The French Book Show -
Salon du Livre

photo: rick's cafe americain

A home away from home: Rick's Café Américain.

19 for the Salon, Five for Me

Paris:- Saturday, 20. March 1999:- While riding the train towards Paris, I make a list of the ten most important types of books I should look for at the Salon du Livre. It starts with 'Antiques' or 'Art' and ends with 'Photography.'

I do not actually get to see any books about 'Antiques' or 'Photography,' because I get truly hung up on 'Art,' and one I wasn't thinking of - 'Regions.'

Before this; yesterday, I scrubbed my opening-day visit when I realized I wouldn't have endless time for it. While the big publishers have very commercial stands with nobody to talk to, many of the smaller houses often have their editors and publishers in person - and these can be enthusiastic about their products.

The annual Salon du Livre in Paris is a public showcase of the latest offerings by publishers of French-language works. This is unlike the huge book show in Frankfurt, where professionals from all over the world meet to wheel and deal.

Also happening at the same time at Paris-Expo at the Porte de Versailles, is the annual Salon de l'Etudiant, plus a tourism salon, so there are several publics who can cross over between the three salons - on a Saturday. Even as I wrote my list on the train, I had no hope of completing it.

I know readers of Metropole are mainly interested in Paris and its region, so it is a plain accident of salon geography that almost the first major stand I comephoto: reading area, regions to is the regional one of 'Quest-France,' which is the name of the region's newspaper, based in Rennes. The paper, which seems to have about 30 local editions, can be bought in Paris at the Gare de Montparnasse and at paper kiosks around it.

In the middle of 'Régions,' a quiet place for a quiet read.

'Ouest-France' has a parallel book publishing unit, with a big catalogue of titles - many of which are in foreign languages. While English, Italian, Spanish and German are to be expected, they also have titles in Polish and Japanese. The books are not so much travel guides, but more about the life of the region, which has a lot of history and a lot of landscape which includes Brittany.

Picking up their large catalogue at the beginning of a visit to the Salon is not a good idea, and they are fresh out of visiting cards - but they do have a rubber stamp. When I look at the Web site later, it shows only a tiny selection from the whole list, but there must be a 'write-to' somewhere.

The stands of the 'Regions' show a lot more of France and a lot of publishing activity than imagined, outside of the Paris centre-of-the-world.

This, in a way, presents the dilemma of French publishing. Paris is famous; but it is an unrepresentative 'tip of an iceberg.' Out there, beyond the vague horizon of the Ile-de-France, there is a less densely populated larger France - hardly less full of ideas and creation.

Then there is a dilemma within another - the whole setup of distribution and market is out of synchronization with the level of creativity, and if you add in offshore Francophone publishers, then I sense that a great deal of intellectual energy is being concentrated on a limited market.

Along about here I stop to talk to Carla Milivinti-Gaujoux, who publishes 'books' so arty that the pages are not bound and can be framed and put up on walls. Madame Milivinti-Gaujoux is from Blois which is a 'region,' but Madame is a bit more from the worldwide 'region' of 'Art.'

Because of the way her 'books' are presented, she admits it would be not great problem to simply slip in pages written in other languages - and she intends to do so.

Actually her 'book' is more like a folio, with text on 180-gram paper and the illustrations on 200 or 240-gram paper. Thephoto: tea for libraries 'book' itself is contained within a solid box, so there is little danger of it falling into loose sheets on a bookshelf - but it is not as handy as a pocketbook. The printing quality is very high-grade too - like one-off lithos.

The stands of other 'regions' are bewildering in their variety. For a breather I fetch up at a space a bit more open, at a tiny expo about 'rights' and 'obligations.'

The booth of 'Le Thé des Ecrivains' brings together the worlds of thought and taste; located in selected book shops.

For beginning writers, there is an organization which will register unpublished work; to establish its creation date - in case of future problems with plagiarism.

In discussing this with the pleasant lady on the stand, it seems as if there are no actual problems in this area - and the exercise is largely one of assurance. If you are a beginner it is really hard work to turn an idea into something publishable, and it is a bit of a comfort to know that your idea cannot be simply stolen out from beneath your efforts.

Just beyond this, the electricity people, EDF, and their foundation have a stand promoting the rights of children - as defined by the 1989 United Nations declaration. For this, they are giving away copies of 'Le Moutard,' which is a booklet designed for children, outlining their rights.

Many adults do not know what their own 'rights' are and in many parts of the world the international conventions on human rights are simply ignored. Therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that children are entitled to their 'rights' as well; even if it may seem strange that this must be heavily publicized just as we are to enter the coming millennium.

By now I have gotten to the end of one aisle and here I find an elk from Québec. Beyond this there is a stand for a marathon writing competition - by hand. It is on its lunch break and I see no marathon writers.

