Poster Hunt On the Boul' Mich

photo: books on boul' mich
If you don't need to look for posters, look for books. There's lots of them.

A Good Walk Yields Mediocre Booty

Paris:- Friday, 25. September 1998:- When I start out late this morning I know I am going to the boulevard Saint-Michel, but I do not have any clear reason for doing this.

I am still thinking about the 'reduced traffic' on the boulevard Saint-Germain last Tuesday; but I didn't get past Buci and then turned down the rue de Seine to the river. I was thinking of Saint-Michel then, but didn't get to it.

The weather is holding well; the sky is blue, it is warm, there is little wind - in short it is a day to walk up the boulevard from the métro at Saint-Michel, to see what happens.

I have already made up my mind I am not going to look up any history - for this street, I've already done it - and I have no questions to ask, nothing to find out, no favors to do, no errands to run.

That I need to find at least three posters to photograph for this week's issue does not seem like an errand to me. It is just something to do in passing - any three good ones will do.

Around the métro Saint-Michel, the one that exits near the quai; when you look up the boulevard, it looks like some provincial town with the plane trees shadowing it like they do. The street is too well-paved with too much traffic on it for this small-town illusion to work long.

On the sidewalk, people are walking too fast too. On the other side, there is an island for loungers, but the wall-sized fountainphoto: street food, buci overlooking it is too big to be provincial. Behind, on the quai, there is too much traffic, bursting west. The 'provincial' idea was just a split-flash of a thought.

In Paris, street-eats are common and get a lot of stand-up diners if it isn't raining. Bring your own knife and fork.

Still, the dappling shade of the trees makes the atmosphere seem calmer - about as if the rats in the maze had the good music station on, but with the volume not turned up enough to be useful.

I go across and around to the place Saint-André-des-Arts to pick up some folding paper from the cash-robot. The rue Hautefeuille, parallel to the boulevard, is very old and worth a glance and I always give it one.

There are parts around here where everything looks like it is a take-out stand. The sidewalk is a diner; this isn't some urban outside - it is more like a place a lot of people live in. Right at Saint-Michel there are a lot of café terraces too and this adds to the effect, especially when the weather allows it.

You can kind of understand how it is possible to live here in a tiny student's room. In just a place for sleeping; the rest of the apartment is here, outside.

It is noisy and dirty and garish on the street. Shops want you to buy bags and leaf through second-hand books or listen to new CDs you don't have to go inside to hear. Jeans, sports shoes made in China, inexpensive sweaters; these shops are here for the sheer volume of sidewalk traffic.

Up at the boulevard Saint-Germain, the Café de Cluny takes up the corner. A Café-Philosophe - not dirty, noisy nor garish - it is like the storage room at a good cigar store. Outside on the Boul' Mich, hectic; inside a place for cool thinking.

People too cranked up for this simply do not go in it. It must surelyphoto: bike lane, boul st germain withstand handsome and countless offers from steak-and-a-drink- for-65-francs grille-joint chains. Maybe there is no pressure, because there are so many other places, locations - almost as good.

Mixed, Friday mid-day traffic on the boulevard Saint-Germain is not hectic at all on this 'all-cars' day.

I do look west, down the boulevard Saint-Germain to see how much different full-traffic makes it look, compared to Tuesday. It is not rush-hour though, so it doesn't look too bad. The street is empty between groups of sprinters breaking away from the stoplights at the rue Danton. A trickle of bicyclists are coming calmly along in their own lane.

There are more bookshops on the west side of Saint-Michel. A fair number of people are looking for interesting items in the used-book bins, but it doesn't look like any rush to buy school books. I don't know if it has started yet.

By now I've looked over several newspaper kiosks and none of them have any interesting 'covers' or front pages on display. The poster frames on the street and at busstop shelters are equally uninteresting. The city has some 'event' posters, but they are high up on poles, with flags flying at their tops.

All the cafés in the place de la Sorbonne have well-peopled terraces, even though most of them are in deep shade. Further up, at the rue Soufflot, I feel I am really running short of luck.

The 'clean water in the Seine' poster is one of a series of four and it advertizes some water authority someplace. Like last year at this time, there is a toothpaste poster all over and it is the same as lest year's. The city's own Fête d'Automne poster has too much typo on it - good for information but bad for graphics.

I should say that there are certain posters that won't run in the magazine, no matter how good they are. Each issue contains four posters, all captured during the week. New posters in Paris are generally pasted up on Wednesdays.

Half the new movies are foreign - mostly American - and the posters for them are often quite good. The posters for these used to be produced in Paris and older ones can be just as 'classical' as the old posters for French films.

But I have no way of knowing where the posters are made now, so the foreign ones that might possibly be on displayphoto: place st michel worldwide are ignored. The same thing goes for the posters of certain multinational companies. They don't make it if they are 'good' but not Parisian.

At the place Saint-Michel, you can see fall coming on as the shadows get deeper and darker.

So it can happen in certain weeks that there are few interesting posters. In general, there are few very good posters anyway - or, if there are good ones, they can only be found in dark métro tunnels. For these, you have to come to Paris and see them yourself.

After Soufflot, I head back down the boulevard and then over to Odéon along the rue de l'Ecole-de-Médecine. This must be poster-poverty week. Going along the boulevard to Danton and then back down to the place Saint-Michel, completes the circle.

Here there are a thousand angles for photos; it could be a monomania of a location. If time were no limit, then having enough film would be. My box has memory for two shots more: what should they be?

You can only take a narrow angle, out of your whole wide-angle vision. With so much, if you haven't really centered on something, it is a crapshoot. Maybe I've got more than I need anyway. Will it be a 'save' or a 'throwaway?'

For the place where I could spend years, I can't spend any more time now. Aim and shoot. Aim and shoot. Dive into the métro. It is very warm down deep, on the orange platform. There are no good posters down here either.

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