We say make-over; they say "relooking." From the English "to do again one's look." The adjective is "relooké," which I find delightful. It applies to people (there are temples of image consultation where one can have a "relooking total" -- including hair color, eyebrow shape, and wardrobe), as equally as to places.
In winter 2003, I was staying near the Hôtel de Ville and stopped in for breakfast at a café on the rue de Rivoli. Though it had probably been quite lovely once -- and still had the good bones and beautiful carved wood from its youth to prove it -- in its present shape, it bore the residue of a lifetime of cigarettes and hard living. (One could say the same of some of its patrons as well.)
It also had, hidden in its basement, a vanishing emblem of Paris' past: a Turkish toilet. They once existed in far greater numbers but were -- are -- disappearing steadily. I did have a fight with one not so long ago at Polidor, on the rue Monsieur le Prince. But since theirs was pissed-in by the likes of Hemingway and Joyce, you can understand why it is of greater value for them not to replace it.
During the same visit, leafing through some guidebook or another, I was proud -- and not surprised -- to see that the café, La Tartine, had earned the distinction of Worst Bathroom in the city of Paris. Can I pick them, or what?
Flash forward to my visit to Paris in the winter of 2004. I stopped in to a café on the rue de Rivoli for lunch. Beautiful moldings, carved bar with insets shaped like poppies, and creamy yellow paint. I might not have recognized it at all had my lunch not been served by the same Madame who had made my coffee the previous year. I asked her if indeed they had done the place over.
Not six months prior, in fact, they had. And judging from the look on her face, they were very proud of the work.
The real test, of course, of the relooking's totalité would be in the basement. Off I went. The winding staircase itself was startlingly well-lit compared to my last visit, and the doors to the ladies and the gents were brand-new. Which is to say that they closed properly. And beyond: real toilets. And real sinks and real soap dispensers and real hand-dryers.
Looking it up on the web later, of course, I found there was dissent on the subject: those who bemoaned the makoever cited the Amélie Poulainization of Paris, the descent of the city into a chronic state of "cute," etc. Having lived in San Francisco and in New York long enough to have heard the same discussion dozens of times over, I understand that.
But let's pretend for a moment that the sky is not falling. Admittedly, Paris has lots of blight and lots of sadness. And if you are the sort of person to whom that sort of thing equals street cred to a city, there you have it. To me, it's not the down-and-out or the affordability of a place that gives it authenticity. It is the possibility for the old and the young to remain there; for them not to have been priced out entirely.
And in Paris -- unlike New York or San Francisco -- young people, at least, coming to the city with their dreams and their not-much-money can still find habitable, albeit microscopic (and sometimes dark and scary), apartments-for-one. (I have a friend who refers to them as the "studios pourris" of Paris. "Rotten studios." Some of them certainly are.) That, to me, is possibility. That, in and of itself, is hopeful. And a cup of coffee -- and the accompanying right to rent the table at which you drink it for as long as you like -- is still a bargain at two euro.
So in the case of La Tartine, let's give them credit for doing a good job with les travaux. The wood and the moldings alone merit the work.
It could be a lot worse. They could have turned it into a Starbuck's. You can't get out of there for less than four euro.