Screening this stand from the rest of the hall, is the two-aisle wide village of mini-stands for the little magazines and the 'Young Publishers.' I have to pass on these because if I go in, I will never get out.

This cowardliness brings me to Québec-central, which is two big stands with the fnac's Café Littéraire sandwiched in between. An assured American voice floats out of fnac's broadcasting system as I pass.

Québec has an advantage France does not. Québec is a province within a largely English-speaking Canada. Québec defends its minority position against Canada.

Canada in turn, defends its minority cultural position against the United States. Because Québec has to really defend itself against these two, Québec is always on the defensive. This builds strength, with the result that Québec is not quite so defenseless asphoto: ubisoft clown it lets on - Québec battles relentlessly on, thus creating its own feisty image.

To France, the cultural 'Anglo' aggressor is 'over there,' across the channel or across the Atlantic. This is sort of at arm's-length enough, so that France can think itself to be untheatened by its immediate non-'Anglo' European neighbors.

Ubisoft's clown sat down, then stood up for a photo, before falling over.

That this is dangerous thinking can be easily demonstrated by walking down the Champs-Elysées and looking at the movie marquees. On them you will see the names of films made in the US and the names of films made in France. You will see very few films made in other European countries; France's cultural allies. France seems to be unthreatened by its cultural equals.

What happened to all those beautiful Italian films, and more recently, the Spanish wave? I can't remember the name of any recent German-made film. What happened to the co-productions? There used to be a large amount of cross-fertilization.

I find the answer in Arte's video catalogue. Once known as Le Sept, Arte is the 'cultural' Franco-German TV channel, and it is heavily into co-productions. From Arte, you can order a good selection of Rainer Werner Fassbinder films; in German with subtitles in French - but in the Secam-TV standard, with the film titles on the cassette boxes in French.

Arte also has videos of Paris' great art shows, such as the recent 'Manet, Monet. Le Gare Saint-Lazare.' Although the catalogue notes the video is available in both Secam and PAL, it doesn't specifically indicate the language of the narration. No mention of any NTSC version; so if you are in this zone, you will need a tri-standard video player.

New to me is Paris' own video catalogue. This is put out by the 'Canal du Savoir' which is a small unit that coordinates productions, often with 'Paris' Première,' a local cable-TV channel.

Subjects are history, art, music, literature, sciences and philosophy. Each video is just under an hour long, but unfortunately all are in the Secam TV standard - and presumably, all have narration in French. Some of the videos are of French authors reading famous French authors, so 'narration in French' is essential.

The Canal du Savoir has no Web site - but if anybody is interested, you can write to 'Arts & Education' for ordering information. About 80 titles are available.

As at past salons, multimedia takes a bigger and bigger space and this year the big international online operators are trying to sign up as many new subscribers as possible. The proliferation of promotions and introductory deals are so vast and complicated, that consumer protection organizations must have their hands full sorting them out.

France's production of multimedia titles, especially for children - either for fun or education - constitutes a major creative effort; and French titles regularly win prizes in international competitions. This seems to be an area where French talent can show others how to do it.

However this area of the salon is quite noisy with all the audio part of multimedia being cranked up to the limit, and I started to wilt.

Online booksellers are also here in force. Although I have been mentioning the Bertelsmann startup, BOL.fr, in recent weeks, I should mention now that BOL is not without competition in the French market. Two others are chaPitre.cOm and alapage.com. Both boast hundreds of thousands of titles in French and chaPitre.cOm also has a rare book finding service.

What seems lacking among all three, is anyphoto: emile, the quebec elk effort to make available French titles that have been translated into other languages. The problem seems to be that these versions do not physically exist in France - so the potential buyer has no other option other than to search elsewhere for them.

Direct from upper Québec, Emile the smiling elk on his first visit to France.

This year's Salon du Livre completely fills Paris-Expo's huge Hall 1, and with 1850 publishers present there is no way I can give a full report - to see everything would take weeks. Yet, where else can it all be seen in one place?

When my gas tank needle drops into the red zone I start the trek for the exit. I have to look at the ceiling to find my way or I could be trapped here, as a short midget in a high maze.

By chance I find the aisle of the government and the European Union - which is not crowded - and after noting the coming elections for the European Parliament on 13. June, I also find the exit.

Outside there are hordes of young people, coming from or going to the Salon de l'Etudiant, and the ground is covered with leaflets for all sorts of things. When I get to the métro, it is more jammed than at rush-hour.

This was it: the Salon du Livre. My experience; less than two percent of it. My sack: full of stuff I will never get fully sorted out.

Books, magazines and multimedia, all at the Salon du Livre, until Wednesday, 24. March. At Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles. In the big Hall 1. Open daily from 10:00 to 19:00; on Tuesday, 23. March until 22:00. Entry: 30 francs; kids under 12, free.

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