The Lhopitallier pharmacy resides high on the elegant rue Soufflot, just before the mausoleum of great people, the Pantheon. If you think that it must have been around a while, you would be right. The pharmacy was originally set up in 1750 by the pharmacist Joseph Bataille a few streets away (on rue de la Montagne St Genevieve) but his building had to make way for the extension of the rue des Ecoles during the sweeping changes brought about by Haussmann, who was redrawing the map of the city. Undeterred, the pharmacy moved to rue Soufflot, where they have now been for 154 years. And everything (barring the lighting) is still the from that move. It will have looked almost identical when your great grandfather walked in there hoping for a cure for his pollen allergy as it does for you today. And it still looks immaculate! It is places like this that make the city feel eternal. But do you ever go there?
The question has a baffling aspect to it. If the pharmacy was no longer capable of answering to the contemporary consumer (/patient) demands, it would just close. Logical enough, but let us imagine if it really depended on YOU, on YOUR choices. Or perhaps even if the whole city took up your behaviour. What would the city look like? Would there still be eye-sore restaurant chains? Would there be pizza places? Would small bookshops still be there, or just the FNAC-like megastores? Would the wine merchants still be there, or would wine be bought at Nicolas or the supermarket? And what about video rentals? Music shops? The bars and nightclubs? The art galleries? And if we extend the idea to common goods, would the parks still be there? Playgrounds? Public pools? Libraries? Museums? The metro? Busses? Free bikes? Or what about alleyways you never walk through?
If you start scraping all those places you never go, the city becomes completely adapted to your needs. The more you think about it, the more you realize that you would not want to live there. Not only would you no longer be choosing your own life if the city was already tailored to you, but the sight of it (combined with the lack of those elements you do not use) will actually repulse you. Now there’s a paradoxical thought to keep in mind the next time you find yourself in a place you do not like. But notice as well the parallel with the virtual world – take notes Google and Facebook – we do not want to live in a world shaped around ourselves. We need to be able to reject to be able to choose, we do not want it done for us. Too much of ourselves alienates us from ourselves, as we no longer see the pegs on which we hang our identity separated from other possible lives we could have had, or still could have. Life is not static, and we would not want it to be. And that is also precisely why we are impressed that Lhopitallier is still there. Even if, or especially if, we never go there.