I swear, the great writers still live in the cafes of Paris

It rains a lot in Paris. As if to die from the downpour. Like Cesar Vallejo, but in a literal sense. The Seine builder, the only one to open this stormy afternoon, protects his creatures with a plastic tarp. He wears a green raincoat, shaped like a poncho. The books stick out his sides like a paper centaur; half novel, half man.

Azorin, who walked the posts of the Seine until he “got drunk”, had to stop on a bridge to rest. From where he sat, I now see an ashen Paris, draped in gray curtains, underlined by all those green metal booths that have housed old books for hundreds of years. The official figures speak of three kilometers of bookstore, 300,000 copies exhibited.

I ask the buquinista for books in Spanish. He tells me that he has nothing, that it would not be profitable for him and that the French, like everyone else, are buying fewer and fewer books. “The best are the Americans, who come here and take them away without knowing what it is; to decorate ”, he adds.

Look deep inside, with dark green eyes, like rivers look in summer. When saying goodbye, he yells: “Spanish? Don’t worry, it’s not that serious! ”. I’m tempted to answer, to go back to the war of 1808, but then I get it: he keeps talking about books.

It dawns on me by looking at the Saint Michel bookstore window. French books often follow this pattern: white covers, the author’s name in maroon or blue. No illustrations, no histrionic drawings. This is how, for example, the latest novel by Houellebecq. The editors know, I suppose, that they don’t need to seduce the reader with the packaging, that they will go for it despite its sobriety.

Only in this way is it possible for the river embankments to be flooded with books and art galleries. I go through it already under cover, sitting on one of the beds in Shakespeare & Co, the library that evokes the authors of the lost generation; a place where you can stay in exchange for working a few hours. There is a man playing the piano, many tourists and a cat that is “forbidden to feed”.

Writing nook at Shakespeare & Co.

D.R

France also has many defects: the rise of political extremism, difficulties to mix coexistence, tables too close together in restaurants, the force of anti-vaccines … That is why it would be stupid to write at the dictation of this dazzling walk through Paris, where any square Any bridge, any corner, is a reason to believe in civilization.

But it is convenient to do it on the back of his love for literature, which is a love that beats in the hearts of its people and, above all, in that of its streets. When it stops raining, I walk towards Montparnasse, whose painters I sang Joaquin Sabina. I go with my notebook, my eyes immersed in naivety, bathed in black and white, trying to glimpse writers on all faces.

Mine could also be, I think, a lost generation. Entered into The dome with some shame. It is lunchtime and I have no intention of doing it; I just want to look. I try to be inconspicuous, but a waitress stops me as soon as I take the first step. Very educated, she offers me a table. “Excuse me, I am a journalist, I would like to walk, take a picture.” I think that he is going to send me off or that he is going to force me to consume that very Spanish drink, but he rummages at a counter, gives me an explanatory brochure and… he thanks me for the visit!

The dome.

Sartre y De Beauvoir in La Coupole.

Sartre y De Beauvoir in La Coupole.

To La Coupole they went first Sartre, From Beauvoir and company. Later, in search of that memory, he arrived Mario Vargas Llosa, which was awarded with some “eggs to the snow” after finishing the article. There he looked, as I look now, a little hidden, at the great Giacometti. The map shows the paintings that adorn each column.

A little further on is La Rotonde, which is smaller, redder, more festive. With more comfortable, padded seats. It is so red that it leads to another time. The waiter also welcomes the visit. As the reserved ones are empty, it also offers them for photos. Here they went into exile, literary, Unamuno, Ruben Dario and the Machado.

La Rotonde.

Unamuno 'presides over' a gathering in La Rotonde, in the twenties.

Unamuno ‘presides over’ a gathering in La Rotonde, in the twenties.

Miguel de Unamuno Fund

The dome, crossing the zebra crossing, it was the refuge of the painters. It is very expensive and full of oysters. I don’t know if the same would happen then or if the acquisitive escalation refers to the specter of gentrification. I recently interviewed in Madrid Bryce Echenique, who told me about the attics of the Latin Quarter. He also told me Vargas Llosa. It was a Paris that could be reached with a typewriter and a notebook between your teeth. Today, with these weapons, at most, you can find a loft … in the suburb.

The dome.

The dome.

How he smiles Dalí in the pictures! I suppose that the so-called “grandeur” also has to do with knowing how to take care of the past. There is no café in Paris that does not pay tribute to the writers who frequented it. In La Closerie des Lilas, the American bar seems to have survived the 21st century. Hemingway he greets in the photos still with black hair and a fine mustache. The pianist draws those melodies that need the percussion of the glass with ice.

To get to Sacred Heart, I take refuge in various churches. All very large, almost all Gothic. With huge organs, made of dark wood and silver tubes. Admission is free, as it never happens in Spain. And one can take refuge from anything together with confessionals, as in a novel by Dumas.

There it is, finally, the hill of Montmartre. It is already night and the game of Midnight in Paris, the movie of Woody Allen. A very old car passes me on the cobblestone. My umbrella is broken. The rain soaks the coat. I close my eyes very tightly. Nobody wears coats anymore, everyone wears hats. Nobody wears headphones anymore, everyone wears an overcoat. The buyers of the Seine books are resurrected, all of them. And they have risen… those who write them.

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