Rare Book Search Gets No Café

Elusive Book Remains Unfound
in Latin Quarter in the Rain

Paris:- Wednesday, 27. November 1996:- It is cold, it is November grey from edge to edge, it is almost raining and I am off to Paris to look for the usual things I look for, and a rare book as well.

This is a book I have been looking for off and on for quite some time now. When I get a chance, I ask for it, and this usually eliminates a possibility. When I did the feature about rue Vaugirard I passed a lot of bookstores at the beginning of it, and I asked in these.

The consensus seemed to be, I should move out of the literary district, go north towards the beaux-arts nearer the Seine. This is all in the Latin Quarter, in the 6th arrondissement, so it is not miles out of the way.

Today, I get out of the métro at Saint Germain-des-Prés, so I can sweep sort of easterly, between the boulevard and the river. Before doing this I go into the Café Bonaparte on the north end of the place for the fist time and discover what a cozy place it is - with its minuscule terrace, heated with butano towers and shielded from the elements by transparent plastic curtains. When I come out of the café, the rain sweeps into my face.

In the rue de l'Abbaye, beside the church, I look for evidence of its 10th century self without seeing much and I turn into the rue de Furstemberg, but there are no bookstores here - only upscale decorators. At rue Jacob I hink to the right, then to the left into rue de l'Echaude.

Door window poster

Here is a 'rare' bookstore - Jean Polak's Marine et Voyages - but it is closed, for ever it looks like, but there are books inside. This puts me on the rue de Seine and around the corner into rue Jacques-Callot. There is street-work going on with a hellish noise. I am arrested by the new Espace Albert Dubout at number five.

Albert Dubout was a popular cartoonist who died about 20 years ago, but remains popular - having had about 40 expositions since his death. He made very complicated drawings, some with hundreds of figures in them and was very popular in the '30's and after the war. He also did sculptures of some of his favorite cartoon figures and these are truly droll, and are available in limited editions in this shop.

There are also reprints of the posters he did, postcards with his drawings and a limited-edition large set of his drawings. You may also find his work in the boutiques of the museums, but this 'Espace' has only his work.

After skimming the rest of the rue Jacques-Callot I go back to the rue de Seine and head for the river, into yet more rain. The rue de Seine is old, dating to the 13th century, and has had its present name since 1489. George Sand and her daughter lived at number 31, when she arrived in Paris in 1831, after separating from her husband.

In the Editions Hazan bookshop they have their own Beaux-Arts books but not the one I am seeking, which is not beaux-arts in any case, but I thought it worthwhile to ask.

Librarie Fischbacher

At number 33 I go into the Librarie Fischbacher. They do not have the book I am looking for but I have seen this bookshop many times in the last 20 years and have never entered it before.

Mme Galand gives me a tour that leads from what seems to be the shop - through a half-dozen other rooms that are also the shop, with new books from floor to ceiling. Dedicated to the beaux-arts, in both French and in many other European languages, this shop also has an extensive selection of books devoted to primitive arts and it has the catalogues of many exhibitions, from both the United States and Europe. The store front does not hint that there is an art-book department-store behind it.

This shop has been here since 1872 and until a very few years ago, was run by generations of Fishbachers - the original having come from Stasbourg in Alsace, after its annexation by Germany in 1870.

I was told to try the bookstore just after the bar down the street towards the river. The rain makes me stop in the bar first for a café. It is a cozy bar, probably a hangout of local book-dealers and gallery-owners; and I think it used to be a tabac - there are not many around here.

The title of the book seems to startle the book-seller next door when I tell him, 'No, we have nothing like that here,' and he suggests I go further. The next place in at the corner of the rue de Seine facing the Quai Malaquais, and the book-dealer there seems equally bemused. Another searching customer comes in, asks his question and is sent in the direction of the Pont Neuf, as I am.

Walking against the traffic along the quai Conti, beside the Hôtel des Monnaies, it is really gloomy and very wet in the face and I can feel icy water running down my hands into my pockets.

At the corner, at the rue Dauphine, I go into the very clean and prosperous establishment there and stand on the mat so as not to drip on the parquet, and this dealer - looking very Right Bank - seems truly astounded that I could enter his place of serious business and ask for such an indifferent title. I didn't bother asking him what he was doing on this side of the river.

Heading up the rue Dauphine towards the Buci corner the world looks glum because that is the color of it. On the other side is this beaux-arts discounter that one of the shop keepers mentioned and I hit it in the off-chance. No luck here, but it is polite 'no luck' and even 'good-luck-with-the-hunt.' The title is known, to some, but they have never seen it.

I am seriously thinking of going straight to the métro, but instead I whim into the rue André Mazet, which is a shortcut to rue Saint-André-des-Arts, where I find an unlikely bookshop, opposite the rue de l'Eperon, which was called Vicus Galgani in 1267, in case anyone is still interested.

The lady in the Librarie-Gallerie Kieffer has not only heard of the book I am looking for, she sold a copy of it. After waiting for a Mac to find its way through a large data-base, a description of the book pops out, with the price it went for: 1,300 francs - and the lady considered that it was underpriced.

She does have a 1948 Amelot de la Houssaie translation with illustrations by C. P. Josso of Machiavelli's 'The Prince' in her catalogue for 1,200 francs - number 280 out of 440 printed - but she also has books for as little as 100 francs or as much as 9,000 francs.

 Odéon corner 'Danton' at night

I find out that there is a publisher in the rue de Tournon who puts out a guide to the specialist bookstores, so I trudge past the warm métro entrance at Odéon towards St. Suplice and up the extension of the rue de Seine, the last part before it gets to rue Vaugirard.

It is not to be found, so I go into a bookshop there and ask my usual question, and this lady has a old copy of the guide and the address is correct and I still can't find it. The last bookshop in the rue de Tournon says it is in a cour and once there I can't find the light and read the names on the letterboxes other than to figure out it is an apartment building, and can not be more than a maildrop - for - as it turns out, a publisher in Neuchâtel.

This is it. It is still raining, I can't afford the book I'm looking for, and it getting dark. On the way back to the métro Odéon, I pass, then go back and in, the Leeson Street bar. It has Murphy's and it is surely a long time since I had one of those, but I ask for a café instead. Their café machine is out of water, or out of steam, and I am definitely, out of luck.

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