Transcript for Episode 461: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France episode 461, quatre cent soixante-et-un.

[00:00:23] Bonjour. I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy and news related to travel to France.

Today on the podcast

[00:00:38] Annie Sargent: Today, I bring you a conversation with Elyse Rivin of Toulouse Guided Walks about some of the most glorious libraries in France including la Bibliothèque Nationale de France Richelieu.

[00:00:51] We usually call it BNF Richelieu. BNF standing for Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Podcast supporters

[00:01:00] Annie Sargent: This podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services including my Itinerary Consult Service, my GPS self-guided tours of Paris on the Voice Map app, or take my day trip or take a day trip with me around the Southwest of France In my electric car.

[00:01:18] You can browse all of that at my boutique

[00:01:23] And I just added a few possible day trips with Annie. Um These are just suggestions uh things I think would be fantastic, but perhaps you have some other ideas.

[00:01:34] This is after all a completely custom day trip.

The magazine part of the podcast

[00:01:38] Annie Sargent: For the magazine part of the podcast, after the interview, I’ll discuss the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and the controversial hijab ban in France.

Annie and Elyse

[00:01:48] Annie Sargent:

[00:01:57] Bonjour Elyse.

[00:01:58] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.

[00:01:59] Annie Sargent: We are going to talk about one of our favorite things. We, We did an episode a few weeks back about bookstores in France of famous, beautiful, uh, engaging bookstores and also villages where there are books.

[00:02:12] um, And places where they have book fairs. And of course, this. when we do these sorts of episodes, you have to understand that these are never exhaustive.

[00:02:19] Okay? We, We never list all of them. Because sometimes somebody emails me and says, oh, but you didn’t mention this. I’m like, right.

[00:02:25] Elyse Rivin: Really. Right.

[00:02:26] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:02:27] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. there is a, There has to be a choice made because podcasts only can last a certain amount of minutes.

[00:02:34] Annie Sargent: Yes, I think you’d grow roots.

[00:02:36] Elyse Rivin: I would probably, my behind is actually big enough.

[00:02:39] I don’t need to do that. But no, truthfully, you’re, you’re absolutely right. And we, This is to give a a, a, sampling of things.

[00:02:45] Annie Sargent: Yes. Give you some ideas of the big, the biggies, the best ones.

La Bibliothèque et la librairie – faux amis

[00:02:48] Annie Sargent: So, today we are going to talk about several places. We’ll start with telling you a little bit about uh, what you can see there, what you can do there when you go. And also then the history of these uh, beautiful bibliothèques.

[00:03:01] And uh, in French, a bibliothèque is a library, like a public library. And a uh, bookstore, it’s not, uh, is a, is a, a librairie. Okay. So it’s a faux amis, you have to keep them straight in your head. Yeah. That’s just how it is.

French National Francois Mitterrand Bibliotheque

[00:03:16] Annie Sargent: So Elyse, take it away, tell us about these places.

[00:03:19] Elyse Rivin: Well, there are four uh, very particularly in Paris that are really, really important.

[00:03:26] And uh, let’s start with the one that is physically the biggest, and that is the, uh, the French National François Mitterrand Bibliothèque. Ah, this is uh, François Mitterrand was President of France for 12 years, starting in, in 1981. And uh, like many, many presidents, he wanted to create a monument that would be left, let’s, I think a little bit in his glory.

[00:03:49] Uh, He was also a relatively intellectual person, and so he decided, since it was actually needed, uh, that it was time to build a new library and uh, what was built, uh, and it’s on the, what’s called the Quay François Mauriac, which is right near the Jardin des Plantes at the extreme eastern edge of the 6th Arrondissement, is a monumental uh, four building structure.

[00:04:15] Uh, It is humongous, uh, and it is in the shape of uh, four books that are actually, it’s like book, uh, bookends, um, around a central garden. And it, it, it is, it is enormous. It’s got millions and millions and millions of documents. It’s got a part that’s open to the public. It’s got a part that’s of course, only uh, for research.

[00:04:32] It has temporary exhibits, uh, which I’ve been to. I’ve been to two there. It has a garden in the center, it, it’s really quite impressive.

[00:04:40] Annie Sargent: Right, it’s a very modern building.

[00:04:42] And it’s what, 22 stories tall?

[00:04:44] Elyse Rivin: 22 stories, yes. Yes. In, in, in the, in the show notes. I, I’ve, uh, We will talk about it a little bit later.

[00:04:47] It’s, it’s, It’s really humongous. I mean, it’s beyond the, when we talk about square meters or square feet of something, I mean, most of the time those numbers are kind of like, oh, really? Okay. It looks like a lot. It, It’s big. It’s Each of the buildings is 22 stories high. It, it, It holds uh, the largest collection of documents, including uh, objects as well, uh, that any library could possibly have in France.

[00:05:10] Annie Sargent: Right. And so I have driven past it because I have uh, cousins who live nearby, but I have never been inside.

[00:05:16] What is it like?

[00:05:17] Elyse Rivin: Well, the, there are parts that are open to the public that are reading rooms. It’s not impressive in the sense that it’s not 17th century architecture with gorgeous decoration.

[00:05:24] It’s really accessible and modern. It wasn’t completed and open to the public until 1996. So we’re talking about really a very, very modern structure, but it’s easy to use. And uh, that’s what makes, That’s what makes it really uh, uh, important in terms of the fact that it’s open to the public, and also that it has some very interesting exhibits.

[00:05:44] Uh, It has an exhibit space, so it has temporary exhibits that have to do with writing, with temper, with writers, with books and documents and things like that. So I, I like going there actually.

[00:05:55] Annie Sargent: Sounds good. Yeah. I should try it if I, if I have time, if I run out of stuff to do in Paris, that would be a good one.

[00:06:00] Elyse Rivin: You know, since you, you are my, my go-to the Jardin des Plantes person…

[00:06:04] Annie Sargent: Yes. I love the Jardin des Plantes.

[00:06:05] Elyse Rivin: So that’s all you do is just go right across.

[00:06:08] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Yes, it’s across the river the river from there. Right. It’s, no, it’s across the, the road practically. From It’s on the same side.

[00:06:12] It’s on the same side of the river.

[00:06:14] Yeah, I, I, I get turned around that river, like what bank am I on?

[00:06:18] Elyse Rivin: Well actually, if for anybody taking one of those riverboats that goes all the way, you know, that goes up and down the Seine, uh, if I’m, if I remember correctly, if you get that far east, uh, you know, on the north side it’s Bercy, it’s the 12th arrondissement, And right there you where you sort of turn, the boat turns around, you get to see them. It looks like four huge bookends, you know, standing up there.

[00:06:39] Okay. It’s not aesthetic from the outside for, unless you’re really into straight, very, you know, kind of straight, very modern architecture.

[00:06:44] It’s more what’s on the inside that counts.

[00:06:47] Annie Sargent: Okay. Okay. But thankfully there are way better looking ones in Paris.

[00:06:52] Yes, and we’re going to get to those now.

The Mazarine Library

[00:06:53] Elyse Rivin: Yes. So the second one is the, The Mazarine Library uh, which is actually on the uh, left bank. It’s right on the Seine. Actually, the two of them are both right on the Seine.

[00:07:05] Uh, And it is, uh, Mazarine was a man who was one of the Prime Ministers uh, under uh, Louis XIII. And then, uh, he became, He was an intellectual, he was a nasty man, but he was an intellectual. And uh, the building uh, is from the end of the 17th century. It is absolutely magnificent. It is now part of what’s called the Institut Français.

[00:07:26] And uh, it has a very, very important, uh, very uh, illustrious collection of ancient books and documents.

