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Paris is nothing if not a great city for walking. Smaller in space than many of the world’s international cities, it can easily be crossed by foot in only a couple of hours. Building codes—that since the 1960s have forbidden buildings over eight stories in the city center—assure a low skyline. And while urban planning, based on the hub-and-spoke pattern rather than the more American-styled grid, is at times confusing it’s great for meandering and discovering. And then there is the River Seine, which in its own way meanders through the city from east to west. In some ways this majestic river sets the pace for the city and imposes its own rhythm. And its well-manicured quais, or riverbanks, bring a sort of pastoral elegance to the heart of the city. La Seine, it is said, has a life all of its own, with an entire community of habitants living on the flatbed peniches, or barges. And for several kilometers along the banks, just above the river, a community of booksellers has been buying and selling books, pictures and posters for centuries.
Les bouquinistes, as these booksellers are commonly called, have been an active part of the river’s world since at least the 17th century. An offshoot of the intellectual life of the Left Bank, les bouquinistes thrived during the French Revolution and today they are nothing less than an institution in the city. Their trademark green stalls fold open and close each day, giving the Seine the reputation for being the only river in the word that runs between two bookshelves.
And for the last four years one bookseller, Ludo Communier, has built up a thriving business largely around cycling memorabilia and literature. Situated at the foot of the Pont des Arts, a footbridge that runs between the Louvre and the Institut de France, Ludo opens his bookstalls mid-morning every day save Wednesday, setting out his vast display of vintage cycling books and magazines like Miroir du Cyclisme or Vélo Magazine, as well as a collection of cycling photographs and posters.
“I’ve been a bouquiniste for four years after working as a tour guide in Paris for many years,” Communier says. “I had several friends who were booksellers here already and I knew that it could be a fun job. I put together an application with the City of Paris and after 10 years they finally offered me a stall here on the Seine.”
While other books and magazines of sport and leisure can be found here at Communier’s stall on 23 Quai de Conti, he says flatly that cycling has taken over and is now the vast majority of his business. “I started by selling books and magazines in all sports from my own collection or that of my father. But very quickly I started to focus on cycling, as I was seeing a huge amount of collectors coming from all over the world, much more than football or rugby. I am not sure why, but the Tour de France is a popular event that is free and goes to the people. Every kid in France has seen the Tour pass by at least once. So there is a lot of nostalgia for the Tour and cycling in general. And then the Tour really attracts a lot of foreigners because, well, the Tour de France is a tour around France so people discover France through this race.”
Communier, who rides more than 6,000 kilometers a year simply commuting to and from his bookstalls admits that he was one of the many French kids indoctrinated into the Tour de France while watching it as a kid. His heroes were Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond. And today he boasts a stock of over 5,000 books and magazines devoted to the sport of cycling. Looking for a map of the Tour in the 1950s or ’60s? Ludo may well have it. Interested in a book or magazine featuring your favorite Tour de France? Ludo may have that as well! “I’ve got enough stock to sell for several years to come,” he says.
While Communier admits that selling books and magazines outdoors in Paris, a city known for its incessant rains, can be complicated, he insists that the most difficult aspect of his profession is dealing with the noise from the steady stream of cars that pass by all day long. “But such hardship is largely made up for with the opportunities that I have to meet people from around the world. Every day there is someone from a different country. In fact, my biggest clientele is probably actually Americans or at least Anglo-Saxon visitors. This huge history of the cycling press is something they just don’t have in many of those countries I guess. But they can find it here when they come to France. I guess I have found a niche. And it’s a lot of fun!”
GO SEE LUDO IN PARIS
• Location: 23 Quai Conti, 75006 Paris
• Daily from 11 a.m.–7 p.m. (closed Wednesday)
From issue 78. Buy it here.