Letter from Paris – La Hune is Closing, Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Death of a bookshop.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Stop the clocks. Silence the pianos. The double-storey La Hune is to shut down permanently. Tucked in the heart of the most beautiful part of Paris, it is one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.
“We are closing very soon,” says the young man behind the cash counter at La Hune bookstore. “It’s our owner’s decision,” he adds, pointing to posters on the glass door announcing La Hune’s impending closure on 14 June, 2015 at 20.00 hours.
The death notice feels as unreal as the evening sky of Paris during September evenings. Opened in 1949 (though not in its present address), La Hune is as much of an institution as the other great landmarks scattered around it.
Just across the street is the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church–it dates to sixth century and gives its name to the city’s fashionable 6th arrondissement.
Also across the street is Les Deux Magots, the café where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone Beauvoir used to chat. James Joyce and Pablo Picasso were also spotted frequently.
Also across the street from the bookstore is Picasso’s small sculpture of poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s head.
The famous left bank of the Seine is ten minutes walk away from La Hune; the path goes through rue Bonaparte, a cobbled street lined with boutiques dealing with hand-painted wall papers, antique books, and framed autographs of historical personalities (one showroom displays clothing and linen from Delhi’s Anokhi).
The Louvre museum is on the other side of the river. The Musée d’Orsay, the home of impressionists, is also near.
In other words, being inside La Hune is to situate oneself in the heart of the historic and contemporary France.
But the world inside La Hune is to disappear, including these dream shelves behind the cashier’s desk that are so neatly stacked with Gallimard’s handsome leather-bound hardcovers, including the big room beyond that is filled with classic and trashy French novels, including the side windows devoted to Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde, including the upper floor stocked with coffee table volumes on art and photography. The sweeping curved staircase with black handrails too will be history.
And the shop’s bookish cashier, so involved in reading his novel-of-the-day, will move somewhere else.
Early this month the nostalgia-stained blog Disappearing Paris dutifully performed its share of ritual mourning; it also quoted author Bernard-Henri Lévy telling Paris Match that “La Hune is much more than just a bookstore. It’s much more than one of the best bookstores in the world. It’s a place for literature where not just readers but writers too felt at home.”
La Hune was one of those rare bookstores in Paris that stayed open beyond the midnight hour. Nowadays, however, it turns out the lights as early as ten in the night.
Soon La Hune will never have to bring down its shutters.