[00:07:33] Annie Sargent: Right, so this is right uh, at the, okay, so picture yourself on the Pont des Arts.

[00:07:37] Behind, those of you who’ve taken my VoiceMap tour, you walk right past it. On the Pont des Arts, my VoiceMap tour starts on the side of the Louvre. So, And the first thing I do is I take you across when you’re on the other side of the Pont des Arts. Ahead of you is L’Institut de France. So that’s where uh, the Académie Française meets. That’s where a lot of these scientific uh, uh, organizations meet. And there is the uh, Bibliothèque Mazarine. It’s not very large. I’ve been inside. You can walk through it, just go through security. They have limited hours, but you can check that uh, on their website.

[00:08:17] And because it changes, so I don’t want to tell you, and then yeah. Um, But you can look inside. It is not the prettiest one, but it’s very nice.

[00:08:26] Elyse Rivin: Uh, I thought, actually thought that it, it looks nice.

[00:08:28] I, I mean, it’s not as beautiful as Richelieu, but it’s, it’s still beautiful. It’s a building. It is a gorgeous mansion with this curved, magnificent frontage, you know, and it’s absolutely gorgeous with its limestone. And uh, it is uh, a mansion from the end of the 17th century, after all. You

[00:08:44] Annie Sargent: Yes, yes, Yes, yes, yes. So, uh, you go inside, you look around, there are people working uh, there. You may not occupy one of the tables because that’s for people who have reserved a seat in advance and who have the credentials. You have to have a research project pretty much, uh, or be a professor to be able to use these uh, facilities as you know, to sit there and do research.

[00:09:08] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, if you’re a student working on a thesis or something like that, you can, you can go in.

[00:09:12] Annie Sargent: Yes, but me just saying, oh, I have my laptop, I’d like to sit here and work.

[00:09:16] No, No, not going to happen. Alright, so that’s the Mazarine. Very close to, I mean the city center. It’s across from the Samaritaine. Uh, The Pont Neuf is right there. You

[00:09:28] know,

[00:09:28] Elyse Rivin: it, It’s around the corner from uh, the uh, L’École des Beaux-Arts de Paris. It’s, it’s, it’s a, It’s a little section right at the extreme uh, western side of the, of the 6th Arrondissement, where you have these gorgeous buildings that are a lot of them from the 17th century, and it’s really quite elegant right there.

[00:09:44] Annie Sargent: Right, and you also have La Monnaie de Paris right there that you can visit as well. I think for that you pay a little bit and you can visit, uh, it’s like a, I don’t know, they, I mean, they don’t make, they don’t print money there, but I don’t know what they do.

[00:09:57] Elyse Rivin: I think they still do. Oh. I. mean, I think they, they still print something there.

[00:10:00] I know that it was just recently I saw an exhibit there. Um, Something is still done there, but I’m not sure exactly what. But not enough for people to have big, there’s no heist that’s going to happen there.

[00:10:09] Annie Sargent: No Casa de Papel happening there.

[00:10:13] Elyse Rivin: No, don’t worry about it.

[00:10:14] Listen, I’m, I’m listening. I’m watching this in Spanish. Spanish I have,

[00:10:16] I haven’t seen it yet. Really?

[00:10:19] Annie Sargent: And they talk fast.

[00:10:21] Elyse Rivin: Yeah, they do. They do. They do indeed. You know? Yeah.

[00:10:23] Annie Sargent: Yeah, so anyway, the, the Mazarine Library is fantastic. Uh, uh, Recommended if you’re in the area, uh, as well as the, the Monnaie de Paris. Monnaie de Paris and, And my VoiceMap tours, by the way, it’s pretty good. Oh, of course.

[00:10:33] Elyse Rivin: Of course, of course.

BNF Richelieu

[00:10:34] Elyse Rivin: And the third one, which I know is your baby favorite at this point, and that is the BNF Richelieu.

[00:10:40] Annie Sargent: Oh yes, that one is amazing.

[00:10:42] Elyse Rivin: And, and, uh, That is another, uh, Richelieu was another man who was uh, the equivalent of Prime Minister, uh uh. the what is called the uh, regime. And uh, that was built uh, actually uh, in the late 1600s. It’s uh, Rue Vivienne, which is, it’s right next to the Galerie Vivienne, the, the covered gallery that we’ve actually talked about, and behind the, the Palais-Royal.

[00:11:04] And, uh, It is a magnificent, magnificent building that houses a collection of uh, books, documents, and other objects that all have to do with the arts, and music, and uh, maps, and coins, and science and things like that. And it spent years being closed while they were renovating it and has just recently been reopened.

[00:11:25] And that was the one you visited.

[00:11:26] Annie Sargent: Right. So that one is absolutely beautiful. You know, if you, I mean, I understand if you’ve uh, been to Paris, if you’re just going to Paris for the first time, perhaps you’re not going to take the time to go visit the BNF. But if you’ve been to Paris before, you really need to stop at the BNF. It is gorgeous.

[00:11:42] It’s very central, because it’s uh, probably what, 10 minute walk from the Louvre?

[00:11:46] Yeah.

[00:11:47] It’s uh, so you have the Louvre, Palais-Royal, and then you have the BNF in that area. And so BNF, you can visit, you do need a ticket. I think it’s 12 euros or 14 euros or something like that. Well worth the entrance fee.

[00:12:02] And you go inside and you look around, and I’m going to tell you the rooms and what you can see in them. You can also book a guided tour, but those sell out a lot. Now this is something that you can, you need two hours to do it justice and don’t leave it till the end of the day because it, I think it closes at six most days. It

[00:12:22] Elyse Rivin: It closes at, um, no, actually, uh, latest information I had was that it Tuesday and, uh, Tuesday through Saturday, it actually closes at eight o’clock.

[00:12:28] Huh.

[00:12:29] That’s, And it’s closed Mondays. It’s, it’s, It’s closed to the public. And Sunday it’s only open in the afternoon.

[00:12:34] Annie Sargent: Right. So check the times because it, it doesn’t stay, you know, open.

[00:12:38] Yeah. It, It must be summer hours or something. In the winter I think it’s six.

[00:12:42] Anyway, do make the time for it. It’s beautiful. So what are you going to see in there?

[00:12:47] The, The main room is called Salle Labrouste. It’s uh, the reading room. And again, they’re not going to let you sit there with your iPad, okay? This is for researchers and people who have reserved the room, but you have, it’s just visually beautiful. I’m going to use the photos to illustrate this episode. Uh, You have monumental domes, columns, ironwork. Uh,

[00:13:14] It is named after Pierre-François-Henri Labrouste, who was uh, the, the, the architect who designed this and other uh, libraries. Just a beautiful room. You just like, You walk around uh, with your mouth agape, it’s so beautiful. Uh,

La Salle de Manuscript

[00:13:29] Annie Sargent: The other place is called La Salle des Manuscripts. So this is a collection of medieval and modern manuscripts in various languages, various disciplines.

[00:13:40] You will see treasures like uh, uh, the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

[00:13:44] which is uh, illuminated. So that means you

[00:13:46] know,

[00:13:46] the, the,

[00:13:46] Hand-painted uh, massive books, uh, beautiful stuff. It’s one of the most valuable ones uh, that we still have. And then the another room is, La Salle de Cartes et Plans. So it’s maps and plans, the difference is… you

[00:14:00] Elyse Rivin: Map. Map is more geographic and plans is like a city street kind of thing. I mean, it’s work or it could be plans of structures, uh, things that are being built.

[00:14:10] Annie Sargent: Okay. Yeah. So a bunch of those and they go from ancient maps to, you know, modern geospatial type stuff. Uh, The famous Plan de Turgot it’s a detailed plan map of Paris that was commissioned by uh, Louis XV, uh, is one of the highlights there, but there’s some beautiful stuff. And they display quite a few things.

