(Les) Halles Is Other People

Everyone wants to believe desperately in the idea that if they just buy this one thing—this one “life-changing” product—they’ll stop constantly searching. Always wanting more. Of course, the void that exists within every human being makes it all but assured that the more you buy, the more addictive it becomes to keep buying. To keep trying to fill, fill, fill that invisible hole inside that never can or will be “stopped up.” Least of all in “First World” countries, where capitalism is the reigning religion. Evangeline Urway, however, foolishly believed that, by departing from the U.S. and settling somewhere like France, she would mitigate the feeling of being constantly bombarded by an obsession with things and status.

Perhaps had she not decided to rent an apartment right near Les Halles, this would have been a possibility. But being new and naïve when it came to Parisian geography, she jumped at the chance to sublet from an old acquaintance who was moving to Japan for at least a year. That Evangeline had opted to take over the abode the same week as Black Friday never even crossed her mind. Because, for some reason, the idea that Europe could cling so steadfastly to such an American “value” wasn’t a reality she was willing to accept. Possibly because she still held pre-fall of the Berlin Wall ideas about the continent. Still thought of it as “edgy” a.k.a. anti-American. And sure, on the occasions when she previously visited, she had noticed the vast number of familiar American chains like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, Domino’s and Subway. She wasn’t totally unaware.

Yet perhaps she wanted to believe that no self-respecting European would actually set foot into any such establishment. One jaunt outside and into the jurisdiction near “Les Halles” a.k.a. the Westfield Forum des Halles, and that myth was starkly debunked. Even if Westfield was an Australian company by origin, its long-standing presence in major U.S. hubs like L.A. and New York made it far more associated with that country’s lust for shopping malls. Whether the residents of Paris actually wanted to adopt that lust or not, they were left no choice when Les Halles’ original form was decimated in favor of the shopping mall style Americans were so fond of. The first iteration of Westfield Forum des Halles was completed in 1979 (a fact Evangeline would never get the chance to learn). It didn’t feel like a coincidence. After all, it was eerily timed for the advent of the Decade of Excess. Perhaps just further proof that everything is manipulated by the governments of the world.

And those governments of the Western world wanted to fight communism with its ultimate not-so-secret weapon: capitalism. Although Evangeline hadn’t even existed in the 80s, she didn’t count herself as an “average” member of her generation. One that claimed to be pro-environment and anti-wasted resources. But everywhere she looked, everybody was still acting as the boomer blueprints had: profligately. Living as though the only way to prove that they were alive was by buying useless shit.

Even Evangeline couldn’t avoid such culpability every once in a while. For to be human on this Earth was to buy. Having erred in wanting to take a break from unpacking, she looked up the nearest Monoprix so that she might pick up some additional storage materials. To her as-of-yet unknown horror, it was inside the “Forum.” A word that really did make it sound like such a scholarly place despite being the antithesis of that. The cawing, cackling hordes that soon encircled her at every turn were a fierce reminder of Schopenhauer’s adage, “I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.”

All around her were surrealist faces not only causing the noise pollution, but seeming to relish it coming from others. The pandemic, to Evangeline’s disappointment, had only made the masses realize how much they loved being in company of fellow mindless drones rather than making them see that alone is better. Maybe it was foolish for her to come to Paris to be alone in the first place. Yet of all the “alpha” cities, it felt like the least densely populated. Home to roughly 2.1 million residents as opposed to, say, London’s roughly 8.7 million, or even Berlin’s 3.6 million. But maybe numbers were misleading. Maybe she didn’t know what the fuck she was getting into when she thought herself too superior to live in the U.S. Or when she agreed to move in to the apartment a week before December 1st. Prime fucking time for the whores, er, hordes of Les Halles enthusiasts to venture out in droves to emulate the Americans they theoretically hated. To get that perfect “steal” of a deal. All while stealing and plundering from the very Earth that might nourish future generations were it not for the obscene selfishness of present ones.

Thoughts like these flashed in and out of Evangeline’s blown mind as she barely managed to force her way through the hundreds of thousands of body-to-body human walls obstructing her path to the Monoprix. Why hadn’t the acquaintance warned her? Why did her penchant for procrastination have to lead her into the outside world at all? She should have just stayed home and kept unpacking. Before she could think much of anything else, anxiety overtook her. An attack so profound and overt to anyone with eyes, Evangeline only took comfort in the idea that at least some “dear soul” might see her and call for help—or, at the bare minimum, escort her back up into the light for a spot of fresh air. But no, the minutes wore on as she cowered in the middle of the floor in the main area next to the H&M (always a fucking H&M looming wherever you were in this life).

She couldn’t actually believe this was happening. That she was going to probably die from a heart attack because everyone was too goddamn concerned with filling their bags, their voids. The last thing she remembered, a fresh stampede was clobbering her body before it all went black.

In the brief fugue state between life and death, she wondered: what would Philip Augustus think of all this? Or would he mainly be scandalized that Jewish people were “allowed” to shop on the very land he once “confiscated” from them to create Les Halles in the first place?

Zola had once called Les Halles “the belly” of Paris—a polite way of saying “the bowel.” An area fit for a mass grave like Cimetière des Saints-Innocents to be near. Now Evangeline was just another sacrifice to the gods. Or rather, one god: neoliberalism. It was perfectly poetic that a church like Saint-Eustache should still remain directly across from the mall. For the two entities symbolized the past and present of what people’s delusions incited them to worship.

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