The bookstalls on the river-side have been too much described and are too obvious to need even a paragraph. But interest is always held by the fact that these boxes fastened to the stone parapets were the forerunners of many a bookstore in Paris. They began in 1603, when Henri IV gave his permission to booksellers to walk about and stand near the new Pont Neuf. And they had plenty to offer in the way of reading matter, for Paris had eight hundred printers in the 17th century most of them on the Left Bank.
The booksellers spread along the quays, as fast as the walls and sidewalks permitted them to; they are today upon the Right Bank as well. But over there they have to compete with the interesting bird and fish stores, as old as the quays themselves, some of them having been in the same families since before the Revolution. And all of them owe their position to the fact that when the City Hall left the hill near what was to be the Luxembourg Gardens and set itself very nearly where it is now, it was at the quays close by that wheat and salt and truck garden produce were unloaded for redistribution or delivery to the Halles.
Very naturally the Quai de la Mégisserie (Leather-working) became the rendezvous of farmers, fanciers, and suburbanites; it began to open up shops to serve them. Chickens, peacocks, geese, flower and vegetable seeds, garden tools and hardware, have clung ever since to the locality just a stone’s throw from what was a royal Louvre and is now a stately museum. Go down there on a Sunday morning or crowd along it on an early Saturday afternoon; you will find something not to be found anywhere else in Paris not to speak of the turtles, goldfish, and exotic birds.
Do not miss the walk along the Right Bank as far up-stream as the Quai des Celestins. You will see a children’s playground where old houses used to be and have a glimpse of the famous Hôtel de Sens after you have left the Hôtel de Ville behind you. Any of the streets which run north from the quay are worth visiting, for this is a very old spot. But on the quay itself a look of improvement, over which antiquarians weep, is visible.
However, on the Quai des Celestins (named from a con-vent) you can see at No. 32 the site of the theater where Molière played in 1645; at No. 28, the site of the house where Rabelais died in 1553; at No. 14, a house which belonged to Beaumarchais, who wrote operas and helped send arms to the Americans in 1776. And at No. 2 you will see one of the finest old houses and one of the oddest in Paris, the Hôtel de Lavalette, built in 1671.