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The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age by David Okuefuna

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Drop everything and rush out to your local bookshop! Utterly gorgeous, it’s the eagerly awaited (by me) companion book for the BBC Four series on Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet project.

Photographs (autochromes being a particular favorite) are a passion of mine, and these are stunning.

Inventing a process to create stable colour photographs was no small thing. Black and white photography had existed for over fifty years before the Lumière brothers finally came up with the autochrome process around the turn of the century. The mystery ingredient: potato starch! Another reason to love the lowly tuber… Autochromes continued as the standard until well into the 1930s. Don’t miss the lovely selection of photos on the website for the book.

If you’re in Paris, the Musée Albert-Kahn has a new exhibit on India (with photos taken between 1913 and 1928).

Musée Albert-Kahn : 14 rue du Port in Boulogne-Billancourt 92100
Métro stop: Boulogne Pont de Saint Cloud (on the #10 line) just 2 stops beyond the official city limits…

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Bookshops in Paris, France (new and used!)

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I can’t believe I haven’t done a post on the English-language bookshops of Paris before!

I searched this blog (yes, I wrote all of it, but I’ve a mind like a sieve this days) and only came up with one post on Berkeley Books of Paris. So here’s a little list I’ve compiled:

Second-hand bookstores:

San Francisco Book Company
17 rue Monsieur le Prince
Paris, 75006
(near métro Odéon)

Excellent selection of literature, fiction, poetry, philosophy, history. They also have a very large selection of pocketbooks: literature, fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc.

Berkeley Books of Paris
8, rue Casimir Delavigne
Paris, 75006
(near métro Odéon)

Excellent selection of literature, fiction and poetry.

Tea & Tattered Pages
24 rue Mayet,
Paris 75006
(Métro Duroc)

You hear about this one constantly: it’s mentioned in every guide and tourist website. I went once, six years ago and was completely unimpressed. Not only were the books tattered, they were downright grubby. And it was all bestsellers and mainstream fiction. (Wow, do I ever sound like a snob!) I should go again and see what they’re like now.

New books:

Village Voice Bookshop
6, rue Princesse
Paris, 75006
(near métro Odéon)

Excellent selection of new, English-language books; primarily literature, fiction and poetry. Respectable selection of history, philosophy, art, psychology, etc. The owner, Odile Hellier, tells a moving story on this page about the history of the shop.

Galignani
224, rue de Rivoli
Paris, 75001
(Métro Tuileries)

A very good selection of literature, fiction, poetry, history, philosophy, art books, politics, Paris guides… “Best Atmosphere” award. Lovely shelves. When you get to the literature section in the back, look up! (Especially nice on a rainy day.) And peek through the glass door into the little office just before the philosophy section — I want to move in there.

[Also, don’t miss their website! There’s a nice little intro, then when you click on Enter you get a little film of the interior. Turn up your speaker volume. It’s a love song to books. The camera caresses the hardwood shelves, reels from the overwhelming selection. As the string section builds, I feel a swoon coming on. I tear up, it is… too much. I must lie in a darkened room for the rest of the afternoon with a cool handkerchief on my forehead. (And I’ve been there a hundred times.) Try not to drool on the keyboard. To the right of the movie is a fascinating history of the shop. Now that’s a pedigree.]

Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore
22, rue St Paul
Paris, 75004
(métro St Paul)

I haven’t been there in years, but I seem to remember they had a good selection.

W.H. Smith
248, rue de Rivoli
Paris, 75001
(métro Concorde)

I am including them for the sake of thoroughness, but not because I like them. It’s a chain bookshop, the staff are usually quite rude and their prices are frequently higher than any of the other new-books bookshops. They are, of course, more mainstream. Their literature section is an embarrassment (for us and them); and to insult further, they keep shuffling the section around the shop to make way for Christmas cards or a monster display of dieting books. Anyhow, I have to admit they do have a larger non-fiction than most and their magazine selection can’t be beat. They even have the National Enquirer for around nine euros. I can’t believe anyone bothered.

Added 7 hours later…

Both new and used books:

The Abbey Bookshop
29, rue de la Parcheminerie
75005 Paris

I haven’t been to this one in ages. All I remember is that it’s a mix of new and used and that the owner is Canadian. So, if you’re desperate for a copy of Canada’s version of the New York Times — known affectionately to its employees as “The Mop and Pail” and to the public at large as “The Globe and Mail” — this is the place for you.

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Eric Newby - Obituary

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Another irreplaceable, old-school travel writer gone.

Here’s a bit of audio with couple of short snippets of interviews with Eric Newby and his wife Wanda short article with a great photo and the official Guardian obit.

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Flaubert, Du Camp, early photography in Egypt, Nubia, Palestine and Syria

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

old photograph Maxime Du CampIf you’ve read Flaubert in Egypt or Geoffrey Wall’s magnificent biography Flaubert, you’ll remember Gustave’s travel companion, Maxime Du Camp.

Before they headed to Egypt, Du Camp studied for six months with a professional photographer. No disposable or point-and-shoot digital in those days! You practically had to be a chemist. And the amount of luggage it generated was incredible: bottles and bottles of delicate chemicals, crates of glass plates plus all the peripheral equipment and finally, the camera itself. It was a major undertaking.

geoffrey wall flaubertAnd Du Camp, if memory serves, was the first to take photos in Egypt. The first to capture the pyramids, the desert, the ancient monuments. I remember reading somewhere (where?) that Flaubert was horrified — no one would ever see these things for themselves first, through their own eyes. From then on, everyone would see these wonders through layers of previously seen photographs.

Well, it’s far too late to us, drenched as we are in images. So enjoy flipping through some lovely early photos of Egypt and North Africa and here’s a complete NYPL scan of the book of photos that Du Camp published when he returned.

And just for fun, here’s an excerpt from Wall’s bio.

Flaubert made conscientious efforts to imitate the bizarre cry of the camel. “I hope to perfect it before we leave, but it is quite difficult because of the particular gurgling sound that quivers somewhere beneath the screech…” […and a little later…] Suppressing the urge to put a bullet through his friend’s head, Du camp sent Flaubert away to ride ahead at a safe distance.

the sphinx still buried in sand
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