The Only Street in Paris – Life on the Rue des Martyrs – Elaine Sciolino (2016)


Elaine Sciolino : The Only Street in Paris

It is a good book. It tells about neighbourhood; its present, its history; religion and community; food, coffee, wine, greengrocers, fishmongers, charcuteries, cheesemongers; art, and the art of living. Rue des Martyrs is the length of half a mile, and descends from Montmartre, and in descending, crosses from the 18th arrondissement into the 9th.

The chapter that centres on the Jewish schoolgirls of the Edgar Quinet School who were rounded up in July, 1942, and later murdered, in the Second World War, with the collaboration of the French with the Nazis, is especially fine. She quotes the words of Jean-Claude Devaux, the school’s past principal, at his annual ceremony of remembrance.

            “It is now our responsibility and yours, young students, to tell others they must remember so that it will never again be possible for police to come into our classrooms as hunters…. French police came to hunt down French girls, classmates of women who are with us tonight. Be vigilant so that it never happens again. Because anything is possible, always, always. You students must transmit the message to your generation that you must not discriminate, that you must not differentiate, that there can be no killing for religion or skin color.”

Her chapter on books in France is marvellous. I quote:

            “France retains a reverence for the printed book As independent bookstores crash and burn in the United States, the market here is healthier, largely to government protections that treat the stores as national treasures. Grants and interest-free loans are available to would-be owners, and price-fixing reigns.

            “In France, booksellers—including Amazon—may not discount books more than 5 percent below the publisher’s list price. With such a small discount, many customers prefer to shop in stores, where book-loving salespeople stand by ready to offer advice and opinions. E-books (whose prices are also fixed) have yet to become a big market, except for the French classics, many of which can be downloaded for free.”


Rue des Martyrs – lower section.

This chapter contains a section on one of the three librairies on Rue des Martyrs. The bookstore offers ten thousand titles in a shop of 215 square feet, and is in a building that has had a bookstore in it for over a hundred years. Sciolino thought that, as the shop opened at noon, that the co-owners, Gilberte and Hélène, “might be semiretired. Not so. They need mornings to read their books so they can properly advise their customers.”

2 thoughts on “The Only Street in Paris – Life on the Rue des Martyrs – Elaine Sciolino (2016)

  1. Thank you for your comment. The situation is similar in Canada. Universities concentrate more and more on programmes of study that are seen to yield the student quick and high monetary return; and governments increasingly insist that that is the main purpose of schools of learning, and, because almost all universities in Canada are state-supported, governments can make their insistence stick. A recent set of demands by the previous government of Alberta, for example, forced all the provinces institutions of higher learning, including the province’s major university, the University of Alberta in Edmonton, to expand professional training at the expense of faculties of music and other liberal arts. It was humiliating. But it was within the course of things that has been going on now for at least some 30 years. In addition, like in the US, most teaching is conducted by adjunct faculty, who are paid little and are hard pressed to make ends meet. Student body transformation and growth are engendered by bureaucracies of what is termed advancement but which actually is corporate fundraising and a deliberate concentration on recruitment of foreign students, for these are charged triple the domestic rate and thus are a cash cow for the institutions. Moreover, again like the US, students usually require large loans to fund their education. The laws allow bankruptcy, but not until 7 years after graduation. Some of the consequence can be seen in the disappearance of bookstores, and in the disappearance of quality in many of those that remain, which are mostly creatures of corporations. In these, staff have almost invariably no knowledge of nor any interest in what they are selling. This is not the case in the few independents that survive, but competition from organizations like Amazon is devastating; because of price, but even more so because of the proliferation of books of poor quality of content. And the lack of informed readership.


  2. The subsidies for books stores and limits on discounts help, but the real benefit comes from an educational system that fosters a readership for a large number of books that are billed in the US as “intellectual” (and thus ‘academic’) writing. In the US, students need large loans which they carry for a long period of time and which cannot be discharged by any form of bankruptcy, This requires students to undertake studies that will produce a return on this investment. There are plenty of sources in which they may find which forms of education will pay off best. Students cannot afford to undertake courses of study which do not produce tangible benefits in a reasonable period of time. Thus many of the most renowned programs in history, liberal arts, and so forth are now in steep decline, and sustained (if at all) by adjunct (permanently non-tenured) faculty. The point, here is, in short, that the US educational system is producing a readership for, at best, escapist and entertainment oriented books.

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