Sitting on books in Paris

The libraries, bookshops, and bouquinistes’ stalls of Paris are justly famous. So, too, are places to sit, alone or with someone else. The city offers many spots for quiet contemplation and conversation. So why not combine them? Sit on some books and ponder, or just look around.

Imagine that it is late April, I will tell you how I discovered and fell in love with one more facet of Paris.

It was a day when even the pigeons looked wonderful, looked as if they belonged and were not intrusive flying rodents. I had never thought of photographing fallen cherry blossoms and pigeons. But spring in Paris is whimsical.

Square Gabriel Pierné (named for a composer who wrote some lovely piano and harp music) is a tiny Parisian park on the rue de Seine in an area known for galleries, cafés, and heavy traffic that pretty much stands still.

Surrounded by a graceful iron fence, the park beckoned, the bench surprised and welcomed us. Square Gabriel Pierné is more than just another tiny, elegant, Parisian park. It perfectly expresses an idea that I find quintessentially Parisian, namely that open space, unbuilt-upon space is precious and should be honoured. It should also be inviting to use.

Before going into the park, I lingered outside, looking in so I could see without disturbing others. And here is one of my favourite Parisian park scenes.

I was captivated by this elderly couple. Paris is many things to many people. My Paris is one that accepts age, says it belongs, even venerates and admires it. That extends to people as well as to buildings and other works of art.

Captivated as I was, I dared not disturb their private moment—but I was trying to capture, however inadequately, my appreciation of aging in a particular place. Eventually, the couple stood up and slowly walked down the street. I took no more photographs. I simply admired their grace and elegance. I knew nothing of the lives they lived, I only know they had given me something.

For a few moment, I thoughts of my long-departed grandparents, William Stevens and Elsie (née Pirie – a French name), and how they aged together, gracefully, lovingly, and tenderly. And I hoped that Philippa and I also might be given one of the great gifts of time: happily growing old together. Even though it cannot be in Paris.

Paris has been good to us. Five years after I photographed the Square Gabriel Pierné, we found ourselves at the corner of Rue de Brosse and Quai de l’Hotel de Ville. A few steps along, the latter brought us to Le Trumilou for lunch with friends. The conversation, food, wine, champagne, and surroundings were superb in this unpretentious, traditional French restaurant. As we left, we noticed an unusual bookshop.

The Librairie du Compagnonnage is an astounding bookstore dedicated to the arts, skills, and crafts associated with preservation and restoration of buildings and artifacts. There we browsed and talked, but also enjoyed the company of books and interesting objects.

And we spotted some books to sit down on while we read. What else should one do in such a splendid city after lunch with fine friends and no real work on either the agenda or the horizon? Well, we did thank the staff profusely and paid for the physical riches we found and took home.

Text by Norman Ball, photographs by Norman Ball and Philippa Campsie

About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
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8 Responses to Sitting on books in Paris

  1. Pat Nottingham says:

    I just LOVE your photo essays & observations…so very poetic and unique. Makes me love Paris
    even more…because you take us to the sublime layers of this beautiful city. Our next trip to Paris
    will be in the Fall-2012….that will give me a new season to enjoy my favorite city and to see it in a different light……as you know, it’s all about the LIGHT and the seasons!

  2. beautiful…especially the last photo

  3. Ken Bowes says:

    Norman & Philippa:
    Loved the books to sit on, and that bell built into the corner of Rue de Brosse and the Quai de l’Hotel de Ville!

    A breath of fresh air each week!

    Many thanks.

    Ken B

  4. Adam says:

    Very interesting and very true.

    I think there is just a small typo in the name of the book shop ‘Librairie du Campagnonnage’, which should read ‘Librairie du Compagnonnage’. The ‘Compagnnage’ being of course a fascinating – and very French – movement that can trace its origins back to the days of cathedral building in the 12th century. It continues today, grouping together the most promising students in various traditional crafts, and sending them on a ‘tour de France’ to work on projects. There’s more information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compagnons_du_Tour_de_France

  5. Kiki says:

    Norman, you nearly, very nearly, made me cry over this post. Such longing, such beauty and poesie… I too love and always loved looking at elderly couples. Many of them I saw and observed tenderly in the South West of England where I was permitted to live for over eight years. They were holding hands and adjusting to the partners speed or slowness; uncomplaining, holding themselves back to accommodate their spouse’s abilities.
    I also absolutely ADORE those book-benches; that’s so very me that I can’t understand that I’ve never even heard of them… I shall right now find out where this square is exactly and visit it next springtime!
    Thank you also for those wonderful calm photos; a treat on a November day – this brings me one step nearer to my all-time wish to have ONE ROOM just as a library, books all around the walls, stairs going up to more books and I’d finally be able to keep them and not part with them at every new removal!

  6. Dawne says:

    Thank you for this wonderfully informative post. I will certainly look for that park, that bench, and that bookstore on my next trip to Paris!

  7. editor says:

    Very nice, especially this passage: ” . . . Paris is many things to many people. My Paris is one that accepts age, says it belongs, even venerates and admires it. That extends to people as well as to buildings and other works of art.”
    dali

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