|The Old Naturalist's Curiosity Shop
by Sarah Shuckburgh
Sarah Shuckburgh explores a
relic of old Paris that sells everything from lions to
If you want to buy a stuffed elk, a frog's skeleton, a
Goliath beetle as big as a fist, or a Stone Age axe head, I
know the place.
Deyrolle must be the oddest shop in Paris. A modest
entrance, on the fashionable Left-Bank rue du Bac, leads
past a couple of stuffed horses to a rickety staircase,
which winds to the first-floor showrooms. Here, little
appears to have changed since amateur entomologist Emile
Deyrolle took over the premises in 1831.
Cobwebs dangle from the ornate powder-blue plasterwork.
Creaky parquet floors, sloping and uneven, stretch through a
series of interconnecting rooms where elegant doors and
floor-to-ceiling windows evoke the long-forgotten grandeur
of the building's early 18th-century origins. Bulky but
elegantly carved radiators, blisteringly hot, date back to
the dawn of central heating.
But more astonishing, a dubious Noah's Ark of stuffed
animals awaits - a crazy, overcrowded menagerie, unnervingly
lifelike, yet frozen in a time warp, like the shop itself.
Lion, llama and lesser kudu tower imperiously above lurking
geese, foxes, parrots and snow-white rabbits.
Tiny yellow and green birds perch on lichened twigs under a
glass dome. A donkey and a baby zebra stand by a grimy
window, staring dolefully out at the bustling street. Puma,
polar bear and pig are crammed on to high glass-fronted
cabinets, their heads brushing the flaking ceiling. A couple
of coypu tickle customers' shins in a doorway. A giant
swordfish pokes his snout towards a mounted buffalo head.
Everything within reach can be touched, patted, examined.
And everything, whether high or low, is for sale.
Massive mahogany chests hold further magical oddities in
their shallow drawers - hundreds of ghostly glass eyes on
spirals of wire, sorted by colour, size and type of animal;
thousands of spherical bugs and spindly beetles, impaled but
unlabelled, of long-forgotten provenance.
There are trays of crumbling fossils, jumbles of shells,
displays of frail and dazzling butterflies, row upon row of
shiny insects with iridescent backs, hairy spiders with
impossibly articulated legs, and tiny hummingbirds, arranged
in a fan like a quiver of feathered darts.
Emile Deyrolle supplied equipment for amateur naturalists
like himself - butterfly nets, insect pins, pooters and
scalpels - but he was also a pioneering pedagogue, designing
imaginative visual aids to introduce children to the
mysteries of science. Cabinets, their once livid paintwork
chipped and clouded with dust, still display plaster
cross-sections of earthworms, dissected digestive systems
and female reproductive organs.
The shop has its own take on health and safety. As customers
trip over the paws of a recumbent lion or stumble into parts
of the floor that have subsided, framed reproductions of
Deyrolle's 19th-century posters carry wonderfully doom-laden
educational messages: beware of "Accidents a la Maison" (a
knickerbockered lad falls headlong from a window and a girl
in a pinafore plays with scissors), or "Accidents dans l'Eau"
(startled Victorian ladies look up from their picnic as
their mustachioed companion dives into a pond too soon after
Better still are the cautionary statistics on alcoholism.
Deyrolle and his sons were champions of temperance, and
produced wall charts demonstrating that alcohol leads to
weakness, deformity and untimely death. Compare these
muscular, smiling, teetotal heroes with those limp, puny,
degenerate drunkards who collapse in a heap on the
racetrack, and have their lifelines snipped by merciless but
The past 20 years have seen a few changes in the shop. The
taxidermy desk - where white-coated men once took orders
from elegant Parisians for the stuffing of favourite pets -
has been replaced by racks of tasteful jerkins and hessian
Butterfly enthusiasts can no longer buy killing jars, each
containing enough potassium cyanide to poison hundreds of
humans. Bundles of dog-eared geological maps are reminders
of the time when this was a serious shop for naturalists,
but today the shelves also stock novelty gifts, such as
glossy photographs of leaves and flowers, framed with a
single colour-matched butterfly or beetle on a pin.
More changes are afoot. The shop has been sold, and the new
owner has plans to open a gardening shop downstairs. Visit
Deyrolle soon, or it may be too late.
