Friday, May 17, 2013


I was reading James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime the other day and came to a scene in Paris, quite near the beginning, set at the old Les Halles market in the early hours of the morning. As soon as I started reading this scene, familiar images flashed into my mind of the photographs taken there by Tom Palumbo in 1962, which I've always loved. A Sport and a Pastime was published in 1967, Les Halles was demolished in 1971 and replaced by the Forum des Halles - the depressing, labyrinthine underground shopping centre and Chatelet-Les-Halles transport hub where I've never been without feeling lost and that I'll never emerge above ground again. Together James Salter's book and Tom Palumbo's photographs transport me to a place that was razed to the ground before I was born, as if I'd been there myself, clattering over cobblestones in the dark, looking for the pig place.

 Below, some excerpted paragraphs from the book interspersed with some of Tom Palumbo's images of Les Halles:

Isabel laughs. The evening has only begun.
At three in the morning - Christina never goes to bed when she's drinking - we are wandering through the disorder of Les Halles. The air is chilly at this hour, noises seem to ring in it. The workmen glance up from their crates at the unmistakeable sound of high heels. Isabel is talking. Christina. They are pointing everything out. We trail foolishly between great barricades of fruit and produce, past empty bars, through the carts and trucks. Finally we emerge at the roaring, iron galleries where meat is handled. ..........

"We're really going to sleep sometime?" Billy asks.

"Let's go to the pig place," Isabel says.
"Sweetheart, where is it? Isn't it right around here?"
"It's just down the street," Billy says.
It takes us ten minutes to find it. Of course, there's an enormous crowd, there always is this time of night. Taxis are waiting with their lights on dim. Cars are parked everywhere. The restaurant is filled. There are tourists, wedding parties, people who've been to cabarets, others who've stayed up in order to visit the famous market. It's said they are planning to move it to a location outside the city, it will soon be gone.

Au Pied de Cochon - the pig place! 
Somehow we find a table. Billy is rubbing his hands. There's a delicious odor of rich, encrusted soup which is the specialty. Christina doesn't want any, she wants wine. ..........

The crowd is thick. The waiters struggle to get through. They seem to hear nothing, or it has no effect. The patrons are multiplying as if in a dream. Incredible faces on every side, Algerian, bony as feet, cardboard American, the pink of French. Isabel is laughing, laughing. ..........

"Don't ever marry a Frenchman," she says. Then she laughs. She is hugging Coco, her poodle, and laughing.

{Excerpted passages from A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter, photographs by Tom Palumbo, Les Halles, 1962.}


Bombay Beauty said...

brilliant post! by another coincidence salter is on my summer reading list. there was an interesting profile of him in the new yorker recently -- did you seen it?


Claire said...

BB - I haven't read it, though I did read an excellent recent Guardian interview, which seemed to think the New Yorker one was "snitty"!

Will check out the New Yorker piece before passing judgment on snittiness.

Are you going to read his new book? I'm hoping to before I see him at the Southbank Centre next weekend.


Bombay Beauty said...

oh exciting. i wouldn't have called the nyer write snitty, but in some ways it's fair. it puts great praise of his writing against his perhaps even greater ambitions. will take a look a the guardian piece!



Hillary said...

Wow. Just wow. Stumbled onto your site and SO glad I did. Beautiful words, beautiful images... uggh. You've got a follower in me now for sure :)