I’m a freelance bouquiniste!

One of the things I most love about Paris is that, everywhere you turn, you’re surrounded by music and art.

Today’s highlights: Getting to be a bouquiniste for a half hour, meeting a ridiculously accomplished photographer, hearing my buddy Jan play for three hours, and happening upon a light-show rehearsal at Notre Dame during my walk home.

The weather was fabulous today. But by noon the sun was a bit too high and bright for photography, so I went for a lazy stroll along the Seine.

My destination was one particular bouquiniste I’d talked to last weekend. She deals in assorted junk and antiques …

… and she’d promised to get me some Victorian skeleton keys.

I found her booth past the Pont Marie, greeted her, and asked about les clés. “Mon Dieu!” she said. “I forget them.” What a shame.

After much negotiation, she volunteered to run home for the keys, on the condition that I’d watch her wares. “The prices are all marked,” she said in French. “And if that man over there with the guitar gets up, don’t let him get close to this booth.” She turned and glared at the guy, who stared back dispassionately. I shrugged. “D’accord.”

One of the other bouquinistes waved me over to join him on a bench. We did the dance of trying to figure out each other’s most fluent language. Federico and I settled on a mongrel Italian/Spanish combination.

He’s been a bouquiniste in Paris for three years. But before that, he was an antique book dealer in Firenze. And his dream is to someday go to New York. How very cosmopolitan.

We laughed together at the cultural differences between the Italians and the French. “In Italy, they say ‘bene, no problems,’ but then there are lots of problems,’” he said. “And in France they say, ‘alors, there will be 10 problems with this thing,’ but maybe you only have six or seven problems.” Ha. So true.

I did eventually manage to buy some keys and a couple of gifts at Papier +, a charming stationer.

Along the way, I also stopped to watch some unbelievable street performers and to gawk at a young couple’s wedding shoot.

I was on my way back to the apartment when I saw a photographer bobbing and weaving, looking for just the right angle. I stood behind him to watch him line up his shot.

We ended up talking for over an hour and he gave me a beautiful print as a gift. His work is absolutely gorgeous, in the true tradition of Parisian street photography …

By now it was dark and I worried that I’d missed my musician pal, Jan. But then I heard my phone’s text-message alert. “2100.” I still had time.

I’d barely greeted Jan when a group of drunken street folk swarmed him and started rapping incoherently about being afraid of cheese and falling down stairs and je ne sais quoi.

I marveled at how deftly Jan regained control without ruffling any feathers. Eventually his backup singers moved on, and he got down to business.

For almost three hours I sat next to his friends Amandine and Frank as Jan ran through his repertory. I preferred his versions of Bee’s Wing and In the City of Chicago to the originals. I teared up as he sang The Boxer. And I laughed every time he asked whether we’d mind “just one more song.”

Of course we didn’t mind. The guy is brilliant.

Afterward, the four of us wandered off to grab a pint, but I didn’t even make it past the foam. I was exhausted; it was time to go home.

As I crossed the square in front of Notre Dame, I stopped to watch the rehearsal for a huge event tomorrow night. The light show on the front of the cathedral was extraordinary.

What a perfect way to end the day.


October 13, 2011

By special request (salut, Corey !) here are the famous Victorian keys I bought from the bouquiniste. I bought them to give as gifts—more memorable than the usual plastic Eiffel towers, I thought, and less expensive as well. I’ll save one for you if I can find more during my next visit. Bonne journée !


  1. Maybe I won’t go to Paris after all – you’re doing such a wonderful job bringing it to me.
    Thank you!

  2. Wow I’d say you got the most out of a day in Paris. I love this idea of projecting light shows onto monuments which they seem to do a lot in France. A cool post for a cool adventure. Maybe just one thing left to be desired — I’d love to see the Victorian keys!

    • Yeah, I have a tendency to cram my days pretty full whenever I’m in Paris (which is probably why I sleep for three days straight when I get home). But happening upon that light show on the Notre Dame was one of the highlights, to be sure. The photos don’t *begin* to do it justice! As for those Victorian keys … your wish is my command! Svp go back to the post and scroll to the very bottom. 🙂

Leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s