The bouquinistes – outdoor booksellers – of Paris, by the side of the Seine are one of my absolute favourite things about the city (the other are the parks). There are over 200 of them now in Paris and between them, I read somewhere, offer over 300000 old and new books and magazines. Recognized by their iconic green metal boxes and grumpy expressions (oh, but that’s everyone in Paris, so yeah, just the green metal boxes), these book stalls are a joy, especially when the weather is good and walking by the Seine is one of the most pleasurable activities imaginable on earth. Sure, there is a lot of junk but there is also the rare used book that is a collector’s – or even an avid reader’s – delight. Most of it is in French but I did find some English titles hidden away in between the piles.
These booksellers with their green boxes have been a part of the streetscape near the Seine since the 17th century. Sadly, they have been facing severe competition from the big bookshop chains but they soldier on. Many of them are now reduced to stocking kitschy posters and magnets meant for those annoying tourists (heh!). But under the strict trade regulation by the city council – to preserve this quintessential piece of Paris history – each seller is allowed to have a maximum of four boxes, out of which three are meant only for books. It is reassuring to know these bouquinistes will never suffer the same fate as that of old booksellers of South Mumbai’s fort area.
My own rare find was posters of Asterix – which I could not afford to buy, not by a long way – but the shopkeeper was one of those rare friendly faces who also spoke English and let me photograph them!