Paris: The Cortazar Route, pt. 3

Café Old Navy

Address: 150 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006

“Somebody told me in Paris that he used to write in the Old Navy Café, in the Saint Germain boulevard, and there I waited for him for a few weeks until I saw him enter like a hallucination. He was the tallest man imaginable, with the face of a naughty child inside an endless black coat that looked like a widow’s cassock; his eyes were very separated, like those of a young bull, and so oblique and transparent, that they could have well been the eyes of the devil himself, had they not been under the heel of the heart. […] I saw him write for more than an hour. He never paused to think, and he didn’t drink anything except for half a glass of mineral water. He wrote until it was dark outside, and he put the pen on his pocket, and he left with the notebook under his arm, like the tallest and thinnest scholar in the world.”

Gabriel García Márquez

When I read Clases de Literatura (Literature Classes), I realized that Julio Cortázar was a modest man. He didn’t boast on his wisdom, nor he pretended to be an intellectual. He would often say that he wasn’t a professional writer and that he didn’t really know why he wrote anything. He once apologized for putting his name next to García Márquez in an example, while teaching literature in Berkeley. That same García Márquez that had waited for him for weeks inside a small coffee shop in Paris.

Ana Pau commented that, when I first told her about a café Julio used to visit, she thought we’d go to a fancy place. After all, Cortázar was an internationally renowned author. She never expected to find a small, classic Parisian coffee shop, that happened to reflect perfectly the Argentinian’s character. It’s not a pompous place, and there’s nothing spectacular about it. It’s simply a nice café where the coffee is good and the young people confuse the name with the American clothing store.

La Hune Book Store

Address: 170 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006

“Yesterday I was at the Hune looking at books, and naturally I regretted not having enough money to buy an armful of things.”

Julio in a letter to Maria Rocchi de Jonquières.

This book store is small, but full of books that go from the floor to the ceiling. I only needed to step inside to feel that warm atmosphere that only books give you. Everything changes when you’re completely surrounded by books: the smell, the room temperature, the feeling of being comfortable.

His works were few, and they were at the lowest part of a bookshelf at the end of the room. Very well hidden, if you ask me. I thought it was a pity that his books had so little attention in a book store he had loved so much, but then I remembered: it is Julio Cortázar. If he were here, he probably wouldn’t mind at all. Instead, he would be very busy thinking about the books he’d want to buy.

I could only purchase this edition of The Pursuer because, almost like Julio, I didn’t have enough money to buy everything I wanted. I say almost because the other thing I was lacking was the language. My French is still too basic.

Les Deux Magots

Address: 6 Place Saint Germain des Prés.

Here’s where we deviate from the original route to talk about a place that’s also important when talking about international literature.

Back in the 1800, les Deux Magots was a store that eventually became a café. The original name was Les Deux Magots de la Chine (“The two stocky figurines of China”), Magot means “stocky figurine from the Far East”, and there are two little Chinese statues inside that honor the original place.

This café was the rendezvous point for many intellectuals during one of the best times of Paris. Some famous clients include James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Albert Camus, Simon de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Arsenal Library

Address: 1 Rue Sully, 75004

“It has been told by Aurora Bernárdez, his widow and heiress: during one of the last days of his life, he decided that the last place he wanted to visit again was a building where he had been very happy more than thirty years before. A friend drove them there. Cortázar could not climb up the stairs. She did. Julio – she told him afterwards – everything is still the same.”

Prologue to Cuentos inolvidables según Cortázar (Unforgettable Stories according to Cortázar), by Carles Álvarez Garriga. My translation.

I went to see the library the last day before we returned to Germany. It was one of the most fun days of the whole trip. It was a Sunday and everything closed early, so I had to finish the route by taking the subway and running everywhere. I would have loved to climb up those stairs and see that place where he’d been a happy young man, but I didn’t have much time to see the other places, so I just took the pictures and ran to the other side of the Seine for the next stop.