Vive le livre, says the City of Light

Everything is up to date in Paris, France–or just about everything, as I saw in a recent visit. The once ubiquitous Gitanes and Gauloises have made way for the increasingly popular cigarette electronique.

One of the multitude of bookstores dotting the Paris landscape.

Lunch-goers in the vicinity of the city’s stock exchange can choose the Brasserie De La Bourse or, for the ironically inclined, the Café des Initiés (Café of Insider Trading). On the streets, teens jostle each other and squeal “Oh, my God,” much as if they were in New York or another U.S. city.

But in one respect, Paris seems out of step: Bookstores are everywhere. In the enchanting passages, or covered shopping streets, near the Palais Royal, art-book dealers nest next to stalls trading in used volumes. On the Boulevard de la Opera, there’s even a Brentano’s—shades of New York in the 1980s. The Marais district has Mona Lisait (get it?) among others, while on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, two chains run by the father and son team of Joseph Gibert and Gibert Jeune compete with multi-story outlets that recall New York’s wonderful Eighth Street Bookshop of yore.

Haven’t they heard? Books are dead, non? Or does the City of Light have a bright idea that has dimmed in America?

Kindles must be around in Paris, but I saw few of them—or for that matter, few thumb-twiddling smart-phone texters/walkers. Honestly, though, on the RER train, which I took a lot, I saw few readers of any kind, book or periodical.

And then there appeared a subtle if all too ominous portent lurking

Would Catherine de Medicis have an iPad today?

over the aristocratic Place des Vosges, clearly visible from No. 6, Maison de Victor Hugo: Two-foot high Helvetica type on a nearby wall reading simply “iPad.” Big Brother is indeed coming, as Apple’s own Super Bowl advertisement suggested many years ago.