Deyrolle, 46 rue du Bac, Paris (0033 1 4222 3007)
First published by the Telegraph
Sixth Sense in Paris
by Sarah Shuckburgh
Sarah Shuckburgh returns to an
arrondissement full of faded grandeur, artistic heritage and extravagantly
husband and I have a postmodern marriage. We don’t live in
the same house, town or even country. We often visit each
other (my London home is his urban pied-à-terre, and his
pavillon in Normandy is my country cottage) but sometimes we
decide to meet in Paris, the most romantic and invigorating
When this happens, we take the Porte d’Orléans metro
straight to St Germain des Prés.
We love the sixième arrondissement, with its intoxicating
mix of faded grandeur, bohemian spirit and Parisian chic.
The grey ripples of the Seine shimmer and gleam. Pale
sunshine highlights rooftops and spires. The winter sky is
overcast but the cloud radiates brightness. It is impossible
not to feel exhilarated by the City of Light.
Guillaume knew the area in the 1960s, and misses the
old-fashioned bookbinders’ workshops and small specialist
publishers, which have been replaced by designer boutiques
behind plate glass windows. Today’s students are too busy
planning their careers to sit in cafes all day, discussing
anarchy and Marxism, and reforming the world. But the
quartier retains a friendly, off-beat atmosphere,
reminiscent of the days when it was the favoured haunt of
intellectuals from Voltaire to Simone de Beauvoir.
The area has attracted the intelligentsia since the middle
ages, when the scholarly but cosmopolitan Benedictine monks
of St Germaine des Prés presided over an independent, walled
fiefdom. For 300 years, until the revolution, the
Benedictines held an annual fundraising fair - the biggest
in Paris - with art, food, imported curiosities, theatrical
shows and coffee houses, which set the lively, artistic tone
that survives to this day. The important academies of
language and art are still here, including the Ecole des
Beaux Arts, and the 17th century Palais de l‘Institut de
France, where members of the Académie Française meet every
Thursday afternoon to defend the French language from
This weekend, we open our shutters to reveal translucent
winter skies. As we walk down the street, a miniature tidal
wave approaches, with litter bobbing on its surface. Street
cleaners are sluicing the gutters, an intriguing daily
ritual involving gushing standpipes, and a collection of
grubby sausage-shaped sandbags, strategically placed to
build up a powerful flow, and to steer water round corners.
We wander towards Boulevard St Germain for breakfast at the
Deux Magots - touristy in summer, but cosy in winter, and
pleasingly ornate, with its eponymous pair of grotesque
oriental figurines. Verlaine, Rimbaud and other literary
types made this café famous in the 1880s. Sometimes we
choose the nearby Café Flore, whose regular customers once
included Picasso, Sartre and Camus. People-watching is a
serious business, and we try to sit in the window for an
optimum view of the Germanopratine passers-by - well-heeled
bohemians with small dogs, artfully tousled philosophers,
youngsters with perfectly knotted scarves and policemen on
After breakfast, we look into the church of St Germain des
Prés, built on the site of the 6th century Benedictine abbey
that became the intellectual centre of Paris. I love the
faded polychrome paint on the pillars, and the distant, deep
blue ceiling scattered with golden stars. Behind the altar
stands a wooden statue of Germanus, 6th century bishop of
Paris, whose name now describes the area.
There are plenty of museums in this part of Paris, but most
tempting (although just outside the 6e arrondissement) is
the Musée d’Orsay, with its unparalleled collection of late
19th century Parisian art. This former railway station, a
colossal iron structure built in 1900, was converted to a
gallery in 1986. Today, we make for the fifth floor, where
wintry sunshine illuminates an astonishing collection of
impressionist masterpieces. There is almost too much to take
in. We gaze at works by Monet, Pissarro and Sisley; by
Renoir, Degas and Manet; by Berthe Morisot, Van Gogh and
Cézanne. Elated, we head for the airy top-floor café, where
north light filters through the massive glass-faced railway
Between the river and Hausmann’s grand boulevards lies a
wonderful labyrinth of narrow streets, lined with once-grand
hôtels particuliers - aristocratic town houses dating from
the early 17th century, with elegant ironwork, and cobbled
courtyards glimpsed through imposing double doors. As in
other European cities, during the industrial revolution the
upper classes moved west, upwind of the smoke and pollution
- to the leafy 16th arrondissement. Now, the rich are back
again, but few own whole houses.