[00:14:31] Obviously, at any one time they have more so they rotate the collections, just like all museums do.

[00:14:36] Elyse Rivin: I I read that they do have temporary uh, exhibits regularly.

[00:14:40] Oh, they,

[00:14:40] Annie Sargent: they, They probably do, yes, yes.

The Cabinet des Médailles

[00:14:42] Annie Sargent: The Cabinet des Médailles, so this is the Department of Coins, Metals and Antiques. Uh, They have uh, lots of coins, metals, gems, artifacts that date back to the antiquity. Um, Among the treasures is the cameo of Augustus and the cup of tmy Ptolemy.

[00:14:58] Elyse Rivin: Yes,

[00:14:59] We, We ain’t Greek, we can’t say it the way the Greeks do.

[00:15:02] Annie Sargent: I apologize Greeks. Um, But it’s, it’s a gorgeous room.

[00:15:05] Then you have the oval, the Oval Room. It is a beautifully, very distinctive elliptical shape. It’s home to a risk rich collection of rare books, including books printed before 1501, which have a special name. Do you know what that name is?

[00:15:21] Incunabulum.

[00:15:24] Incunabulum. See, I didn’t want to say it because I thought I wasn’t going to say it right and I wasn’t.

[00:15:29] Elyse Rivin: No, it incunabula.

[00:15:31] And what it means is it’s some, it’s, it’s not a scroll, it’s in book form, but it’s made on parchment and hand copied.

[00:15:41] Annie Sargent: That is what that is.

[00:15:43] Elyse Rivin: Mm. There are several here in the reserve library here in Toulouse and I’ve actually had the privilege of seeing two or three of them and touching them, with, with gloves, with gloves, but yeah. Yeah.

[00:15:54] But that, that’s a, it’s a special word, it means exactly that.

[00:15:57] Annie Sargent: So, so, uh, I loved that room. That’s the one where I could have spent twice the time because they have a lot of printed materials that are really interesting, including music. So they have, like I saw the first uh, print, well the first handwritten uh, version of La Marseillaise.

[00:16:14] So you have, And it’s beautiful, they did, they do some pictures.

[00:16:16] They have kind of um, basic score that just has the tune really. Uh, And then uh, they have all the verses and, and that. It’s, It’s just really, really well done. Uh, I also saw a, an original written uh, Rite of Spring, uh, which I thought was just marvelous. Um, Anyway, they have a lot of original pieces of music like that. If you like music, and not just music, but many other things, like, that’s just what caught my eye.

[00:16:44] But there’s so many things, it’s a just a beautiful, beautiful place. So if you go to Paris, I really highly recommend you. you reserve a couple of hours for the BNF because it’s right in the middle of everything. And if you love books, you will love it.

[00:16:59] Elyse Rivin: And it’s also a big deal. I mean, when it reopened, it, there was a big deal about it because it is, the building itself is considered to be a masterpiece of 17th century architecture with its decoration and everything else, which is why it took so long to renovate and be put back in, in, in its form that that it is in now.

[00:17:18] Annie Sargent: Right. So when they renovated, it was closed for 12 years. When they renovate a place like this, it usually takes a decade or so. And they are, they are about to start the renovation of the Pompidou Museum. So if you want to see that, go soon. It’s going to close, and they say it’s going to be for five years.

[00:17:33] I don’t believe them.

[00:17:34] Elyse Rivin: No. It’s, it never is. But then again, we’re talking about a building that is only 50 something years old compared to something that was 350 years old.

[00:17:43] Annie Sargent: That is true. Yeah. Good point. Yes. So, so, um, when they closed it for a renovation, it was still opened, like the collections were available for the researchers, but you couldn’t just sit in there. Uh, But now they can.

[00:17:56] I can’t. Oh, well.

[00:17:58] Elyse Rivin: But, but, But it, we, It’s interesting that they have made it so that it is available for people to admire and come in and there’s a cafe and everything else, so they want people to come.

[00:18:07] Annie Sargent: Oh, yes, yes, yes. It’s, it’s very nice. And, And they do have lots of guided tours. Uh, I’m sure they have some in English. It’s just that they get sold out very quickly, so, yeah. Yeah, keep an eye on it if you’re going to, if you want to do that.

[00:18:19] Elyse Rivin: And the last one on my little list, because I know I think you have a couple to add, is The St Genevieve Library, which is very special because it is a public and university library.

[00:18:31] It is the university library of the entire system of University of Paris. But historically, it is the most ancient of all of these because it was based on uh, a collection that began uh, a long, long time ago. And, I’ll I’ll back up and do a little bit of that history in a few minutes. It is across the street from the Pantheon.

[00:18:49] It is at uh, Place du Pantheon.

[00:18:51] Annie Sargent: Right, so if you’re facing the Pantheon, it’s on the left.

[00:18:56] Elyse Rivin: It’s right on your left. Uh, It is uh, called St Genevieve because as some of you may already know, who’ve been up in that area, we have the Church of St Genevieve, the Hill of St Genevieve. In the Pantheon we have the mural that tells the story of St Genevieve who saved Paris from the from the Huns. Attila the Hun , right? Yeah. And, uh, And so uh, this, this is uh, a fabulous, it’s, it’s, it is technically a university library, but it is indeed also open to the public. Some of the rooms are open to the public and it, it houses a massive collection of over 2 million volumes.

[00:19:28] Annie Sargent: Right. So I walked past this a lot when I was writing my Latin Quarter tour. So every morning I would go, you know, at least spend an hour in that area. And uh, it’s, uh, there’s often a line and sometimes, the and and it’s clearly students who are waiting in line, I don’t know what they’re queuing for really, but there’s usually a couple hundred people in front of there and I, I haven’t tried to go inside because the line looks horrible.

[00:19:53] So I just didn’t, I never tried. But if it’s open to the public, perhaps you can go in.

[00:19:57] Elyse Rivin: You can go in. I, I mean, I, I, I read that you actually, you can go in and if, if I understand correctly, and it may be, it may not be correct, uh, if you have a public library card from Paris, you can actually have access to some of the books.

[00:20:13] But uh, because it’s not necessarily a research library, it is a real library. I mean, it is a, in the sense of a lending library as well as a research library.

Public Libraries in Paris

[00:20:21] Annie Sargent: Right. So the city of Paris also has uh, several other uh, libraries. And uh, I was able to get a card, city li, you know, public library card for Paris. All you need is a proof of address and you don’t have to live in Paris to get it. I don’t if you have to live in France, but my address is in France, so I just use that.

[00:20:36] I don’t know. Um, And a lot of these libraries, like there’s one near the Carnavalet Museum,

[00:20:43] I can’t remember what, what it’s called.

[00:20:44] Elyse Rivin: You’re not talking about the Archives Library?

[00:20:47] Yeah. Perhaps it’s de. It’s in another gorgeous 17th century mansion. Yeah, century.

[00:20:49] Annie Sargent: Perhaps it is Archives. Anyway, there’s one that does um, uh, postcards and graphic arts. But that one again, I, you, there’s a, there’s a section of it where you actually have computers and things where you can search for um, items. That you, I, I went in there several times because I, I needed a, an original uh, postcard from Paris when I was writing my Marais tour.

[00:21:11] I didn’t end up using it, but I, I went back several times and uh, once you have a library card, you make an appointment and they can actually give you a seat and somebody will come and uh, bring you what you ask for, which is very nice.

[00:21:26] It’s very civilized. And there’s also a a, a, a short, small section there that you can uh, walk through and, and look at some of the items that you can actually browse through.

