I’ve been name dropping Saint Eustache a lot – not the actual saint but the church – because, well, I like it. I went in the other day to discover the magnificence of its interior for myself and as you can imagine, it’s pretty special, and when you come to Paris to visit me then I’ll take you there to have a look around. You’ll be like, ‘piss off, I’m going to Pigalle for the brasses’. And I’ll say, ‘could you not use that pejorative please, you sound like a policeman?’
I haven’t bothered God much in twenty odd years, and yet there’s something so enticing about religious buildings. If religions were about worshipping the buildings rather than some figment of the imagination eked out in two millennia old texts printed on tracing paper then I’d definitely become a Muslim I think. The dedication and the attention to detail continues to astonish me from place to place. Saint Eustache for instance, took centuries to build and amalgamates the styles of gothic, renaissance, baroque and neoclassical in one beautiful structure. And then you have to wonder how many men were accidentally killed in the construction of these monstrosities, their deaths glossed over because they weren’t deemed important enough to be remembered. Or am I being melodramatic here? There was no health and safety in the 15th century you know.
Anyway, I actually managed to write a piece about Saint Eustache, and the market at Les Halles that it used to overlook before they tore it down in 1971 and replaced it with a municipal garden that ended up rife with drug dealers. I think the piece was pretty good, though given that I pitched it to a tourism site and then launched a thinly veiled attack on the urbanistes of the first arrondissement, then I’m unsure where that leaves us. I mean it’s no great secret they made a mess of the place, but that’s probably not what prospective tourists want to read is it? I await correspondence with interest.
The market was eight centuries old when they bulldozed it, and there were apparently these gorgeous old steel-and-glass pavilions (hence the name Les Halles) that got desecrated, with the meat packers and the fruit sellers packed off to the Marché de Rungis. It wasn’t only an act of vandalism, they also tore the soul out of the area, and when you look upon the Henri de Miller Écoute sculpture surrounded by debris and wire netting you realise it’s still going to be years before the regeneration of the botched revamp is even going to start taking shape. In this age of hysteria we’re living through where retrospective retribution is now potentially on the table, can we go back and hang the town planners once we’ve locked up all the greedy bankers? Or something.
Poignantly, there’s a tableau of the market made in 1968 inside Saint Eustache, and you can check out photographs taken in the same year by Robert Doisneau online if you’re anywhere near a search engine. It’s like Borough market with berets only much bigger and where everyone is smoking fags. Not very hygienic, but splendid nonetheless, and I say that as a vegetarian ex-smoker.
And as for the cathedral, well its is practically empty during the day, which is in huge contrast to its sister down the road, Notre Dame. Saint Eustache is the thinking person’s gothic cathedral of choice. You don’t have to queue and there’ll definitely be no nazi historians shooting their own faces off in the afternoon.