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Paris’ Used Bookstores, Part IV: Tea and Tattered Pages
Leaving the San Francisco Book Co., we’re also going to be leaving the neighborhood. So far we’ve been hitting used bookstores in the Latin Quarter, the Sorbonne area, and the university section of Paris. Although Shakespeare and Company has taken on a touristy side the past few years–watch for Shakespeare and Company tee shirts, coming soon–the others have all been bookstores such as you might expect in a university town in the U.S., with relatively significant sections on Shakespeare, poetry, literary criticism, philosophy, and history. But the last bookstore on our list isn’t in this neighborhood. It’s a little farther over toward the area where a lot of Americans in Paris live, Americans who aren’t students. Right now, we’re just barely out of the Fifth Arrondissement. We’re going to go farther on into the Sixth, bordering on the Seventh! If that doesn’t tell you a lot about the place we’re going, well, I guess you’re just not Gene Kelly–you’re not a real American in Paris, you’re just an American passing through Paris. That’s okay! Don’t worry. I’m here to teach you.
This next place is also a bit of a walk to get to. We could take the métro, but it’s not raining. Sherlock Holmes had something called “three pipe problems.” This is a “two pipe walk.” So just wait a minute while I get ready. Don’t worry, my tobacco doesn’t stink. It’s funny about pipe tobacco; usually when it smells good, it tastes bad, and when it tastes good, it smells bad. Mine tastes good and smells good. It’s got cherry in it. Like it? Sorry, I didn’t blow smoke into your face, it was the wind. You’re ready? Then let’s go.
So leaving the San Francisco Book Co., we’ll turn right then hang another right on that first little street; that takes us to the Place de l’Odéon. See, there’s the Starbucks I had mentioned: crowded as usual.
Now we’ll turn left and walk along the Boulevard St.-Germain for a while.
Look, a gaggle of girls bent over their Paris map. Should I be nice? Okay.
Je peux vous aider? Blank stares. Can I help you find something? “Ja, ja!” Ah, plump and blonde, I thought they were Americans. Germans, but English still works better than French even in Paris. They point to St.-Germain-des-Prés. So I point to the narrow cross street they should take then hook my thumb left. Thank-yous and dankes.
Here’s where we turn, Rue du Four. You’re already tired? Or is it just bored? Okay, we’re at the métro Mabillon. Take the direction Boulogne and get off at Duroc. It’s only three stations. I’ll meet you there. Wait by the exit. No, it’s okay, I like to walk.
(………………………………….………………….Denotes the passage of time……………………………………………….)
As I said earlier–you don’t remember! You’re supposed to be taking notes! This is a different kind of bookstore in a different kind of neighborhood. Wider streets and sidewalks, larger, more solid apartment buildings. Here, we’re almost in the seventh arrondissement. There aren’t many students here. Not that Tea and Tattered Pages is a “rich” or snob bookstore. Even the name tells you otherwise, but its clientele isn’t the same as our other used bookstores.
Tea and Tattered Pages was first owned and run by a woman named Christie (although it may not have been spelled that way). It must have been about 13 years ago because the first time I went in, she was pregnant and she asked me if I knew anything about the problem of pregnant women and cats. I certainly don’t know now, which is why I’m a bit vague about it, but at the time, my wife had been pregnant so I knew all about it and I managed to reassure her that she would have a cat-disease-free baby, which she eventually did. So, my daughter being 14– wait, I think she’s 14–that dates it at about 15 years ago. Then, about three or four years ago, Christie sold the shop to Hilda, who now runs it. Hilda is, I seem to remember, from South America, but probably of German extraction. She had a slight accent, but I’ll be darned if I know what it is. Not Spanish, not German. Anyway, there is a womanly tradition of welcome here.
Look, I’ll show you. You go in first. I’ll be right behind, but as though we weren’t together. You’ll see.
“Hello. Is this your first visit to Tea and Tattered Pages? Let me explain where everything is. Up here we have…
See, very welcoming, which is not to say that people aren’t friendly and open at the other places we’ve been, but it’s not the same. The difference could also be because there’s a tea room here, hence the name. See, back through there are a few tables and chairs. You can get tea and bagels or muffins, whatever. You can look at the menu yourself, but it’s a pretty good choice. So this is not just a bookstore; that could also account for the difference in welcome.
The spaces for books here has always been shared by animals, formerly a parrot and now–no, that’s not a pumpkin, it’s a big orange cat. Around the door and the desk are notice boards fluttering with papers about readings and meetings. There’s always classical music playing for atmosphere. Do you know what that is? Händel? If you say so. I only know Bach.
The selection of books here also shows that we’re in another neighborhood. The poetry and drama sections together take up only a few shelves, and that’s with Shakespeare thrown in. There are only a few volumes of literary criticism, but the shop has plenty of contemporary fiction and bestsellers; that’s what takes up most of the walls and the center column in the first room here. Downstairs is very large section with mysteries and science fiction. You look for different things here.
Look, there’s David Lindsay’s “Ane Satire of the Thrie Estaitis” Scottish, mid 16th Century. I wouldn’t have expected to find that here, but I’ve already got it. Not the same edition, but I’d rather leave it for someone else who likes Tudor plays, assuming there is someone else. Look! “Dancing after Hours” by Andre Dubus! The only book by him I don’t have! 6,50 euros. See, you never know what you’ll find.
Let’s go down to the basement. But leave your bag at the desk. Watch your head! I hate stairs made for short people.
In this first little room, there are history books, and through there, they have the mysteries on the back wall and science fiction in the center with biographies, health, and other things around the edges. Kids’ books, self help, look around.
Nothing? Are you sure you like books? You don’t seem to be getting much. Well, I’ve got my Dubus, so I’m happy.
“So you found something today?”
Yes, I’ve been looking for this for years.
“Then I hope you’re very happy.”
“Oh, I am. Bye, see you soon.”