[00:21:34] Elyse Rivin: And if I’m not mistaken, there’s also a, sometimes a temporary exhibit there, uh, in a, in a small wing of the building. It’s possible.

[00:21:40] It’s, I think it’s the Paris, I think it’s the archival library of Paris.

[00:21:43] Annie Sargent: that’s That’s probably it.

[00:21:45] Hotel de Sens also has a library in it, and you can also go in. Uh, That’s at the start of my Marais walk. Uh, It’s by Pont Marie, not far from there.

[00:21:55] Um,

[00:21:55] And I’ve been in there. It’s, It’s beautiful, you know, it’s, it’s a beautiful building. So a lot of these places you can actually go in just to see the library.

[00:22:02] There’s always security of some sort. Uh, And there’s restricted hours, obviously. But, But a lot of these places are public libraries and you can go in and usually you cannot again, go in with your laptop and sit there, you know, and, and work or read or whatever. They don’t let you.

[00:22:17] But you can go in and take a look.

The history of the libraries

[00:22:19] Annie Sargent: So let’s talk about the history of these libraries. How old are they?

[00:22:23] Like uh, Have they been here forever?

[00:22:24] Elyse Rivin: Well, libraries, it turns out, and of course you know me, and once I start peeling back the layers, I wind up, I don’t know when I’m going to stop. But this was really fascinating and so much fun.

[00:22:36] So it turns out that libraries really go back as far as writing. Let’s just, that’s it. I mean, the first person who started writing, carving on a piece of stone. This is flintstone stuff, you know, I mean, this is, this is, they went Hmm, I like this. I’m going to have two or more. And then where am I going to put them?

[00:22:54] I think I’m going to put them on this shelf over here, you know? Let’s, Let’s carve up a couple more stones. Uh, there is, There is proof in fact that, that the collections, I mean, basically what’s the, what is a library when you think about it? I was, you know, we’re talking about the, the double entendre, the, the, the false friend with English, you know, Library and Librairie

[00:23:10] But basically, the idea of a library is a collection.

[00:23:14] That’s really what it is. It’s a collection. It’s a collection of documents mostly, uh, that begin with the history of writing. So just leaving aside from the rest of the planet, because there’s a lot of stuff that has to do with, with other parts of the world.

[00:23:29] Um, I, I found this quote that’s from Seneca, uh, and who was, you know, was a writer and a, I believe politician at the, during the Roman Republic. And now this is a quote, I’m taking the quote as is, because I don’t really read Latin and I would not know how accurate it is. But I find this amazing because we’re talking now about a little bit over 2000 years ago.

[00:23:49] Uh, And he is quoted as saying Uh, that even uh, ne’er do wells, what I’m translating, what basically he says, people with nouveau riche, you know, it’s like a wa a way of showing off their money is by having a collection of scrolls in their house. It’s the same thing as having hot water and having uh, a bathroom. I mean, this, we’re talking about over 2000 years ago.

[00:24:10] Okay? So, you know, forget your Maserati in the garage. I mean, starting way back when, one of the ways of showing that you were wealthy and had certain prestige was by collecting manuscripts, texts, uh, documents. Um, I don’t want to use the word book because book is really a word that really defines something made of paper with a binding, you know?

[00:24:31] Uh, And before that we had scrolls, you know, I mean, uh, uh, and then from scrolls we went to the parchment that was sewn together, you know, and, and things like that. But it’s, it is amazing to me that ever since the beginning of really what we could call the written word, there have been people who’ve wanted to make a collection.

[00:24:49] Maybe that’s just a human thing to want to collect things. You

[00:24:52] Annie Sargent: Sure makes sense to me. I mean, and, and it makes sense that it’s, um, I mean a lot of these are beautiful.

[00:24:57] Elyse Rivin: They’re beautiful.

[00:24:58] Yes, you’re absolutely be, you know, you’re absolutely right. Now, of course, you know, there are mythical libraries.

[00:25:02] Uh, The Alexandrian Library in Egypt apparently was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. And uh, uh, there was an, apparently an absolutely magnificent library in Constantinople, founded by Constantine, who was the emperor of Eastern Christian world. Uh,

[00:25:18] But in France, let’s immediately skip to France, the first recorded library is by the king named Clovis.

[00:25:27] Annie Sargent: Yeah. That’s Yeah, that’s a long time ago.

[00:25:29] Elyse Rivin: He was king in the 500s.

[00:25:31] Annie Sargent: Yeah, that’s a long time ago. Yeah.

[00:25:32] Elyse Rivin: You know, it’s like, no, I haven’t met him on the Metro, thank you very much, you know. Uh, He was the Frankish king who was the first one to convert to Christianity.

[00:25:41] Annie Sargent: Right.

[00:25:42] Elyse Rivin: And what’s really interesting, uh, because I really don’t know in terms of like Roman times, Greek times, I don’t believe it was quite like that. But starting with the advent of Christianity, most of the texts that were considered to be precious were religious. So they were handwritten, of course, by scribes and what was called the scriptoria, uh, which is simply the plural of scriptorium.

[00:26:05] Uh, And the Scriptorium was the place inside a monastery where you had monks who would very carefully and slowly and painstakingly make a copy, which of course, at first for several hundred years was strictly in Latin, of a biblical text. And it, uh, it turns out that uh, took a monk about six months to do one.

You can see Illumnations from the Mont Saint Michel in Avranches

[00:26:31] Annie Sargent: Right. Now one of those big scriptoria was uh, at the Mont Saint-Michel, it turned out, and nowadays if you want to see some of these uh, illuminated uh, books that they copied at the Mont Saint-Michel, you have to go to Avranches, which is not very far.

[00:26:48] They have a very nice uh, museum that shows some of these old illuminations.

[00:26:55] So if you’re in the Mont Saint-Michel area and you want a little culture, that’s where you get it, Avranches.

[00:27:01] Elyse Rivin: There There’s a wonderful movie that has nothing to do with France called In the name of the Rose, with Sean Connery. That is actually a thriller that takes place in a scriptorium, in a monastery.

[00:27:13] Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s really cool. It’s really cool because you see them working on it, and of course there’s an intrigue and all of that stuff. It happens that Albi, our cher Albi, which is of course the city near us in Toulouse, began as a scriptorium.

[00:27:27] There you go. There you go. Now. Which meant that they had a lot of people who knew how to read and write, which was not the case for most people in the early part of the Middle Ages.

[00:27:36] Annie Sargent: Right, because to copy a book efficiently and well, you have to understand the words. Exactly. I mean, it’s just not, it’s not just a visual copy. You have to know the words and pick up if there’s any mistakes.

[00:27:49] Elyse Rivin: That’s right.

[00:27:50] The, In fact, in the earliest part of the Middle Ages that, you know, which lasted really for quite a few hundred years, unfortunately, uh, the, the majority of the people who knew how to read and write were in fact in monasteries, not, not even necessarily the kings and princes.

[00:28:05] Some of them did and some of them did not. And books were so precious that they were attached by a chain to a, a table or a wall that could not be moved. I mean, this is, we’re talking about scrolls and then the incunubula, you know, when they were in parchment and if somebody was caught stealing one, which, you know. I mean, monks were not always angels and they sometimes took things to go from one monastery to another.

[00:28:34] If you got caught stealing a book, you were excommunicated.

[00:28:40] Annie Sargent: That’s bad.

[00:28:41] Elyse Rivin: Huh. Okay. Out there. Be careful about your books, everybody.

[00:28:44] Annie Sargent: So this is like the Apple store where they have the, you know, they have those lo long uh, cables to keep people from taking the stuff. Absolutely,

Clovis created the first French Library

[00:28:52] Elyse Rivin: Absolutely. So Clovis, believe it or not, he created the first library.

