The Art of Perpignan…

 …… is never to be what you’re expecting

by Simon Newman

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you turn a corner to reveal yet another narrow lane or small square you didn’t know was there.

Not all of it is conventionally pleasing to the eye but even when scruffy and graffitied, Perpignan’s back streets still hold a fascination for anyone interested in faded architectural glories. The tenements may be crumbling and decaying but a little imagination is all it takes to recognise just how sublime they must have been in their heyday.

Like Rue Emile Zola, a couple of minutes walk from Place de la Republique. Half way down this nondescript street (characterised by Halal butchers, launderettes and second-hand mobile phone shops) you come to Hotel Pams, a dingy brown building which unless you knew better you’d pass without a second glance.

I nearly did, and I was looking out for it – or more specifically the art exhibition I knew to be within. Once through Hotel Pams’ innocuous entrance lobby you’re confronted by an extraordinarily grandiose, bourgeois interior that reflects the birth of Art Deco and the best of the Belle Epoque that preceded it. An abundance of grape-drenched, Greek-godess frescos adorn the entrance hall, the wide marble staircase and the imposing mezzanine gallery. The sheer scale and grandeur of the undertaking is hard to take in. This is Perpignan for goodness sakes, not Paris or Nice.

Once the home of Pierre Bardou (of the JOB cigarette-paper family) this extravagant building regularly  hosts art exhibitions.

Walking back down Rue Emile Zola another image, though not this time exactly artistic, reminded me of this eclectic city’s ability to surprise. A desperately down-at-heel pet shop had in its grimy display window just three items stacked in a forlorn, random conjunction – a faded packet of bird seed, a tin of flea powder and a bag of cat litter. That was it. It was an unbearably tragic sight and yet a quick look inside revealed the shop to be bustling, with fresh deliveries arriving and a half a dozen customers waiting to be served, chatting loudly in competition with a positively Wagnerian-chorus of squawking parrots and yapping puppies. Classic Perpignan.


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