It is lovely being on foot and we feel sorry for motorists,
searching for elusive parking spaces. The ground floors of
many stately mansions contain small specialist shops - a
delight, even for reluctant shoppers like us. Windows are
piled with antiques - beautifully upholstered chairs,
glittering chandeliers, statues and oriental carpets.
Designer boutiques offer clothes which are bohemian yet
chic. In rue Verneuil, I spot an absurd baby shop, offering
tiny fur coats and haute couture romper-suits. The rue de
l’Odeon has lovely bookshops, each stacked from floor to
ceiling with dusty tomes. Shakespeare and Co, by the Petit
Pont, is a literary institution - an English language book
shop, which dared to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses, and
where struggling poets can still doss down among piles of
books. Guillaume’s favourite shop is Deyrolle, at 46 rue du
Bac - upstairs, panelled salons with polished parquet floors
display stuffed animals and cabinets of butterflies.
At one o’clock, we sit down to a proper 3-course lunch (no
snacking in Paris), perhaps in the belle époque elegance of
Brasserie Lipp in Boulevard St Germain, or the bustling Pré
aux Clercs in rue Jacob (where there’s a non-smoking room).
For a quieter, old fashioned meal, with starched tablecloths
and elderly waiters in long aprons, we choose Aux
Charpentiers, by St Germain’s covered food market, or Chez
Maitre Paul, among the second-hand bookshops, or Allard, on
rue St André des Arts - bistrots where time has stood still
for half a century.
After lunch, we stroll past Picasso’s house on rue des
Grand-Augustins. Running parallel is rue Dauphine, the
street which earned Paris the name of City of Light when
France’s first street lamps were installed here in 1763.
Delacroix‘s house, in rue de Furstenberg, now contains a
museum of his work. He lived here while he was working in
the nearby church of St Sulpice, which we enter, to admire
his radiant frescoes. Founded in the 12th century by the St
Germain monks, the present hefty, cavernous church dates
from the 18th century. Here, Baudelaire and the Marquis de
Sade were baptised, and Victor Hugo was married. Fauré and
Widor were both organists here, and we listen as the
magnificent organ competes with the tuneless chimes of the
Just down the road, the 17th century Jardin du Luxembourg is
romantic even in February. The park is full of couples,
strolling arm in arm, and kissing. Solitary eccentrics sit
on benches, muffled against the chill wind, reading
newspapers and weighty books. Leafless plane trees form
stark silhouettes against the pale gravel. Marble statues
grace every vista, including one of Queen Marie de Medici,
widow of Henri IV, and founder of the gardens. She also
built the Palais du Luxembourg, now home to the French
Senate. To warm up, we pop into Paris’ oldest public art
gallery, the Musée du Luxembourg, and find another stunning
array of masterpieces, on loan from an American collection,
including works by Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso, van Gogh,
Matisse and Braque.
Guillaume doesn’t go in for le 5 o’clock (tea), but I do, so
on our way back to our hotel, we join old ladies with
elegant chignons, to nibble mouth-watering macaroons in the
opulent Laudurée tea room, on rue Jacob.
After a bath and a short siesta, it’s time for another big
meal. An extravagantly romantic place for supper is
Lapérouse, on the Quai des Grands-Augustins. Painted panels
outside the restaurant prepare one for the lavish Second
Empire interior, with private cubicles for diners in
adulterous liaisons. Or there’s Procope in the rue de
l’Ancienne-Comédie - the oldest café in Paris, established
in 1670 by a Sicilian called Procopio. The décor of the
rambling dining rooms evokes the 18th century, when Voltaire
and Rousseau were among its many literary patrons.
But for less pretentious surroundings, we head for the
lively crowds in the Marché du Buci. Despite the hour, the
street is still full of flower sellers, chestnut vendors,
and stalls selling pastries, cheese and meat. Fishmongers
are selling their last oysters and mussels, sweeping heaps
of crushed ice on to the cobbles. We have a drink at the
crowded Bar du Marché, and listen to pavement jazz
musicians, before strolling to la Citrouille in rue St
Grégoire de Tours, where, for 11.50 euros each, we tuck into
soupe a l‘ognion, pot-au-feu and tarte aux pommes, with red
wine. As we walk back through the cold night air, we look up
and see that the cloud has lifted. A curve of silvery moon
shines from a starry sky.
Even in winter, the City of Light never disappoints.
First published by the Telegraph