[00:28:57] He’s credited with creating the very first library. He was literate and he wanted to have something that was prestigious. It’s fascinating that prestigious really connected to the idea of a book, of a text. And he made that at the Abbey of Saint Genevieve, which is why we have the library of Saint Genevieve, why we have the Pantheon, where we have the Church.

[00:29:22] Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. We going back off 1500 years.

[00:29:25] Right? And his famous library, okay, 225 manuscripts at the time was considered to be huge as a number.

[00:29:36] Annie Sargent: Yeah. In the five hundreds. That’s a lot. Yeah.

[00:29:38] For France it is. Perhaps the Chinese already had more.

[00:29:42] Elyse Rivin: I don’t know. They were the, I mean, they invented paper before we did, but, but we will leave the Chinese.

[00:29:47] Annie Sargent: Yeah. We don’t know enough about that.

[00:29:48] Elyse Rivin: We don’t know enough about it.

[00:29:50] Skip a whole lot of centuries into the 1100s, uh, at a time when there are more people who are reading and writing and able to, to deal with literacy. And there were scriptoria all over France. And so there were more and more books being uh, copied, specifically Bibles, literary texts, biblical texts and also the texts of the ancients. And the ancients, of course meant Aristotle, and Plato. The Greeks.

[00:30:16] Because of course, most of this was in Greek and Latin anyway. Uh, If you didn’t know how to read Greek and Latin, didn’t make much difference, you know.

[00:30:23] Tough. out of luck. Tough, tough, Tough, tough out of luck, right?

The Sorbonne Library

[00:30:24] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. Um, The library of the University of Paris, which was created in the 1200s was for a certain amount of time, the most famous and important in all of Western Europe. So we’re talking about the Sorbonne and the buildings around the Sorbonne that were all created at the very beginning of the 1200s, and they had a collection of several hundred works.

[00:30:49] People were bringing works from other countries. So this was the beginning of the idea of a collection that included works that were not just in Latin or in vernacular, which meant French, but in German, in uh, other languages as well. I mean, there were, there were more scholars and more uh, ecclesiastics that traveled from one country to another, from one empire to the other.

[00:31:11] And they started uh, bringing books to make what became an extremely, extremely precious collection. And this is the beginning, and this is well before even uh, the, the, um, the Gutenberg uh, press, uh, the idea of, of actually making a press. But this was the beginning of not just scrolls, but the cunabula, which is really, um, binding pieces of parchment together into what really is a book form, you know?

[00:31:32] So, uh, it’s interesting that the library of the University of Paris has been that important to prestigious for the last 800 years.

[00:31:40] Yeah. It’s really, It’s really quite amazing.

Charles V

[00:31:42] Elyse Rivin: And then we get to a king who I really didn’t know that much about, except that I knew that he had a bit of a problem at the end of his reign and got stuck in the chateau of Vincennes. Uh,

[00:31:53] And that is Charles V, uh, who was uh, a member of a dynasty called the Valois. And it turns out that good old Charles V who was uh, who lived in the, the middle of the 1300s, was literate and was the first person as king to decide that he wanted to create a collection of books and have a special room. And he lived mostly in the Louvre.

[00:32:19] He lived a little bit in what is now the Conciergerie, but he lived mostly in the Louvre. Of course, this is still a time when the Kings moved around a lot that we were not yet settled in Versailles or in one specific place. But he was such a book lover and of course was able to read, but he also did something that was really interesting.

[00:32:36] He asked some of the scribes to write books in French, not just in Latin.

[00:32:43] That’s interesting. Yeah. Why?

[00:32:45] Well, he wanted his subjects to have access to them. So it turns out that he was really a very interesting king because he had some very interesting social ideas. Uh, He didn’t want to leave the power of the word in the hands of just the Church.

[00:33:00] He wanted to have secular knowledge and that it would be open to, obviously at this point it would have to be a certain amount of the aristocrat, aristo aristocracy, or the nobility, but he insisted that some of the text be translated into French so that his subjects could read them.

[00:33:16] Annie Sargent: Interesting.

[00:33:16] So people could just show up at court and read?

[00:33:19] Elyse Rivin: Well, apparently those nobles who were able to read could come. Interesting. And get permission to use the texts in his library. And so he’s really cre credited um, with uh, being the first person to create what would be called the Royal library. Which of course is the foundation for the extensive libraries and the, the collections that that came well afterwards. It,

[00:33:41] It apparently, There are apparently approximately 15 of the books that were in his collection that are still in existence and that are in the Mitterrand Library.

[00:33:52] Hmm. I don’t know if they ever put any of them on, on uh, display, but it was sort of neat to kind of see one or two of them, you know? Yeah. Especially in ancient French as opposed to Latin. Latin, I wouldn’t get a, I would have a clue so it wouldn’t make any difference, you know? Yeah.

François I and Dépôt Légal

[00:34:04] Elyse Rivin: And then we get to François I.

[00:34:07] Why do I like François I? Well, you have to understand François I was the king in the 1500s who brought the Renaissance to France. He brought Leonardo da Vinci to France. He created all kinds of wonderful things, and he was also a book lover. He was extremely cultivated. He was extremely well read, well educated. And since by this time the printing press had been invented, I. he decided that what he was going to do was he was going to make a law. He was going to create an enormous, enormous, enormous library because the concept of library had now really become something very important. And of course, they were all referring back to ancient history and, uh, and the ancients and all of this.

[00:34:49] And he lived most of the time in the Chateau Blois, uh, in the Loire Valley. Although of course he had Fountainbleu and he did move around a lot. And so he created a law called the Dépôt Légal. Um,

[00:35:02] And uh, it’s fascinating to know because it’s basically the equivalent of what we now have uh, in the States, which is where the Library of Congress has a copy of every single thing that’s been put into print.

[00:35:12] He made it a law. He was king, he could do what he wanted, obviously. You know, he made a law. He made a law that said that every printer, any place that created a text, any kind of text, it could have been a text that is about accounting. It didn’t make any difference. Anything that was a manuscript or a text of any kind had to give one copy to his library.

[00:35:33] Uhhuh. And this, this is a law that has uh, been in effect for 500 years.

[00:35:38] It changed a little bit at the beginning of the 1800s, but basically it still exists in, in, in one form or another. This famous law called the Dépôt Légal, which is basically like a copyright law, but it meant that every, he wanted to make sure that in his library, that would be the official royal collection, there would be a copy of every single text or manuscript that was produced in France.

[00:36:02] Annie Sargent: So I published a book, but I didn’t give him one.

[00:36:04] You didn’t give him one.

[00:36:05] I, They didn’t ask me either.

[00:36:06] Elyse Rivin: Well, um, he’s not around anymore.

[00:36:08] Annie Sargent: Okay. Perhaps it doesn’t work quite like that anymore.

[00:36:12] Elyse Rivin: think. I don’t know if you have to worry about it anymore.

[00:36:14] Annie Sargent: Yeah, because a lot of books are published, self-published today. And

[00:36:16] Elyse Rivin: Francois I first would have a hard time with that, I think. I don’t think, yeah, he’d be upset.

[00:36:20] He would, He would probably be upset. Yeah.

[00:36:22] I don’t think it was a major worry about his, but you know, he had other problems, you know. Um, That’s the 1500s.

Louis XIV brings the royal library to Paris

[00:36:28] Elyse Rivin: Then we have one of his descendants, and that is Louis XIV.

[00:36:32] We get a little bit further up along the line here. Um, And what does Louis XIV do? Well, he takes the Royal Library from the Loire Valley and brings it to Paris.

[00:36:43] Annie Sargent: Why not? They were already stealing everything in Paris.

