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PARIS

Bouquiniste: How to apply to join the 500-year-old Paris booksellers

The booksellers who line Paris' River Seine - and their iconic green boxes - are an integral part of the French capital, and now a rare opportunity has arisen to join the ranks of the bouquinistes.

Bouquiniste boxes line the banks of the Seine, forced to close because of the pandemic.
Lockdowns forced many Paris bouquinistes to close down meaning that a number of vacancies are now available. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

The selling of books along the Seine is a tradition stretching back as far as the 16th century. But it was not until 1891 that the book stalls along the banks of the river were officially recognised – and not until 1900 that the signature ‘wagon green’ colour became mandatory. 

Bouquinistes now line a 3km stretch through the centre of Paris, operating 900 wooden stalls from which they sell their wares – some 300,000 books, stamps, cards and posters in total. 

The Seine has been described as the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves – although the literary set-up has inspired similar projects in places such as Ottawa and Tokyo. 

READ ALSO Paris’ riverside booksellers battle for survival as Unesco race heats up

While they do not have to pay tax or rent, the sellers, each of whom can run a maximum of four stalls in total, have been badly hit by the pandemic. Social distancing, lockdowns and a lack of tourists has had a drastic impact on their revenue. 

In an online petition Jérôme Callais, President of the Cultural Association of Bouquinistes pleaded: “Book lovers, from Paris and elsewhere, please stroll! Stroll as soon as health conditions allow it!

“Walk along the banks of the Seine and stop of a moment to look at these green boxes – veritable displays of civilisation. Let yourself be seduced by the warm call of the thousands of books that they contain.”

As beautiful as this call to action was, it was not enough to save certain bouquinistes, even as Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed. The good news is that the City of Paris is now accepting applications to fill these vacancies, so this is your chance to join a centuries old trade.

People walk past the open stands of the booksellers, also called bouquinistes, by Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, on May 15, 2020, as France eases the lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19, (the novel coronavirus). (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

What you need to do 

An application pack must be sent by email or by post to the addresses listed on the City of Paris website, where you will also find more detailed guidance on the kind of documentation you need. 

You will need to send: a CV and covering letter; ID photos; proof of address; proof of social security registration; copies of an ID document or birth certificate; and proof of a clean criminal record. 

Although successful candidates must be official residents of France and registered in the health and social security system there is no requirements to be a French citizen, although obviously speaking French is pretty necessary.

Applications must be received before March 2022 when the selection committee will meet to decide on the winners. Those who bid successfully will then be allocated five-year plots by the City. 

What if you succeed? 

If you win the bid, there are fairly tight regulations that you will have to follow – the licences can be easily revoked for breaching the rules. 

There are strict restrictions on the size of the plot, sellers must be present at least four days per week, and are required to register their company and take out insurance. Bouquinistes must also register the name of any employees or friends/family that will help out with the running of the stalls. 

Selling second-hand books along the river will not lead you to riches. But the bouquinistes are in it for the lifestyle. In an interview with Le Parisien, Callais once said: “Liberty is our main salary”. 

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POLITICS

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

Bikini, topless, swimsuit, wetsuit, burkini - what women wear to go swimming in France is apparently the business of the Interior Minister. Here's why.

Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women's swimwear?

It’s a row that erupts regularly in France – the use of the ‘burkini’ swimsuit for women – but this year there is an added wrinkle thanks to the country’s new anti-separatism law.

What has happened?

Local authorities in Grenoble, eastern France, have updated the rules on swimwear in municipal pools.

French pools typically have strict rules on what you can wear, which are set by the local authority.

For women the rule is generally a one-piece swimsuit or bikini, but not a monokini – the term in France for wearing bikini bottoms only, or going topless. For men it’s Speedos and not baggy swim-shorts and many areas also stipulate a swimming cap for both sexes.

These rules typically apply only to local-authority run pools, if you’re in a privately-owned pool such as one attached to a hotel, spa or campsite then it’s up to the owners to decide the rules and if you’re lucky enough to have a private pool then obviously you can wear (or not wear) what you want.

READ ALSO Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?

Now authorities in Grenoble have decided to relax their rules and allow baggy swim shorts for men while women can go topless (monokini) or wear the full-cover swimsuit known as the ‘burkini’. This is essentially a swimsuit that has arms and legs, similar in shape to a wetsuit but made of lighter fabric, while some types also have a head covering.

Is this a problem?

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear has caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move.

Those against it insist that it’s not about comfy swimwear, it’s about laïcité – that is, the French secularism rules that also outlaw the wearing of religious clothing such as the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish kippah in State spaces such as schools and government offices.

READ ALSO Laïcité: How does France’s secularism law work?

The burkini is predominantly worn by Muslim women, although some non-Muslim women also prefer it because it’s more modest and – for outdoor pools – provides better sun protection. 

Grenoble’s mayor Eric Piolle, one of the country’s highest profile Green politicians who leads a broad left-wing coalition locally, has championed the city’s move as a victory.

“All we want is for women and men to be able to dress how they want,” Piolle told broadcaster RMC.

Is this France’s first burkini row?

Definitely not, the modest swimsuit has been causing a stir for some years now.

In 2016 several towns in the south of France attempted to ban the burkini on their beaches. This went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional, and the State cannot dictate what people wear on the beach.

The situation in municipal pools is slightly different in that local authorities can make their own rules under local bylaws. Most pools don’t explicitly ban the burkini, but instead list what is acceptable – and that’s usually either a one-piece swimsuit or a bikini. These decisions are taken on hygiene, not religious, grounds.

The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear, which seems to have passed unnoticed until the Grenoble row erupted.

Why is the Interior Minister getting involved?

What’s different about the latest row is the direct involvement of the Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He appears to have no objection to topless swimming in Grenoble, but he is very upset about women covering up when going for a dip.

No, he’s not some kind of creepy beauty pageant judge from the 1970s – he’s upset about laïcité.

Darmanin called the decision “an unacceptable provocation” that is “contrary to our values”.

He has ordered the local Préfet to open a review of the decision, and later announced that prosecutors had opened an inquiry into Alliance Citoyenne, a group that supports the wearing of burkinis in pools.

And the reason that he gets to intervene directly on the issue of local swimming pools rules is France’s ‘anti-separatism’ law that was passed in 2020.

This wide-ranging law covers all sorts of issues from radical preaching in mosques to home-schooling, but it also bans local councils from agreeing to ‘religious demands’ and among its provisions it allows the Interior Minister to intervene directly on certain issues.

So far this power has been used mostly to deal with extremism in mosques, several of which have been closed down for short periods while extremist preachers were removed.

Darmanin’s foray into women’s swimwear seems to represent an extension of the use of these powers. 

Is this all because there is an election coming up?

Parliamentary elections are coming up in June and the political temperature is rising. It’s certainly noticeable that in Darmanin’s initial tweet about the matter he referred to Grenoble mayor Eric Piolle as a “supporter of Mélenchon”, although Piolle is actually a member of the Green party.

Mélenchon and his alliance of leftist parties are currently the main rival for Macron’s LREM at the parliamentary elections. 

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