Friday, June 10, 2016
There is nothing outdated about a library. On the contrary, everything we need in our modern world-- all that is civilized, waits for us inside: books, quiet, knowledge, respect, and discovery. The oldest public library in France is the Bibliothèque Mazarine in Paris. To describe it as extraordinary is an understatement.
Each time I have crossed the simple bridge, the Passerelle des Arts, to get to the Left Bank, I see the imposing Institut de France building returning my stare. For some 30 years, I passed it by until this time when I read that it houses the Mazarine Library. This library was Cardinal Mazarin's private library dating back to 1661. At that time, his collection of books was an impressive 30,000 volumes. Ttoday there are 600,000 volumes including some very rare books and manuscripts.
The reading room pictured here was restored from 1968-1974 in the style of a 17th century library. The beautiful parquet floors are still in tact and squeak underfoot just as they should at their age! When I walked through, there were many people researching at the tables and except for the laptops, I could easily imagine an 18th century public here instead. The many busts-- ancient and modern (90 in total) that line the room and grace the staircases are alone something to see.
When I was a young girl, my library card was one of my most precious possessions. I looked forward to the summertime and the prospect of all the free reading I could do. My mother took me diligently to the public library each week to check out or return my books. It was a bit of heaven there for me in the company of all the books-- each a potential adventure, a chance to learn and a moment to dream. To step into a library such as the Mazarine, was something I could never have imagined existed as a young girl -- even now, I am in awe. I plan to get what is called a readers card so that I can use the library regularly. I'm not doing any specific research at the moment, and I don't even know what book will be the first I open there, but I know that my card will be one of my greatest possessions!
Books have been called a kind of portable magic; worlds in and of themselves, and passports to travel. As Jorge Luis Borges said: "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library". On your next trip to Paris, cross the Passerelle des Arts, enter this library paradise and then, for lunch, head next door to Restaurant Guy Savoy and succumb to his magic!
Passerelle des Arts:
Also known as Pont des Arts was the first metal bridge built in Paris around 1802 under the reign of Napoleon I. It crosses the Seine and connects the Palais de Louvre and the Institut de France. Many painters use it as a studio in plein air and in warm weather, it becomes the perfect impromptu picnic spot.
23 Quai de Conti
Open Monday-Friday from 10:00AM-6:00PM
Free ( Must have a photo I.D.)
Restaurant Guy Savoy:
For a fabulous lunch, reserve a table at the new Restaurant Guy Savoy located next door in the Monnaie de Paris.
11 Quai de Conti
01 43 80 4061
Lunch and Dinner Monday-Friday