[00:36:47] Elyse Rivin: Well, you know, I mean, lo Louis XIV, you know, he of course, eventually decided that he was going to give up Paris and just stay in Versailles.

[00:36:55] But at the beginning, he was in Paris and he was in the Louvre and uh, he was not going to be outdone by his ancestor François I who had all of this fabulous collection, but that was in the Chateau Blois, which at the time was, you know, a little bit further away than it is now uh, to get to. And so he actually had the collection taken and brought to the Louvre and his famous finance minister, Mr. Colbert.

[00:37:22] Annie Sargent: Ah, yes.

[00:37:23] Elyse Rivin: Who was really important for many, many things. He was the one responsible for making the transfer to what became officially the Royal Library of Paris. And in 1666, uh, a depot was created, because there wasn’t enough space to put all these books in the part of the Louvre that they were living in.

[00:37:42] Well, that’s one of the problems. Books take up a lot of room. They always did. Always will.

[00:37:46] I

[00:37:46] guess.

[00:37:46] They, they, They take up a lot of room. Uh, I’m sure a lot of these were scrolls still, and a lot of these were these old fashioned parchment books. But what’s fascinating is that, you know, the Louvre was by this time considered to be old and uh, outdated.

Library Richelieu

[00:37:59] Elyse Rivin: And they didn’t live in a lot of the, the, the, the Louvre. They lived only in a part of it because the rest of it was just too old to live in, you know, too old, damp and cold. And so in, instead of putting the books and the manuscripts in the Louvre, they created a space. And guess what? That’s the Library Richelieu. The Rue Vivienne, which is really, as we both know, right?

[00:38:21] Not far. Not far. You know, that is where they made the first edition of Official Royal Depot of books and that is how the Richelieu library came into being.

[00:38:32] Annie Sargent: But then they made it really lavish later. And they

[00:38:35] Elyse Rivin: By 1719, which is already um, what we’re talking at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, it is the most important collection of books in Europe.

[00:38:45] Hmm.

[00:38:45] And one of the reasons why, is not only do they have all these precious books and texts going back to the 400s and 500s from France, but they have made a point of collecting works from other countries as well. So, uh, it is to, It’s interesting that with all of the other things involved, with war, with all the other things, there was an idea that having a library was prestige.

[00:39:08] Annie Sargent: Well still is.

[00:39:09] Elyse Rivin: It still is. And,

Abbott Bignon: The first great French librarian

[00:39:10] Elyse Rivin: And it’s fascinating. They hire a man, an Abbaye, an Abbott. an Abbott, in English we say an Abbott.

[00:39:15] An Abbott, a man named Abbott Bignon Bignon.

[00:39:18] Annie Sargent: Nice name, I like Bignon.

[00:39:19] Elyse Rivin: I love it. He was, He was apparently very well educated. He was, you know, part of a monastic tradition.

[00:39:24] He was hired to be the Head Librarian by, by Colbert. And he was given carte blanche, and I love that term, carte blanche. Yeah. And he was told, organize this thing. Let’s, Let’s get this. Yo yo we have, We have here over 1200 texts and manuscripts. Who knows exactly how many they actually had?

[00:39:44] And guess what? He is the man that is responsible for the concept of uh, organization that still exists in libraries to this day, by category of the kind of text it is, by the date, by, you know, all of these different systems. Of course, it isn’t the… Dewey decimal.

[00:40:03] It’s not quite the Dewey Decimal, but he was the equivalent of doing the Dewey Decimal, Dewey decimal at the time. Um, He also gathered together lots of scientific texts, lots of other texts from different places. And he added to the prestige, and he is really responsible for the full organization of what became the most important library. So that there were over a hundred people a day, and since many of these books by this time of course, were written in French, and there was a, a big part of the population that was able to read and write, it was used by the general public.

[00:40:38] It was open to the general public, and they say that over a hundred people a day had access to this library, including people such as Voltaire and Rousseau.

[00:40:50] Who actually went and since they were bookworms, spent time with their heads in the books in the Royal Library.

[00:40:58] Annie Sargent: Fantastic.

[00:40:59] And they could just go borrow books.

[00:41:01] Elyse Rivin: And they could, I don’t know if they could take the books out, but they, well, probably not.

[00:41:05] I’m sure that they couldn’t, but they were certainly able to spend their days inside the library, uh, studying things, looking at, for instance, the first encyclopedia made by the whole, uh, uh, all these, these scientific texts and works from other languages. Uh, they, They both spoke other languages and read other languages as well.

[00:41:20] And so it must’ve been really amazing. I have no idea if women were allowed in. That would’ve been interesting to find out. I don’t know.

[00:41:28] Annie Sargent: I don’t know either, but I don’t see why not.

[00:41:30] Elyse Rivin: I don’t see why not. Since by this time we certainly have certain women who were known as literary, uh, women with writing skills.

[00:41:37] Uh,

[00:41:37] Annie Sargent: You know, in many ways, uh, it’s the 1900s that really put the screws on women. Uh, Before that they did a lot.

[00:41:44] Elyse Rivin: The, the, the, The women were allowed, I mean, we have all these women who had uh, letters that were famous, you know, and writing memoirs that were famous and things like that, you know.

The French Revolution

[00:41:51] Elyse Rivin: So then of course we get to the French Revolution.

[00:41:55] Annie Sargent: Dun Dun.

[00:41:58] Elyse Rivin: So what happens with the French Revolution? Well, contrary to what I thought and what I would’ve imagined, um, the Royal Library uh, was not disbanded. The name was changed. It was the National Library all of a sudden, which is normal, okay. 1790. And rather than destroying these books, thankfully, what the people did who were in charge of dealing with this part of the, the Revolution, I don’t know exactly who they were, to be honest. Uh, Was, they took the collections of many, many, many of the nobility and the hus and the aristocrats who had private libraries, and they simply took those and added it to the National Collection.

[00:42:41] Annie Sargent: There you go.

[00:42:41] That’s a really good way to… that’s, that’s, That’s good. Do that.

[00:42:44] Elyse Rivin: So there you are. So in now, what we have, thanks to the French Revolution is that we have uh, a, a library in the largest sense of the term that is much more accessible to a general, obviously educated population, which is clearly not a majority of the people anyway. But it has been added to by thousands of volumes, literally thousands of volumes.

[00:43:08] And apparently, uh, some of it was distributed to other cities, uh, to other uh, libraries that were being made, that were being made basically by taking private collections and being made into public collections, which is the case of what happened here in Toulouse.

[00:43:22] Annie Sargent: Yeah, not so good.

[00:43:24] Elyse Rivin: You have uh, bishops and you have nobility who had private collections, and suddenly it’s become a public collection so that other people have access to it.

[00:43:32] Yeah, I guess. I guess.

[00:43:33] so. Oh, Oh, that’s fine. What’s wrong with that?

[00:43:35] Annie Sargent: But why you’re taking books from people?

[00:43:37] Well, I, you know, uh, um, a bishop uh, who keeps a collection and doesn’t want other people to see it. Uh, No…

[00:43:43] I’m, yeah. Perhaps not.

[00:43:44] No, no, no. I’d rather have it be a, a public library, you know. Um, It turns out that uh, the library was so filled by this time with books that they obviously had to get rid of some of them, which is why they started distributing to other major cities that had beautiful palaces that were now turned into spaces that were museums or libraries, because they couldn’t hold all of these books.

Napoleonic Era

[00:44:07] Annie Sargent: And to add to all of this, just a few years later, we have our dear old Napoleon. Mm-hmm. Now, Mr. Napoleon. Mm.

[00:44:14] Yes.

