Mollat, Montesquieu, Mauriac and an Arrogant Little Rooster

Literary Tourist in Bordeaux, France

After strolling around Montaigne’s chateau

Montaigne wife tower, chateau, bordeaux
His wife apparently lived in the tower at the end, a long way from Montaigne’s study.

and eating royally on the run in St. Emilion,

we headed for Bordeaux. Since we were staying on the outskirts, I took the bus downtown. The first thing I spotted was this giant column, supported by a spectacular chariot

guarded by this arrogant rooster.

If his name isn’t Napoleon it should be.

I started walking in the direction of the Mollat Bookstore that publisher Heloise D’Ormesson had recommended I visit (at 15 rue Vital-Carles). It’s the oldest independent bookstore in France, and one of the biggest. It’s been in business, in the same family, since the 1890s and it’s located on the site of the last house that philosopher Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu lived in. I found it easily enough. When I arrived I figured I’d try to meet the owner, Denis Mollat. Turned out he was due to show up in 45 minutes, so I asked where all the charming little dying-to-be photographed ‘libraries’ were at,  and was told to visit a nearby side street. Here’s what I found:

This is no longer a bookshop, but the old sign’s still here so it counts. I love the lettering, and the colour of the paint.

The owner here wouldn’t let me take his photograph, but he did give me his latest catalogue.

After reaching the end of the rue I found myself à côté de

this grand eglise

which is home to the  Marcadé collection which includes illuminations from a selection of Books of Hours.

There were now about 20 minutes left to kill, with one shop left to visit, Quai des Livres. I’d read that it was worth the trip. It wasn’t really – a discount shop with new and used books for sale. I’d hoped for a bit better selection. Still, I enjoyed the walk over, and back, during which I was surprised to see this,  a poster promoting  “Jack London in the South Seas” ,  an exhibition running May 29 – December 2 , 2018, at the Aquitaine Museum.

I met Denis underground, under a road actually, in a space where Mollat holds author readings pretty well every day. We walked through a little alley way and into this huge auditorium

where more formal author events are held. Denis, who incidentally is also a trained medical doctor, doesn’t fool around. Events here are big news. They’re broadcast over the store’s own internet radio station and videotaped. Stops at Mallot are a big deal for authors touring France. Hard to believe this place exists really, judging solely from the exterior of the place.

Mollat covers a whole city block, just as Foyles does in London.

After admiring the store’s superb Pleiade collection

saying goodbye to Denis,

and spotting this,

Margaret Atwood, my favourite Literary Tourist. Listen here to our conversation.

I headed back to the bus stop and that haughty little rooster.


I mentioned Montaigne’s tower and chateau, but you can also visit Montesquieu’s chateau,

south of Bordeaux. He was born, lived and wrote the majority of his works here. Visitors can see his library (although its books have been transferred to a library in Bordeaux), and his bedroom, which are both preserved as they were in the 18th century. Journalist and author Francois Mauriac was also born in Bordeaux. He studied literature at the local university before moving to Paris. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952. Some of his better known works include Le Désert de l’Amour (The Desert of Love, 1925), La Pharisienne (A Woman of the Pharisees, 1941) and Le Noeud de vipères (The Knot of Vipers, 1932) which I read ions ago. Can’t remember a thing about it. He was the grandfather of Anne Wiazemsky, a French actress and author who worked with and married Jean-Luc Godard.

Plan your trip to Bordeaux  starting here.

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