The Bouquinistes Book Stalls Along Paris’ River Banks
Paris’ left bank in particular is known for its bohemian and literary vibe and where Shakespeare and Co and the haunts of great writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald are scattered throughout. When in Paris you could quite easily fill your days just meandering along the literary trails left behind by the artists and writers of an era gone by. However, an activity not to be missed is a stroll along Paris’ river banks where you will encounter Les Bouquinistes de Paris – picturesque and quintessinatally Parisian open air book stalls that stretch for a couple kilometres or so from Notre Dame and just a little way past the Pont Des Arts Bridge (quai de la Tourelle to Quai Voltaire) on the left bank and from Pont Marie to Quai du Louvre on the right bank. These neat and uniformly arranged stalls of wagon green are owned by individual bouquiniste’s who by law must continue the historic traditions of selling books along the river as has been done by the book sellers of the past since around the mid 1500’s.
The word bouquin, derived from the German word Buch (meaning book), translates to little book which is how the bouqinistes’ of Paris derived their intriguing title and a tradition that is believed to have begun when a boat carrying books sank close to Notre Dame. The crew of the ship tried to save as many books as they possibly could rescuing them from the water by diving in and retrieving them and then selling them for a cheap price by the river banks. While the bouquinistes’ of the past developed a bad reputation and were even thought of as criminals and thieves especially in the days of the revolution when books stolen from the libraries of the beheaded aristocracy and were sold in the same vicinity where book stalls stand along the river banks today. The present bouquinistes’ of Paris have a less threatening reputation although some can get cranky with tourists for touching or photographing posters or items for sale without asking permission first. These little green stalls offer old and new French cultural treasures that will excite not only lovers and collectors of antique books, particularly by French authors, but those who also adore collecting vintage posters, records and magazines or Parisian memorabilia. Sadly, due to living in a time when people prefer to download or purchase books online, the bouquinistes’ devote at least one out of four of their allocated wagons to selling touristy souvenir items like magnets, key chains, coasters and Eiffel tower tchotchkes in order to make more income.
From my own experience, a nice way to spend a literary themed day in Paris would be to have a stroll around the Latin Quarter beginning with a peak into the quaint and historic Abbey bookstore at 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie followed by breakfast at Le Depart (one of Hemingway’s favourite cafe’s) on Boulevard Saint Michelle close to the famous and most photographed art nouveau metro sign and Place Saint Michel. Continue your walk along Boulevard 4-26 Saint Michel for more book shop encounters and a few more sprinkled around 229 Boulevard Saint-Germain. By then you would have worked up an appetite so head to La Petite Pont Café for a delightful lunch and generous sized coffee on 1 Rue du Petit Pont corner of Rue de la Bucherie (notice the German “buch” connection here). This pretty café with great views of Notre Dame and with the same wagon green and bright yellow colour scheme and signage that reflects that of Shakespeare and Company (37 Rue Bucherie) which happens to be a few steps away and where you will no doubt spend a pleasant amount of time immersing yourself in all that history and book culture. Before leaving Shakespeare and Company be sure to grab a book as a souvenir to read later which will be stamped with the signature and official bookshop stamp which is a treat in itself. As you exit the bookshop take a moment to reflect by the ancient fountain standing outside Shakespeare and Co and head right and then turn right until you will immediately notice Notre Dame standing regally ahead and where you will also notice the bouquiniste stalls with their bright and colourful displays standing under the tree lined quays which is the best place to start your walk along the bouquiniste trail so take your time and savour this quintessentially Parisian activity which will become one of those highlights that you will always remember. Dear readers, are you entranced by the bouquiniste stalls of Paris, France?