Mind-boggling Galeries Lafayette is a true French landmark
WE WERE in a taxi in Paris traffic. This is never good. Paris traffic is rarely anything but frantic, even at two in the morning. But this was midday and we were at an intersection where four roads had somehow become 10, with a jangle of cars, buses and trucks moving into the middle of the intersection before the lights had permitted them to do so, and then becoming entangled with those already there who couldn't get out when the lights permitted them to do so.
It was a typical Parisian traffic mess with much horn honking and arm waving but our driver kept battling his way through.
"Why do we have to visit yet another gallery?” the usually patient husband groaned at me in the back of the taxi. We'd already done two the day before, one that morning, and now we were on way to Galeries Lafayette.
"It is not a gallery, it is a department store,” I told him, which brought an even bigger groan.
However, when we arrived at the handsome building on Blvd Hausmann - after getting out of the taxi in the middle of the traffic jam and walking - there was some jaw dropping on the part of the husband. I already knew Galeries Lafayette was fabulous. I'd seen pictures. He hadn't.
This Parisian icon, created in 1894, is an over-the-top department store beneath a fabulous art nouveau dome housing 70,000sq m of shopping paradise. Almost every desirable brand in the world can be found in this stylish space, so much luxury the mind can't take it all in.
On the ground floor you must weave your way around the hundreds of tourists straining their necks up the lofty 33 metres to the magnificent cupola, taking selfies, trying and failing to capture the grandeur of it. (I tried a selfie with my head back and the stained-glass dome above me and all I ended up with were a dozen photos of my nostrils.)
We moved about Galeries Lafayette in a haze of awe, perhaps even more impressed with this historic department store than we were the first time we visited the Eiffel Tower.
We rode the escalators, gazed down the tiers of arched balconies with their fine wrought iron and then looked up again to the vibrant colours of the dome. We marvelled at the number of classy restaurants and bars scattered among the stylish displays of Dior and Chanel. We did not even think of joining a couple of formidably chic French women sipping Bollinger at one bar. "Better than a museum?” I asked the husband, who didn't reply. He was too busy trying to take selfies himself.
In the large and fragrant cosmetic space on the ground floor I hunted for the Revlon counter. Every other wonderful cosmetic and perfume brand in the world was presented, but no Revlon.
I finally approached a straight-backed Madam dressed in black with perfect make-up and hair.
"Looking for the Revlon counter,” I asked after I had established she (reluctantly) spoke English.
If she could have looked down her heavily made-up nose at me, she would (I was so much taller), but instead she looked up her nose and gave me a withering glare. "Revlon is not here, not made in France,” she sneered and turned her back on me.
I wanted to tell her that every brand of everything in the world was surely under this beautiful dome, but instead I rushed to the Lancome counter and faked absorption in a jar of night moisturisers I could never afford and thought, no wonder this department store is called La Grande Dame of Paris.