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Seine-side booksellers to be forced out during Olympics
But the bouquinistes refuse: what will happen?
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve acquired posters, vintage cards, funky pins and maybe a rare book or two from the bouquinistes, the booksellers that line the Seine with their forest green stalls and folding chairs. I am not, in other words, a regular shopper but I am a constant admirer. The booksellers are part of the largest open-air book market in all of Europe and 400-year-old tradition that, for the sake of the Olympic Games, stands to be disrupted.
According to the prefecture de police (not Mayor Hidalgo), 570 stalls — about 60% of the total along the river— will need to be dismantled and moved for the opening Olympics ceremony next summer which will take place on the water, claiming “obvious security reasons”. For now, it remains unclear if they will need to be moved for the entire duration of the Games or just the kickoff but knowing how this city operates, it would be a logistical nightmare to move them for only one day.
If the Olympics are, in theory, meant to uplift a city (never mind the fact that it rarely happens as such and cities spend far more than they take in) and celebrate its cultural heritage with all eyes firmly fixed on its marvels— which would include these iconic green stalls — it is a grave misstep to uproot them.
Jérôme Callais, the president of the Paris booksellers association, told the Guardian “People come to see us like they come to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, [but] they want to hide us during a ceremony that is supposed to represent Paris.”
City authorities have issues statements promising to pay for the costs of removal and any repairs to their stalls as part of a “renovation” that should shore up their application to to UNESCO for the booksellers to recognised as intangible cultural heritage. But booksellers say their stalls are very fragile and are unlikely to withstand the move.
Understandably, the booksellers are refusing to move. Other businesses located along or within the “security” zone during the opening ceremony and river events may find themselves in a similar bind soon enough.
Has there been any historical precedent for forcing the boquisinistes to halt business?
Despite frequent bans by various French kings, bouquinistes have been selling texts along the Seine since the 16th century, originally from handcarts, voluminous pockets and trestle tables.
In 1891, having survived an attempt at outright banishment by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the architect of modern Paris, they won permission to display and store their books in their boxes.
The bouquinistes were hard hit during Covid lockdowns. “The culmination of three disastrous years,” Callais told the Guardian in December 2020. “First the gilets jaunes and their protests. Then the transport strikes … And now Covid: travel bans, lockdowns, curfews. In financial terms, a catastrophe.” (The Guardian)
Every hosting city has to confront its own series of obstacles and, invariably, controversies in the run-up to the Games and Paris is sure to have many more but I can only hope that someone has the good sense to find a workaround to the supposed security threat these Parisians icons represent. I think many of us can agree that books and booksellers have been through enough hardships in recent years, they don’t need yet another battle to fight.