Unexpected Experience in French Bookstores
The Boss of the Bookstore Exchanged with Customer in Nice
A Book Published One Hundred Years Ago
Old Bookstore in Nice
CD Appreciation Section of FNAC Bookstore in Nice
Though I am not a bookworm, my profession in literature made me totally engrossed in books. My collection of books has filled my study, and office, and my tiny bookcases have been full to such utmost that it is exceedingly hard for me to find a suitable place to put my new books, even after several rounds of clearance.
However, after my journey to France, what I took great trouble to bring back to Beijing from Nice, thousands of miles away, was just dozens of kilos of French books in French language that is totally strange to me.
This story had something to do with my companion OU Jianping who has a fascination with books. Within an itinerary abroad of over ten days, he would spare at least half a day to have a look at the local bookstores. As a researcher of dance, he aimed at nothing but books and DVDs about dancing. To him, price and money never indicate the genuine value of any books.
Though it is never my hobby to stroll in bookstores, I still couldn’t say no to such suggestion from OU, a new companion at the beginning of this journey, when we just arrived upon just arrival in Nice. FNAC, a four-storeyed building is the largest bookstore in Nice, full of French books and electronic products. There was quite a large area for audio-video products and many earphones connected withto CD players there enabled just right those illiterate of French like me to enjoy music.
With the passage of time, I came to realize that even music could hardly ease my embarrassment in this bookstore. At the sight of OU’s devotioned reading in a corner, I couldn’t help feeling a bit ashamed and then made up my mind to pretend to have a careful look at those books as well. Then I found a couple of shelves with French -version of Chinese Modern and Contemporary Literature. The books by MO Yan and LAO She were compiled in sets of French translation and their covers were full of imagination about China. I even found French translation of the books by such contemporary Chinese writers as YU Hua, SU Tong, LIU Zhenyun, YAN Lianke, LIU Xinwu, BI Feiyu, CHI Zijian and LI Jingze as well as the web fiction Shanghai Baby that aroused a huge fashion over a decade ago and the latest picture book Our Story of Pingzhu and Meitang. Even in Shakespeare Bookstore in Paris and that in Berlin afterwards, I failed to witness as many foreign versions of Chinese literature on shelves as in this FNAC in Nice.
Couple of hours passed by and it was already at noon. that OUu never showed any sign of ending my waiting. Another hour passed and my stomach began to pur, but OU was still indulging himself in reading. Then I had to admit that both of us would spent the whole day in reading in this bookstore. OU’s final harvest turned out to be quite huge, and but the pleasure I had was just witnessing his pleasure. As for lunch, the typical croissants in the dining area of the bookstore were welcome as delicacy, for we were both starving.
It was almost twilight when we left this bookstore, and OU advised to have a walk into the old town of Nice. Anticipating remote observation of the beautiful Angel Bay from the old town, I accepted this good advice. Within a short distance from our hotel to the old town, buildings were standing along the street one after another, and as there was no such enclosed neighborhood community as in China’s cities, there appeared to be so many tiny streets and lanes. Without a certain direction, we just roamed among those lanes before Ou shouted out “’Bookstore!’” as if happening to find treasure. At this sound, I was first bit surprised and then immediately disappointed, because my expectation to appreciate the beauty of Angel Bay was about to end.
As a matter of fact, it 'turned out to be quite an unattractive store that average people would easily neglect except such sensitive keen bookworms as OU. Within an area of only 20 square meters, three shelves of books stood against walls of each side and the remaining side was a window that faced to the street. Some books were piled on a table in the center of the room. The bossowner of the bookstore was a middle-age Frenchman with curling blonde hair, high-bridged nose and a pair of round-frame glasses. Many books on the shelves were blessed with thread-bond spine that resembled bamboo joint, and some were added with a protective film that indicated their precious quality. In this old bookstore, I randomly took out a “bamboo-joint” book: with furred cover, gold-glided top, published over a century ago, and the thick paper felt so good. The internal illustration was exquisite and its color was still fresh, both of which were far more beautiful than many latest publications. However, to my amazement, almost every old book in this store was in such time-honored and delicately-furnished fashion.
For books, I am always easily attracted by its external decoration and design, but such exquisite old books were hardly seen in my experience back in China. To explore the cause of this phenomenonfind out the reason, I initially owed it to my seldom visit to domestic bookstores or flea markets at home. When I reviewed the history around the 20th century when European powers were at their prime time while China was undergoing hardship and warfare, it is easy to conclude that the level of European publication then was so advanced that their Chinese counterpart could hardly compete.
What kind of feeling is it whento hold in hand a book that was published two centuries ago? Taking a look at this time-honored book and gazing at my excitement with it, OU was greatly touched to tears because it was totally a big happy surprise for both of us to encounter such a special old bookstore unexpectedly.
Despite my great amazement in the first book at hand, I finally gave up the book, as OU held that any book would be only a brick on a shelf so long as if it had nothing at all to do with the collector’s interests and profession. Learning that my profession was literature, the owner of the bookstore quickly recommended a book of Eugénie Grandet by Balzac as well as fables and poetry by Jean de la Fontaine, both in the original versions of French literature. My illiteracy of French language never hindered a bit of my interests as those frequent familiar and exquisite illustrations in both publications reminded me of those familiar plots and stories acquainted by almost every household. As for the poetry of tales whose contents were a bit foreign to me, the colorful illustration with simple yet fine description endowed the book with a distinct expression of Medieval French age. Such a classical book with a history of more than a century was indeed a delight for which I never wanted to bid goodbye.
Though darkness was far from falling, it was already 8 pm and the bookstore was about to close. We spent already over two hours within such a tiny space and before we left, the owner of the bookstore gifted us with a map of old bookstores in Nice. Beyond our imagination, there existed 17 old bookstores in this small city and it was our pity not be able to visit them one by one in our limited itinerary. To our joy and reassurance, when asked which old bookstore was the best in Nice, the owner slightly pushed his glasses and uttered in self-confidence, “Of course, mine!”.
As Borges said, paradise should look like a library. Then what does a true library look like? What a book looks like never equals to its quality, but it at least reflects the publisher’s respect for knowledge. Currently there are so many shoddy publications in pursuit of quick success or profit, and we can’t help wondering if those books are qualified into the library of paradise.