and vegetables, marvels of nature, which stood at night under the stars in the historic center of the most beautiful city in the world, surpassed by far a mere matter of commerce…. To tell the truth, the Les Halles market was the last image of nature in the city. It is now a paradise lost.”
What happens to a city (to a village, to a suburb) when it loses its connection to the land? Paris held on longer than most places. A market of fruits and vegetables holds a higher meaning than what commerce dictates and when we surrender that we loose a piece of where we stand under the stars.