Rue Bonaparte

Arrondissement 6

Numbers 21, 28, 42 and La Hune Bookshop

The famous La Hune Bookshop after the fire and in the background Sartre’s doorway at 42 Rue Bonaparte

Paris is still changing, and sometimes by accident. Having a meal with Nicole (my father’s partner for over 25 years) in November 2017, we chatted about the big fire that had started near the Saint Germain church.

It turned out to be the cremation of the last mortal remains of the famous La Hune bookshop. This had been set up by former resistance fighters in 1949 and had been a centre of Parisian intellectual life for thirty years. It had closed two years earlier after relocating to the corner of the Place Saint-German and Rue Bonaparte in 2012.

Hazan (WTP) remembers it as one of the key left intellectual meetings places of the 1950s and as a street dominated by ‘realist’ art galleries in the 1960s. When we walked past it the day after the fire and smelt the sad pungent aroma of burnt books and wood, it looked as if the fashion shop with which it shared its premises had mysteriously been largely spared.

Across Rue Bonaparte was where Jean-Paul Sartre used to live in number 42 (third window below the balcony). He moved there to be with his mother after the death of her second husband in 1948, The editorial team of his philosophical journal, Temps modernes, used to meet in the flat.  Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he lived there for a while, Raymond Aron and Maurice Merleau-Ponty were among the many Left Bank intellectuals who made up its editorial board.  

Rue Bonaparte in January 1962 after an OAS plastic bomb exploded in the doorway outside Sartre’s house

Number 42 was the address where Sartre’s political support for Algerian independence was rewarded on January 7 1962 with the signature plastic bomb used by the OAS – the Organisation armée secrete – whose music I had first heard out with my father on the Champs Elysée celebrating New Years’ Eve just a week earlier. The traffic jam of cars blocking the street appeared nearly all to be honking ‘Algerie Française’ – da da da, daa, daa. A week later we were walking home when we heard the huge bang when the Rue Bonaparte bomb went off – targeted along with another 16 other addresses that night.

There were no injuries, but Sartre promptly moved out to the much more public Boulevard Raspail.

The 40-year-old French composer of Spanish origins, Francisco Salvador Daniel (1831-24 May 1871) was summarily shot in Rue Bonaparte

Further down the Rue Bonaparte, at the crossroad with Rue Jacob, another story did not end quite so happily. In 1871 the Commune defenders built a barricade between numbers 21 and 28 in Rue Bonaparte and from 29 to 32 in Rue Jacob. There, on May 24 1871 Francisco Salvador-Daniel, the musicologist son of a Jewish refugee from Spain, who had been defending the barricade was captured, and taken back to the barricade and shot by the Versaillais soldiers. He had taught the violin in Algeria and translated and adapted Arabic songs from North Africa for European musical instruments.