TV star Ardisson's battle to protect Parisian arcades

Thierry Ardisson Image copyright F. Darmigny
Image caption Thierry Ardisson wants to protect aesthetic Paris

A French TV host's campaign to ban junk-food stalls on the chic Rue de Rivoli has got le tout Paris wondering: "What on Earth is eating our Thierry?"

France's answer to Jay Leno (sort of), Thierry Ardisson is Gallic media-man personified.

He is smart, a bit of a big-mouth, and regularly to be seen on chat-shows being applauded by airbrushed studio audiences.

Fittingly for a television celebrity, he also lives at number 214 Rue de Rivoli, one of the nicer addresses in the capital.

From his window on the fourth floor, the view over the Tuileries Gardens and the Musee d'Orsay is stupendous.

But it's not the view that bugs Ardisson. It's what awaits him when he steps out of his front door.

The arcades of the Rue de Rivoli were commissioned by Napoleon, and for a century and a half were one of the delights of the city.

You came to stroll and take a coffee or browse alongside the booksellers and the antique-dealers who ran the little boutiques.

Today, fumes Ardisson, the glory has gone.

Tatty scene

Instead, there are souvenir shops selling chef's hats and two-euro Eiffel Towers.

The pavement is riddled with pot-holes (or hen's nests as the French call them), and some of the marvellous old floor mosaics are hidden by tourist tat.

Image caption Souvenir shops have appeared on the Rue de Rivoli

Worse, the food outlets sell junk sandwiches and junk kebabs.

"I love kebabs, but not here. At Barbes [an area with a large Arab population]," Ardisson says in a video.

So incensed is the presenter that he has created the Association for the Defence of the Arcades of the Rue de Rivoli (ADAR).

He claims to have the support of the Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, as well as the prefecture of police and the ministry of culture.

What he wants is for the authorities to enforce by-laws that govern the arcades, some of which go back to the mid-19th Century.

For example, a decree dated 1855 forbids tradespeople along the arcades from using an oven.

They must allow free access for pedestrians along the walkway, and they must not put up pictures or advertisements.

Because the arcades are not a historical monument, it is up to the owners of the buildings to enforce the rules.

And this, says Ardisson, they are singularly failing to do.

Rich man's Nimbyism?

When I meet Thierry Ardisson in his apartment, he is kindness itself.

He is happy to field my nastier questions, such as: is his behaviour not the worst kind of rich man's Nimbyism?

Image caption The historical and modern on the Rue de Rivoli

"The arcades of the Rue de Rivoli are famous throughout the world. They are sublime. But they have fallen into ruin. All I want to do is limit the damage," he says.

"Of course I know I can't return them to the way they were in the 60s. The world has changed. But we can slow down the decrepitude."

It turns out that Ardisson - a self-made man who arrived in Paris from the south in 1969 - is that rare thing in France: a monarchist.

"I believe in your British constitution, the Westminster system, but obviously here in France that is a lost cause!

"We'll never have a king again. So I believe in lost causes. But as I always say: you don't have to have hope in order to act. You do what you can."

Ardisson started off in Paris as an advertising maestro.

He devised several well-known French slogans such as: "Quand c'est trop, c'est Tropico" ("When it's too much, it's Tropico").

Later he moved into television production and then presenting.

His Saturday evening talk show Tout le monde en parle (Everyone is talking about it) made him a household name.

Paris aesthetic

Today, he takes a pessimistic view of the state of the nation. His arcade ire is part of it.

"There is a Paris aesthetic which we should be protecting," he says. "Once - when we were the fifth nation in the world - we did. Not any more.

"But given that now about the only thing we can count on to keep us going is the visiting Chinese tourists, surely we should be maintaining the things that we can offer them?

Image caption Has the famous street seen better days?

"I never used to believe it when people said France was becoming a museum - with Paris the centrepiece. But now I do. That's exactly what we have become.

"So I say if that's all that's left, at least let's preserve it."

He adds: "Of course I am being criticised for being rich and only caring about the arcades because I live here. Well yes, I do live here - so it is my business.

"And as for being rich, when I came to Paris I had 50 francs in my pocket - $10 [£6.50; nine euros]. If I live in the Rue de Rivoli it is because I worked.

"But in France we have an egalitarian mindset. It's not the done thing to succeed.

"I have nothing against the people working downstairs. But they have to be told to work inside, not under the arcades."

Lament for old Paris

The odd thing is that the picture downstairs could be a whole lot worse.

Yes, there are some tatty boutiques selling awful Parisian gewgaws, and, yes, they push on to the pavement beyond what the rules permit. But the campaign feels a little… over the top.

One fast-food seller said he had a microwave and a toaster for his croque-monsieurs, and he was sorry if that was against the rules - but how else was he supposed to serve his clients?

As for the "kebabs" - the killer quote in Ardisson's internet video - actually there are none. No-one serves kebabs on the Rue de Rivoli.

So what is eating our Thierry?

Well, he is not the first person to lament the changing times in Paris.

Let's be clear: there is nothing remotely racist or class-ist about his campaign.

But like so many people, he has an image of what Paris used to be, and what it should be. And it is not what Paris is.

Like any good Frenchman, he really feels it.

Related Topics