PARIS — The 2024 Paris Olympics ’ opening ceremony will be held on the famed River Seine, taking place outside of a sports venue for the first time in the Games’ history. But for the booksellers who have found a centuries-old sanctuary on the river banks, that day is all but ceremonious.
The city of Paris vowed to deliver an extraordinary grand opening on July 26 next year which is expected to draw about 600,000 spectators. As a result, the Paris police prefecture has ordered the removal a day before the ceremony of 570 “stationary boxes” – street stands out of which booksellers have operated for decades on the quays of the Seine.
Citing security concerns, the prefecture fears that the boxes could be used to conceal explosive devices during the opening ceremony, which will see the parade of over 10,500 athletes from 206 delegations along the river as hundreds of thousands of spectators watch on.
A number of the traditionally dark-green boxes have not been moved for decades, some for over a century, and booksellers denounce the prefecture’s decision. They also worry that the city would cause irrecoverable damage to the age-old boxes by removing them.
“We are a symbol of Paris,” said Jérôme Callais, who’s been selling books on the quayside since the 90s and who heads the Cultural Association of Booksellers of Paris, which advocates for the safeguarding of the boxes. “It’s as if the prefecture decided that the Eiffel Tower was too high and that the third and second floors had to be removed because they came within the scope of the cameras during the ceremony.”
Paris city hall offered to renovate or replace the boxes at no cost after removal, but the booksellers’ association, which now has 200 members, is bent on keeping them in place, as they are.
PHOTOS: Paris booksellers won’t let their street stands along the Seine be removed for the 2024 Olympics
“We agree that we will not move,” added Callais. “Yes, we can have a conversation, but it’s out of the question to touch our boxes.”
In return, the booksellers’ association proposed that the boxes be sealed before and throughout the Olympics’ opening ceremony. Callais also referred to Queen Elizabeth II’s first royal visit to Paris in 1957, which saw a large parade in the Seine river while none of the boxes were removed.
But even if it weren’t for security reasons, Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Seine, insisted in a meeting with the booksellers in July that the boxes needed to be removed because they obstruct the view.
Paris city hall has not responded to requests for comment.
Paris 2024 organizing committee president, Tony Estanguet, told The Associated Press that putting together such an event as the Games “would not come without consequences” to local traditions.
“Booksellers are part of our history,” Estanguet said. “It’s an incredible activity … but it’s true that their proximity (to the Seine) means that for some of them there is an incompatibility with the normal organization” of the Games, he added. “So we must find solutions.”
“It’s a real challenge, because we’re taking the sport out of the stadiums and we’re going into the city,” Estanguet added. “We’ll have to close roads – we’ll have to change the habits of local residents, businesses, and booksellers, because we are in the city. It’s once every 100 years.”
As of now, there has been no set date on when the booksellers should leave the quays. But while permits are usually being provided by the city to booksellers for a full year going from August 1 to July 31, this time they have only been given for up to June 30 next year.
“Maybe there’s just no other way to go about it,” said Jérôme Piel, a French visitor from Normandy, who thinks the city should not remove the boxes. “At this point, they should also remove all the trees then.”
“It’s what Paris is and that’s why we shouldn’t be able to remove that stuff,” Kevin Davis, a tourist from the United States, said. “Can you imagine coming here and not seeing this? It doesn’t make sense. I’ve been coming here for 15 years. That’s part of the charm of coming.”
A petition demanding the safeguarding of the open-air bookshops, launched last month, has now over 120,000 signatures.
“The only thing we ask is that they don’t touch our boxes,” Callais said. “We are fragile enough as it is. We want to last a few more centuries.”
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