In “Paris at Street Level” (NER 30.3, 2009) Francis-Noël Thomas ruminates on changes in the city through the lens of reading Georges Perec:
Perec undertook a number of documentary projects before he immersed himself in La vie mode d’emploi. One of them consisted of walking up and down the street on which he had spent most of his childhood and adolescence, first one side, then the other, noting what he saw, building by building. He did this at intervals of six months. I don’t know how long he kept it up, but before long he noticed changes—a surprising number of them on this street he knew so well. His notations show how a city changes incessantly, and since I loved to walk in the extended neighborhood of my hotel, where I have stayed for a month or so at a time for over thirty years, I have noticed the same phenomenon. Every day, I pass a flower shop that used to be a café. Across the street from the hotel there is an art gallery that was once a bakery, and a few blocks down the rue Monge towards the Place Maubert I pass a shop that now sells motorcycles; it used to be a shop selling bandes-dessinées (books of comic-strip art) and before that it was a shop selling Indian fabrics. Past the Place Maubert on the rue Lagrange, I try to avert my eyes from a little supermarket—part of a chain—because the space was formerly occupied by a bricolage called Aux Mille Couleurs, where I could always find just what I was looking for—wooden coat-hangers, a soap dish, a small hair drier, handmade scented soap from Provence (unwrapped), a vase, a pair of socks, a sharp knife for cutting cheese. It was a shop I loved. It’s been gone for six or seven years now, and I miss it all over again every time I walk past the detestable little supermarket that has supplanted it. For a long time, I couldn’t pass it without hearing a voice in my head telling me, as if I didn’t know, “Mille Couleurs used to be just here.” I didn’t take it for granted when it was there, but neither did I imagine it would just disappear one day, leaving me to feel as if I had lost something irreplaceable that had come to mean something to me—a cufflink, an old photograph, a favorite scarf, a piece of my heart.