[00:44:15] He, He had a very strange concept of what the world was like. Uh, His idea of the world was, if it’s there, I want it. And, and, And among of the other things he wanted, besides taking Egyptian temples and, and, and, and, and Greek columns and, and God knows what else, he confiscated… oh, that’s my word. Excuse me. He took as… as stole… booty. Ah. He took thousands of works, thousands of works from Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Holland.

[00:44:47] And he brought them to Paris, of course.

[00:44:50] Of course, as you do. uh, Everything goes to Paris.

[00:44:53] Everything goes to Paris. Okay. It ha uh, uh, Apparently one of the, you know, he, you know, when he, he went on his his, wars, he didn’t take just the soldiers.

[00:45:00] He took scientists, and intellectuals, and artists, and of course, people to document everything that he did.

[00:45:05] All his good deeds.

[00:45:07] Every, Everything, absolutely everything, you know? Uh, And so somebody wrote and said, in colon Cologne, you know, in Germany alone, uh, there were 25 cases of books that were taken and, you know, we’re talking still 200 years ago when books were pretty precious and there weren’t that many where there were just little paper paperbacks.

[00:45:24] Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, of course this added to this enormous, enormous collection, and uh, this is part of why by the 19th century it is really necessary to add to the buildings that house all of these books, because we can’t hold them anymore.

[00:45:39] Yeah, this is a, I can relate.

[00:45:42] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. I, I, Yeah, you’re, you should see my, you should see my house.

[00:45:45] You know, it’s like I got cracks…

[00:45:46] I have seen your house.

[00:45:47] ….cracks in the walls. The building. Yes. You know, i, this, it’s terrible. When you like books it’s really awful.

19th Century: The need to change and expand the buildings under Napoleon III

[00:45:52] Elyse Rivin: Anyway, so we get to the middle of the 1800s, and then you have Mr. Labrouste the famous architect who has been hired, uh, and this is interestingly, by his nephew Napoleon III, uh, the The People’s Emperor.

[00:46:04] Napoleon iii.

[00:46:04] Annie Sargent: The People’s Emperor, emperor okay.

[00:46:05] Elyse Rivin: The People’s Emperor, uh, which is what he called himself, right?

[00:46:08] And he, he’s the one who hired Labrouste uh, to reconstruct uh, parts of the uh, buildings that were being used uh, to house these enormous collections. Because of course, by this time it was no longer in the Louvre, which was just this damp, funky, old castle. You

[00:46:22] Annie Sargent: Right. But I mean, honestly, Paris without Napoleon III and the lavish spending that he did on a lot of these buildings, like, you know, the Opera House and with the BNF and places like that, um, Paris would not be Paris.

[00:46:36] Elyse Rivin: No. Paris would not be Paris. Yeah. Yeah. Really. And he hired a man named Leopold Delisle. Mm-hmm. And Leopold Delisle created the first general catalog of printed books. That was an exhaustive list of everything that had been printed since the beginning of the Dépôt Légal by Francois I.

[00:46:59] Annie Sargent: So this is a great idea, but it’s a futile uh, attempt to, you cannot catalog everything. I mean, it’s perhaps AI will catalog everything for us, but humans were not that, you know?

[00:47:11] I

[00:47:11] mean,

[00:47:11] Yeah.

[00:47:12] Elyse Rivin: Well, yeah, he tried. He tried. Believe it or not, there was a list made. It was revised every single year from 1874 through to 1981,

[00:47:24] Annie Sargent: So that’s a big deal. You know, you, you need to keep your list updated. You have to make an effort all the time. Otherwise you’re lost like, it’s gone, right? It’s no good.

[00:47:31] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. And then of course since then it’s been more or less computerized, you know? But, uh, uh, can you imagine they’ve done, they did this every single year from 1874 to 1981. That is almost a hundred years. No, it’s more than a hundred years, what am I saying? It’s more than a hundred years.

[00:47:44] No, it’s really quite amazing. Anyway, all of this to say that the uh, National Library of France, which is really the National Library of Paris, became known through all this time as the most important library in Europe. Right.

[00:47:59] And uh, you know, we have people like Victor Hugo who add, who gave it as a legacy, all of his handwritten manuscripts.

[00:48:07] Uh, You have the Duke of Chantilly, we were, when we visited Chantilly, who left a huge part of his collection of works uh, to, to uh, the National Library.

[00:48:16] And it went back and forth because of the 19th century between being called the National Library, a Royal Library, an Imperial Library. But basically it was all one and the same thing.

[00:48:24] It, It is what it is. And all of this pretty much stayed in the relatively, let’s say, uh, old fashioned buildings, because they were of course, added to and modernized the bit by Labrouste and all of that. But it really wasn’t until we get to François Mitterand in the eight 1980s, which is really now what? 40, 40 something years ago.

[00:48:47] Um, Who realizes, I think first of all, that he wanted to have something that would be a monument in his honor that would be left after, it’s says for posterity.

[00:48:55] But basically what happened was, um, by the beginning and the middle of the 20th century, there are over 20 something million texts and documents that have been collected, that are placed in all these various buildings and structures.

[00:49:10] And uh, so he finally decided that it would be his life’s project to create a new, brand new, huge library. And that project was begun right after he took office in 18, in 1981, and of course was not finished until 19, pardon me, 1996. And that is, of course, the uh, BNF François MItterand, um, that, that we were talking about at the beginning of the, of the podcast.

[00:49:33] And, um, Just uh, uh, the, The name of the architect is uh, Dominique Perrault, uh, like the, the man who wrote the fairy tales in the 19th century. They, the per mm-hmm. Um, uh, It’s in the Shape of Four Book ends around. Nobody told us that.

[00:49:42] I know, but it, it, it is really, a lot of people hate it. They think it’s really ugly.

[00:49:46] You know, it, they think it, it should have been something more aesthetic, but I think it’s because there are lots of people who like the Richelieu, and the Mazarine anyway.

[00:49:53] But just a few more statistics. We already mentioned the fact that it’s 22 floors high. There are 400 kilometers, linear kilometers of book stacks.

[00:50:02] That That’s a lot.

[00:50:03] Yeah. That’s a fair amount. Okay?

[00:50:06] The stockage space is, uh, and I’m going to, I translate it into square feet just because some people really do understand that, not that I do, but 513,000 square feet. Um,

[00:50:17] The lecture rooms, the lecture rooms, because there are 11 lecture rooms in the MItterand Library, uh, 486,000 square feet. Mm-hmm. It’s a lot of space, huh? Yeah. And the garden is a little over two acres in the center, and it is uh, considered to be one of the largest uh, buildings to hold text monuments, artifacts, et cetera, in the world.

[00:50:39] Annie Sargent: Wow. So we need to conclude Elyse, because we’ve been talking a very long time.

[00:50:44] Elyse Rivin: Well, that’s, that’s really where we are. I mean, we’ve reopened the Richelieu. We have the François Mitterand Library and we have books, books, books, books. And that is what Paris and France is all about.

What authors, books, libraries and librarians do for us

[00:50:56] Elyse Rivin: And you know, I want to express my appreciation for authors and librarians and libraries because I have spent a lot of time, especially, especially as a young person going to various libraries.

[00:51:11] Whether they were in a uh, bus, bibliobus, which uh, I went to a lot as a kid, uh, or the more beautiful buildings, it doesn’t matter. They all hold these wonderful things called books that tell stories uh, and collect knowledge. And I think they are wonderful. And I think librarians are underestimated.

[00:51:31] Oh

[00:51:31] Yes. They can really change a life.

[00:51:33] You And I just want to add, by just one last little tidbit that’s very personal and what I was doing notes for this.

[00:51:39] I was thinking, I was thinking about my mom who loved to read, but who never growing up had any money and who spent our life using a public library.

