If Paris were a female she would be a natural beauty with Debbie Harry’s chiselled cheekbones, natural bone structure, a facial composition of bliss and elegance.
The kind of girl who looks amazing even with just a simple outfit on, hair scraped back and early morning breath. Artistry is in the very DNA of the City of Light. I love to amble around watching the day turn into night and witness the compositions I’ve seen in Brassai’s photography come alive.
Sunday morning, sharp cold air stabs like a thousand miniscule icicles. Time to fuel up on bread and jam with proper coffee taken in a French café, where they had run out of croissants. I meander towards the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse, through the cemetery.
Here the dead live in close proximity with the living in high-rise apartments, but as my old Nanny Carrie used to say:
It’s not the dead you should be afraid of, lad, it’s the living.
I should be on the right path, yet to be honest, je suis perdu. I stumble upon the La Pagode cinema on the Rue de Babylon and eventually hit the Seine.
Bang a right and allow myself to flow along the river. Like a piece of flotsam I drift, starting my exploration through the myriad of booksellers.
Peter Ackroyd personifies London, in his biography of the smoke, as a living entity. The tube, river and roadways acting as arteries pumping the life blood into the epicentre. Keeping it alive. The river is potentially the oldest part, the life line of the city. It is true of Paris also.
Along the Seine there are around 200 independent book sellers outdoors. 300,000, collectible, new and used books and magazines under open skies. The banks are littered with iconic green metal boxes, depicted in numerous famous landscapes – notably from the Impressionist period.
There is an urban myth about the origins of this bohemian trade. A ship transporting volumes of books capsized near Notre Dame. Sailors rapidly swam ashore taking with them as many books as they could and sold them to the passers-by to substitute the wages they had lost. This quick sell proved to be a lucrative venture.
The Bouquinistes sold old, bashed volumes and highbrow society would not buy these vulgar types of books. In 1450 with the invention of the printing press, there was an increase in the sale of pamphlets targeting the government and the church. The vagabond traders had no fixed selling point meaning if necessary they could make their escape from the law. The area along the river became a rallying place for citizens and students to vent their spleen.
The literary business really took off following the Revolution; houses of the bourgeoisie were demolished, emptied and affluent book shelves were sold through the bouquinistes. Jean Genet, the infamous writer, made stealing books and selling them on to the bouquinistes practically an art form and his signature trademark.
During World War Two, the Resistance transmitted code messages in the pages of the books. It was a hard task for the Nazis to find the messages hidden.
I decide to take a trip along the river by boat. Sadly, as I take in the sheer beauty of Paris, at least 3/4s of the people on board chose to experience Paris by water, not through their own eyes but through the perspective of the “I” phone.
I remember a time when I could go to a gig, dance like a loon and throw myself around. Now in recent gigs I’ve been to, I have seen people recording the event, filming the whole spectacular. Recording life, instead of living life, has become the new hashtag experience! Eyes are the window of the soul, but does anyone have a spare charger?
I finish my journey at The Shakespeare and Co Bookstore, a favourite haunt of mine and decide to purchase THE LITTLE PRINCE, one of those many titles I have not quite got around to yet.
A perfect way to lose oneself on a Sunday morning in March.