Sunday, 28 May 2017

In Paris with Paul Celan (and the usual suspects)

A couple of weeks ago - only a few days after returning from a three-week visit to Canada - I went to Paris for the weekend. This year the IIHF World Championship (ie. ice hockey) was in Paris and Cologne, and I was there to meet up with my brother Lucas, who writes articles for the IIHF website.

Paris is one of my adored cities, and every visit there is different. It was strange to be going to a couple of hockey games while there (this time I got to see Slovenia-Belarus and Canada-Switzerland. Canada managed to lose to Switzerland!). At the same time, there always seem to be some common threads, often involving food, art and books. It is Paris, after all.

Besides spending time with my brother, my mission on this particular trip was to go to the Gibert Jeune bookshop on Place St-Michel and to find a few French poetry books. I was looking for Benjamin Fondane's Le mal des fantômes in particular, and possibly something by Yves Bonnefoy and Guy Goffette. This mission was accomplished in a matter of minutes when I found all of the above, but then I also ended up buying a French Sherlock Holmes pastiche (Einstein et Sherlock Holmes) by Alexis Lecaye. These things happen.

On the Sunday, my brother and were walking in the Marais (and, incidentally, avoiding the passation de pouvoir of the new president Emmanuel Macron, which would no doubt have been interesting to see but all the security was a bit off-putting.) On Rue Rambuteau, we stopped in at Les Cahiers de Colette (Colette's Notebooks), a lovely and distinctly intellectual bookshop. I'd say intellectual even by French standards - I find that in France there tends to be an underlying assumption of a certain intellectual level, which is perhaps one reason why some publishers tend not to include blurbs on their books. Editions Gallimard, who published a couple of my poetry purchases, is one of these. They just know you want to buy Yves Bonnefoy and Guy Goffette.

Anyway, in Les Cahiers de Colette I also saw these:

The second photo shows a reproduction of one of Paul Celan's letters. In the montage of faces, his jumped out at me right away. (Of course I recognised Beckett and Kafka, and found that Paul Eluard and André Breton were there too. There are others I feel sure I should know - feel free to identify them!)

I always feel close to Celan, somehow, even when I'm not actively reading him. It is about 20 years since I first read his work, and the writers I encountered in my teenage years have tended to have a particularly strong effect on me. I started reading him more actively about seven years ago, when I was also undergoing some particularly intense moments, so I think that Celan was really sealed into my life. But in Paris, I feel a little closer to him. As well as the knowledge that he walked those streets, there's a feeling that he is more remembered there.


  1. What a lovely post!

    On the top row, Deleuze and Proust. And that is Freud boarding a plane. Under him, Lacan and next to Lacan, Walter Benjamin. The bald man next to Kafka looks a bit like Pascal Quignard, but the picture looks too old, considering the man's age.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by! That's just the information I was looking for ;)

      I have to say, though - and I say this even as someone whose reading is probably overly dominated by dead white guys - I looked at this photo and thought "that's a LOT of men. Could they not have found room for a few women in there? Or even one or two?"

  2. Ah, how I envy you that encounter! I do miss my French bookshops - they tend to be smaller but more independent than the bookshops here in the UK, so have a good variety of books, often obscure ones. And the booksellers are delightfully knowledgeable. I would spend ages discussing things with them.

    1. You're right. We didn't really have time to get chatting on this occasion, but maybe on my next visit! I'm not sure if I'd been to this particular bookshop before, but I knew right away it was a bit of a special one, even before I spotted Paul Celan. Les Cahiers de Colette seems to be a very highly rated bookshop even by Paris standards.