[00:51:48] Annie Sargent: Of course. Yeah. It’s what you do. But I mean, honestly, if you had to buy every book you wanted to read, you probably wouldn’t read very much. Because ‘ i. you know, it’s, it’s just… even people who have money, there’s only so much you can spend on books and so many books you can store at home.

[00:52:04] So libraries are perfect.

[00:52:07] Elyse Rivin: That’s what they’re for.

[00:52:08] Annie Sargent: That’s what they’re for.

[00:52:09] Thank you so much, Elyse.

[00:52:10] Elyse Rivin: Thank you Annie.

[00:52:11] Merci. Au revoir.


Thank you Patrons

[00:52:20] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for giving back and supporting this show. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing that. I try to release one new reward every week, and you can see all of that at

[00:52:35] Thank you all for supporting the show. And a shout out this week to new patrons Daneille Beneke and Shawn Rapp.

[00:52:44] Now, uh, the uh, extra for patrons that I released this week is uh, an episode I recorded with Susan and Ron Crump, uh, that was about uh, their wonderful bike trip in France. And as it turns out, we talked about that with patrons this month. So I pre-released this wonderful interview uh, to patrons, uh, just this week.

[00:52:59] So I decided I should pre-release this interview to my patrons.

[00:53:04] Now, the main podcast feed that you’re listening to right now is audio only, but since I record on Zoom, I will occasionally pre-release an episode to patrons, and that will include videos so you can see the lovely people I’m talking to. I also, I also released video recordings of my Zoom meetings with the patrons.

[00:53:22] If you missed it, you can watch the reruns. To enjoy this wonderful community of Francophiles, go to and to support Elyse, go to

[00:53:45] My thanks also to Sasha Cohen and Sabatino Pulgini for their one time donation using any button on Join Us in France that says, Tip Your Guide. Much appreciated.

[00:53:59] Sabatino wrote: Thank you for your amazing work. I’ve booked another trip to France because of your podcasts. I apologize. Is that good or is that bad? I don’t know. I think it’s good. Merci beaucoup to both of you.

Thinking of traveling to France?

[00:54:15] Annie Sargent: And of course, you can hire me to be your Personal Itinerary Consultant. I offer either the Bonjour or the VIP service.

[00:54:24] And to look at the details, go to forward boutique, and then you’ll get some emails to guide through the process, to guide you through the process.

[00:54:34] You can also take me in your pocket uh, with my voice map. Uh, with my Voice Map GPS guided tours. Uh, You can take me along to the Eiffel Tower, the Île de la Cité, Le Marais, Montmartre, Saint Germain des Prés, or the Latin Quarter, and I guarantee you will see the very best of those neighborhoods, like, you’ve done this your whole life, because you’ll be listening, you’ll be following me along.

[00:54:57] You can access my tours directly from the VoiceMap app if you’re in a hurry, but you can also purchase tour codes for Join Us from, but you can also purchase tour codes at a discount from and you’ll receive the special list, the special listener discount. But, uh, this, uh, code.

[00:55:12] Do. But if you get the discount, you won’t get the codes immediately. It’s not automated. It’s a person actually sending you the codes.

The Opening Ceremony for the Paris Olympics

[00:55:20] Annie Sargent: All right, let’s talk a little bit about the opening ceremony for the Paris Olympics. Now that ceremony is going to take place on July 26, 2024. Traditionally, the opening ceremony is held in the Olympic stadium, right?

[00:55:39] But… in Paris, this ceremony will make history by taking place on the Seine River, the river that flows through Paris. So, the scene for the Olympics opening ceremonies will be the Seine. How very clever.

[00:56:00] So, the parade of athletes, which traditionally takes place within a stadium, will be held on the river, with boats for each national delegation, equipped with cameras to allow viewers watching on TV and online to get a close up view of all the action. The boats will depart from Pont d’Austerlitz, near the Jardin des Plantes, and will end by the Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower. This is nearly six kilometers of route along the river.

[00:56:31] The whole area will need to be secured. But… only some sections will require a ticket to get access. Regular folks, like me, without Olympic tickets, like me, will be able to line the bridges and the banks of the river to enjoy the procession for free. To me, that’s wonderful news. I’ll link an article about this in the show notes and it’ll contain a rendering of what they have in mind, but…

[00:57:02] Imagine colorful boats with the best athletes in the world, waving, the people cheering all along. I think it’s going to be very grand.

[00:57:13] And French people do know how to put on a fantastic outdoor show.

The Bouquinistes Controversy

[00:57:19] Annie Sargent: But… there is controversy as well. Some folks are harping on about the poor, poor bouquinistes who are going to have to move during the Olympics.

[00:57:31] So the bouquinistes are people who have set up the, the little, well, they’re not so little, the green boxes. They’re wooden boxes in which they store trinkets or books or postcards or whatever it is that they sell. And they occupy a lot of space along the river, in very strategic parts of the banks of the river.

[00:57:55] And these people are having to move during the Olympics. And the New York Times, for some reason, decided to make that, to make that their cause célèbre, and they’ve been talking about that and making everybody feel terrible for these poor, maybe 50 people, who have owned these franchises for a long, long time.

[00:58:17] Now, honestly, I’m not all that sad about it, uh, because they will be moved temporarily. They will be compensated. They will be set up to sell somewhere else, and then they will be moved back. This is the people’s river. The sidewalk does not belong to the bouquinistes. So if, for security reasons and access reasons, they need to be moved, so be it. I’m sure they’ll make out like bandits, like they always have.

No hijab rule in France

[00:58:51] Annie Sargent: A bigger problem is the no hijab rule in France. It’s going to the, It’s going to apply to the athletes as well. Personally, I think women should be allowed to cover their hair if they want to, but I’m in a tiny, tiny minority of French people who think like that.

[00:59:10] So, that’s how it’s going to be. If you want to be in the Olympics in France, you cannot wear a hijab. Our house, our rules, I guess.

[00:59:19] But I wish it weren’t so, and I know it will be very controversial. Hopefully, it’ll be France’s opportunity to see how much we are at odds with the rest of the world when it comes to this.

[00:59:34] But as French people like to point out, and I think they’re right, just 50, 70 years ago, the hijab was also not allowed in Iran or in Turkey, or in many places where the major religion is Muslim.

[00:59:54] So, the rise of a certain flavor of Islam forced women to cover up. Now, were they forced to cover up or were they finally allowed to cover up?

[01:00:07] Well, that’s a political question and I do what I can to stay away from politics, but I do know that this is going to be controversial and for good reason.

[01:00:18] My thanks to podcast editors, Anne and Cristian Cotovan, who produce this audio and the transcripts. Next week on the podcast, an episode about.

Next week on the podcast

[01:00:26] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast, an episode about medieval touring in France with Matthew Gamache, who is a returning guest and always a treat to hear from.

[01:00:37] Thank you for listening. And I hope you join.

[01:00:37] Oh, and I should say briefly that uh, I am almost all the way better from my bout of COVID, my very first bout of COVID, um, after four doses of vaccine, and Paxlovid, it uh, didn’t stand much of a chance, but I must admit, it was scary there for a few days, so, hooray for science, thank you, and hooray for doctors. And we have very, uh, good, uh,

[01:01:00] My husband and I are very lucky, we have a very good doctor who just said, look, you’re at risk, let’s give you the Paxlovid. And uh, it works. It really works. It gives you a terrible taste in your mouth, but it really works. The taste does go away though. It’s gone. Like the metal taste in my mouth, done. Thank God.

[01:01:20] Thank you for listening. And I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together.

[01:01:26] Au revoir.


[01:01:27] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and Copyright 2023 by Addicted to France. It is released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license.



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