At the corner of Rue du Medoc and Rue Gallois, down the road from Rue du Bordeaux, a cat snoozes peacefully in a doorway overgrown with grapevines. This is the former establishment of Alfred Gerin & Sons, famous merchants of France's most renowned wines, and these are the legendary entrepots of Bercy, an enclosed network of warehouses and railroad tracks that for more than a century received, bottled and shipped wines whose time had arrived.
Only a few surviving businesses and hundreds of swarming cats remain of what was once Bercy's teeming activity, but all of that will change if Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac wins his bid to make the city home of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.
Most of the abandoned warehouses of this quarter on the eastern side of Paris will be demolished. In their place will rise a gigantic Olympic complex. Construction plans include housing for 12,000 expected athletes, a recreation park and a futuristic Olympic swimming pool to match the Omnisports Palace of Bercy, inaugurated two years ago at one end of the semiabandoned quarter.
The origins of the strong bid by Paris to host the 1992 Olympics lie in the time when Bercy was at its apogee as a commercial center, just before the turn of the century. It was in 1892 that Baron Pierre de Coubertin issued his call for a revival of the ancient Greek games, and Chirac hopes to mark the centennial of the birth of the modern games in style.
The boost that landing the Games for Paris would give to his prestige also has not gone unnoticed by French political observers. The choice will be made in October 1986, about the time that Chirac is expected to be moving into high gear in his campaign to become president in 1988 elections.
Despite the sentimental advantage the anniversary may convey and the well-known creature comforts Paris can offer to athletes and fans, Chirac acknowledges that he faces an uphill battle in the stiffening competition between Paris and Barcelona to gain the first Western European Summer Olympics since Munich hosted the Games in 1972.
Barcelona offers its airy grace and the promise of virtually all-new installations. The fact that Spain has never hosted any Olympic Games and that it is joining the European Community next year may prove politically favorable.
And, as Chirac points out, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, which will choose a European site, happens to be from Barcelona.
"We know how well liked he is and that may sway some votes," Chirac said. "But we hope that the committee will consider this in an impartial spirit."
Amsterdam and Birmingham are also candidates for the 1992 games but are unlikely to receive serious consideration unless a deadlock develops in the Barcelona vs. Paris contest.
The two cities are also competing for the rights to a European "Disneyworld" complex, and the decisions that are reached on these two contests will influence the future development of two of Europe's most honored cityscapes.
Asked why Paris was putting such intensive effort into landing the Olympics, Chirac and his aides emphasized the impact they hope it will have on French sports. "It would encourage our youth to become the best athletes in the world in these sports," Chirac said in an interview in Washington recently.
Lavish press kits spell out what Paris proposes for its "universal celebration of youth." A parallel cultural festival would fill the museums, theaters and public spaces with music and dance. French officials also make much of the fact that the Games would take place in the city itself and not, in the words of Alain Danet, vice president of the city commission promoting Paris' candidacy, not "on the outskirts, as they did in Mexico City, Tokyo, Munich, Montreal and Los Angeles."
Many of Paris' artistic monuments would be used as competition sites, Danet said. The ornate grandeur of the Palais Royal would house the Olympic fencing championship. Archery contests would take place on the Champs de Mars, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Coubertin organized the first modern games in Paris in 1900. The city was again Olympic host in 1924. "But those games were imposed on us," said Jean Pierre Boue, head of a civic association pushing Paris' candidacy. "In those days, cities did not exactly fight for the privilege." Athletes paid their own fares, and the Games were poorly attended. Photographs of the 1924 Olympics show meager delegations parading before half-empty stands. That was later changed by television.
Pending the International Olympic Committee decision, the nearly abandoned Bercy complex dozes quietly on the banks of the Seine. Many wine merchants have moved to warehouses on the outskirts of Paris. Others, like Gerin & Sons, are hanging on.
"We have been in Bercy for a very long time," a company spokesman said. "We hope to stay. But like everyone else, we are waiting for the Olympic decision."