I discovered this as I was buying cheese and pasta in Albi. For those who don’t know it, Albi possesses a beautiful covered market made of brick and iron, built in 1902, 200 yards from St Cecile Cathedral and the Palais de la Bernie, the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, now a World Heritage Site. Above the entrance to the market (actually above all entrances) they had fixed, next to a rather old-fashioned board, an advertisement for a chain of supermarkets.
Albi is one of my mother-cities. I also admire the preservation of its architectural heritage. It is an episcopal city with dozens of antique streets surrounding the cathedral: each of them deserves a photographic reportage. Quai Choiseul, Cloitre Saint-Salvi, Quartier St-Estèfe, Place du Palais: Albi is a treasure, made of bricks and admirably preserved. This preservation did not happen by chance; the city’s most famous child, who studied at the Lycée Lapérouse, was Georges Pompidou, President of France from 1969 to 1974; Pompidou introduced the city to writer and politician André Malraux, who invented intelligent urban renewal. And since 1973 a large part of Albi has been protected from the kings of the cranes.
The architectural history of Albi is not frozen, in spite of its impressive patrimony. It has gotten over the devilish period of the fake old, with regulation visible bricks and has commissioned Dominique Perrault** to renovate the Quartiers des Cordeliers: the purpose is to re-introduce (among other things) movie theaters to the city center, the opposite of the move to the suburbs that took place in the last ten years. Faced to this kind of structural work (which, as usual, upsets the grumblers) Albi is becoming the capital of this region of the South of France (Midi-Pyrenées), especially compared to Toulouse that seems to descend further and further into abandonment and dirt***.
All this to explain why I find it unnecessary to put this turd on the entrance to the covered market! It comes across as pure provocation. This was one of the few places still preserved from the moral weakness of local authorities and from the disease that are supermarkets, a cancer that eats away the cities and towns, and now the villages, of France; I have written about it at length in the last weeks.**** And even this oasis had to be stained with the seal of infamy, the symbol of bad food – as if these were not already rampant!
Of course, beautiful Albi, like all French towns and cities is surrounded by commercial shanty towns, by forests of multi-colored billboards that smell of sub-provincial marketing agencies, motorized rednecks and intellectual miserliness. I ask you: why introduce the cat amongst the pigeons?
The problem started some years ago when the covered market was “renovated”. Without any flair. And I don’t only speak of aesthetics, though the beautiful exchange now looks like an average high school. Before the “renovation”, there were several dozens of small cubicles, rustic and affordable, where small farmers from the surrounding villages would sell their produce, limited but often of high quality: some carrots, “respounjous” (asparagus), a good pigeon… To create a “cleaner” appearance, all this was torn down and stalls were introduced, in accordance with prevailing norms that belonged more in a supermarket than a farmers’ market. An open space was created and this needed to be filled by setting up an underground supermarket belonging to the “Utile” chain (“utile” means “useful” in French).
I have heard several comments, especially from tourists in the streets adjacent to the market, only 200 yards from the cathedral: “what is this doing here? – another money-making scheme!” Totally unsuitable. Soon people will say: “the market – you know that thing that is located near the ‘Utile’.” Frankly, Mr. Mayor, my dear Philippe, was this billboard really useful?
* speaking of pasta, it is essential, at the market in Albi, to taste that produced by Mario, the Sardinian: it is splendid. Cheese can be found very near the market, I’ll write about it soon.
** and I hope that, in the end, his project will be less idiotic than the large Bibliothèque de France (the French Library), very imposing but rather unsuitable to preserve books.
*** about urban work, I was aghast to see the multitude of building sites, started and never finished, purposeless, and giving the Pink City the appearance of a city that had just been bombed.