PARIS LES BOUQUINISTES BALLADE

Starting out from  a Châtelet – one of Hector Guimard’s most outstanding Metro facades – I trecked down the Quai de la Mégisserie (named after the tanning industries that once populated it) – and across the Pont Neuf and the Ile de la Cité – through the medieval heart of Paris.

After waiting patiently for this Pernod sign below to stop blowing in the wind – of time – I got chatting with one of the bouquinistes –  the antiquarian book (and poster) traders who’ve been a fixture along the Seine for centuries.

DSC_1162

We tend to think of tourism en masse as a modern invention (or scourge) – but already in 1900, the time of the Universal Exposition in Paris, the bouquinistes were doing such a roaring trade they had to recruit heavily.

BouqinistesOld

Their cases – some of which were used as letterboxes by the Resistance – are UNESCO-listed.

In 1910, during terrible flooding, many of the lovely old cases  turned into rafts and floated off down river – the books in turn bolted along the Seine like schools of fish.

Today there are about 200 in business.

BouqinistesOld2The name is believed to come from the Flemish for a small book – boeckjîn  which has circulated since the mid-15th century.

Bouquiner itself first popped up in a French dictionary in 1690.

It presumably also explains the delightful French expression – unmatched in English – I’m off to bouquiner – to read, or rather drown myself in a book.

DSC_1172

I on the other hand was off to flâner …  Strolling the streets of Paris in August-  September is divine. Can you believe you can  have entire streets of the 6th arrondissement to  yourself – or almost?

Well you can … You can sense the silence and solitude rising from these photos – as I slid through from the Quai du Conti past the Monnaie du Paris – the national mint – and up around the dogleg bend of the rue Mazarine.

OK … things were a little more animated in Rue de Buci – and how could one expect them not to be? Such a crossroads of 6 arr. chic – with all those cafe terraces spilling over as always – amid the whir of coffee machines, vespers and buzzy boutiques.

DSC_1214 DSC_1240

My walk actually ended up at the Place d’Italie – about 4 kilometres from Châtelet – but after many deviations through gardens and parks, squares and narrow streets, and a couple of cafe pit-stops, it was  more like double that.

For the art of the flâneur is a bit like that of a bouquineur … he or she who goes off to bouquiner … it’s to revel in getting lost, going off on umpteenth deviations, imagining along the way, immersing oneself in the pages of Paris’s history … and it’s a never finished business.

Both the reader and stroller deal with stories … the latter searching the streets for hidden treasures instead of the shelves. Both travel across their chosen medium. As the French writer Pierre Mac Orlan said of the bouquiniste’s boxes left outside at night, they were “the symbol of an invitation to motionless travels”.

Bon voyage, et bonne lecture!
DSC_1386 DSC_1387

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s