Foreign Editors from Africa,
'Little' Editors from France

Africa at the Salon

Plus a Peek at the The Salon
du Lycéen et de l'Etudiant

Paris:- Friday, 14. March 1997:- Today I have two reasons to be unhappy. The spring weather, as fake as it probably was, has disappeared. Salon Logo The way I had it figured, I would 'do' the Salon du Livre on Wednesday, and scenes of Parisians sunning themselves on the banks of the Seine today. I should have 'done' the bodies on the Seine on Wednesday.

My memory of the salon is in deficit and I feel obligated to return, and now the weather gives me no plausible excuse not to. My left shoulder is still three degrees lower than my right after lugging that salon catalogue around. I peel off the shrinkwrap, but one heft of it tells me not to carry it with me.

I do not stand in line to buy métro tickets, although I do interrupt the journey to capture the one new poster on the Champs-Elysées. I do not 'swivel-neck' the métro posters because I did that on Wednesday. I do not go out of my way to get the city edition of Le Parisien; I'll make do with the Yvelines edition.

I do note the large number of students again in the métro; and I note again that there seem to be many more of them headed to the Salon du Lycéen et de l'Etudiant than there are normal citizens headed towards the Salon du Livre. Must check it out.

At the salon, my notes are short. Check the foreign publishers and the 'little' revues.

In the 'foreign' category, all of Africa, all that does not include Algeria, Morocco, the Ivory Coast and Tunisia; all the vast rest of Africa, has one double-sized stand of 55 square metres, which is called 'La Librairie Africaine.'

In addition to French publishers who specialize in African titles, 15 'librairies' from Africa itself are on the stand, representing Bénin, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Côte-de-Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Sénégal, Togo and Zaire. The list of countries not present is considerably longer, but few on it are ex-French colonies.

Spain's stand is opposite. It is the same size as all of Africa's, and the 64 publishers represented on it outnumber Africa's too. I'm thinking of scale here: the size of Africa compared to Spain, the number of French speakers in Africa as compared to the number of Spaniards - and the number of possible Africans who live in Paris as opposed to the number of Spaniards. In sum, it seems to me that Africa is under-represented.

Among other European publishers, officially at least, there seems to be no Germany and no Great Britain. I saw German titles on Brazil's stand, which is not all that strange as that country holds a curious fascination for Germans - and UK titles are prominent on the stands of anglo bookshops in Paris I saw elsewhere in the salon.

I am tempted to take a photo of Albania's tiny stand - with six publishers represented - as proof that literature is more permanent than transitory civil upheavals, but I don't do it. What is going on there is too real for this sort of abstraction.

I can't be certain, but it seems as if the stands and booths - right beside Spain and Africa - occupied by the 'little' French revues, take up a larger area than Africa. This is where the booths are really tiny, many the publications are really tiny too - but the diversity is very great.

The names of the revues start with 'Action Théâtre' and end with 'Voix du Regard.' In between, there are 156 or so other titles. Bar des Phares It is the one place I've been in the salon where the very air seems thick with whispered words, phrases; thoughts rendered into ink pressed onto paper gathered between covers waiting for eyeballs and brains to decipher them.

What I don't feel here that is almost oppressive elsewhere at the salon - I sense no commercial angst among the revues. Sure, the people in the revues' booths would like to sell a few subscriptions. But they would probably be more interested in talking to an interested reader or two, and vice versa, or talking to one of their contributors or a potential one.

I know the feeling. Not all of Metropole's readers who write want me to get them tickets to the Opéra, make a restaurant reservation, or expound on the geo-political situation of France. They write about smells or places they've been before I was born, things they've thought of, or pop wild ideas at me. So that's a thought for us on the Internet; we've got what amounts to a 'little' revue here - which has the advantage of permitting nearly instant dialogues.

Away from these thoughts, out in the much vaster area of the marché of books, I decide that I should change the atmosphere.

The Salon du Lycéen et de l'Etudiant

Although this salon is organized 'in parallel' with the Salon du Livre, and takes up more than a third of the big Hall One, it has its own posters, its own sign outside and its own distinct entry doors. The 30 franc entry fee is good for both salons, but that seems to be the only thing that is shared.

Besides satisfying the wishes and needs of visitors, Paris' other main business is education. Who has not heard of the Sorbonne?

In the vast scheme of things as they are, the Sorbonne is merely one school among hundreds if not thousands of others in the Ile-de-France. What I didn't know before I walked in here today, is that this salon is dedicated to recruiting students.

There are 700 stands here trying to sign up students for their particular institutions. Well, some of them are. Others are dispensing information - about courses, about professions, about the daily nuts and bolts of being a student.

The army - about to end conscription - has a public relations stand; so does the city of Paris, so does the region of the Ile-de-France. Even the European Union is present - here, not with the Salon du Livre - to tell French students they have a right to study and to live abroad. Even some foreign educational institutions have booths.

Ile de France stand

These students, who are supposed to be in total despair - no future! - can also consult the national employment agency about how to get a job; and it goes unsaid, that with the way things are they should stay in a school as long as they can, especially if it is heated in the winter. Newspapers say that students are unmotivated because nothing is waiting for them when they graduate.

Their parents, who believe what they read in newspapers - if the read newspapers that is - tell their kids they will have -no future! - without the biggest, longest, education they can get.

In any case this is France: everybody says it is much, by far much better, to be an unemployed Dr. Dr. Philo-Lit. than a mere Dr. Ing. Nobody ever says it is a good thing to be a licensed plombier at 18 and make a solid 200 francs a hour for the rest of your life, with five weeks' paid holiday every year and a chicken in every pot. There is no plumber's school represented at this salon. The closest thing to it may be 'La Poste,' but they will never be able to pay 200 francs a hour.

Now I see the people who were on the métro. I wonder who is sitting in classrooms today; I wonder if their classroom floors look like the floor here?

There certainly is an infectious level of energy - maybe because it is a day off from class? - maybe because some of these programs on offer really do look attractive. There are movie schools, fashion-industry schools, art institutions - some of these may lead to jobs that not only pay, but offer interesting work as well.

For whatever reason, I do not find the schools I am looking for by asking at the information booth. Maybe they are not here, maybe I don't know their correct names. I've still got about 10 years to find out.

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