Les Bouquinistes: A History of the Beloved Booksellers on the Seine

Les Bouquinistes: A History of the Beloved Booksellers on the Seine
The city of Paris is buzzing as the city prepares for the Olympics which commence July 26, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing for everyone involved in the lead-up to the Olympic Games – particularly for second-hand Paris booksellers, les bouquinistes, who operate in bookstalls along the Seine. Originally, there was talk of the famous green bookstalls being removed from along the Seine in advance of the opening ceremony, which is projected to bring 600,000 spectators to the city for the opening events. The Paris prefecture worried that the bookstalls could be used to hide explosives during the Olympics. President Emmanuel Macron stepped into the debate this month and declared that the bouquinistes can stay in their regular location during the Olympics. This is a relief to many, particularly those who feared that the removal of the bookstalls could cause irreversible damage to the green boxes, some of which have been there for over a century. John Paul Fortney, an importer of French wines who lived in Paris for over a decade, tells Bonjour Paris, “It’s hard to imagine walking in Paris by the Seine without the bouquinistes. I’m glad that their value and importance is being recognized as Paris prepares for the Olympics.” The bouquinistes of Paris. Photo credit: Peter Olson Les Bouqinistes & The Olympics  As a result of Olympics preparations, the bouquinistes along the banks of the Seine found themselves at the heart of a controversy over whether they could stay or go during the Summer Olympic Games in Paris.  Amusingly, the head of the Cultural Association of Booksellers in Paris, Jérôme Callais (who has been selling books from the green bookstalls since the 1990s), compared the efforts to remove the bouquinistes to a “tooth extraction.” (Read the Bonjour Paris profile and illustration of Jérôme Callais here.)  Callais was cited in an Associated Press article speaking on the efforts to remove the booksellers, saying, “It’s as if the prefecture decided that the Eiffel Tower was too high and that the third and second floors had to be removed because they came within the scope of the cameras during the ceremony.” Callais later said, “The only thing we ask is that they don’t touch our boxes…We are fragile enough as it is. We want to last a few more centuries.”  Paris’s city hall did, however, say it would renovate the bookstalls for free after their removal, but Callais and other members of the booksellers’ association weren’t interested in the offer. The booksellers’ association offered that the bookstalls could be sealed up during the ceremony to enhance safety measures during the Olympic Games.   A bouquiniste on the Quai de Montebello. Credit: Benh LIEU SONG/ Wikimedia commons

Lead photo credit : Photo Credit: Les Bouquinistes/Google Image

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Anne McCarthy is a contributing writer to BBC News, Teen Vogue, The Telegraph, Dance Magazine, and more. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster and is the Editor in Chief of Fat Tire Tours’ travel blog. She lives in New York City.