Anne of Bourgogne

I still feel like I’m walking in Paris.

It is Wednesday, June 26. I returned last Tuesday night. The week has been a whirlwind of catch-up, pointless exercises, huge book orders and weather too hot to do much of anything outdoors.

Today will be the 11th day in a row of temperatures in the 90s or above in the DC region. Even Abe Lincoln is melting.

I was exhausted when I got home last night. I’d hit the ground running about 5 a.m., but there was nowhere to go. A bookseller friend had stayed over Monday night. We watched the hockey final. (Finally, at the end of June—in Florida, of all places.) I didn’t hear him rattling around downstairs until after 7. We had to get to the warehouse and get his truck unloaded. He’d brought down about 4000 antiquarian books—unwanted, unsellable—but perfectly fine for Books by the Foot.

Antiquarian Truck

He also brought a few treasures with which to tempt me.

Could I pass on this one? Flawless. Brilliant colors.

We settled up, and he headed back to Buffalo.

I headed to Hagerstown to look at a possible new building for that bookstore. Can I pull that off? Is it a good idea? It would be huge…

Then to the existing Hagerstown store. It looks great. The landlord made us remove all the 5 for $5 books and media from the sidewalk. Some insurance company inspection requirement. But there are thousands of 5 for $5 items inside the store.

Ernest was already there culling. We have a large order for a major movie starring… well, I can’t tell you right now, but you’d recognize the name. There’s also a huge order for coffeetable books—230 linear feet! And Books by the Box are selling better than ever. You can acquire a big box of mystery, sci-fi, lit, kids… quite inexpensively.

These massive purges are therapeutic for the stores. We can remove old or duplicated stock to make way for fresh collections.

The collections that have been pouring in are marvelous. Exciting estates full of autographed books. (Good autographs—not the valueless ones we come across constantly. If the book or the author are not special, then neither is the autograph.) Mystery collections—sold anonymously at the stores or dropped off by charities that can’t use them.

Exciting but overwhelming.

I headed back to the Frederick store to do some culling there. The bottom shelves are loaded with coffeetable books. Few people shop that low. I spent a few hours on my hands and knees, dropping dupes and old date books into plastic tubs. (I paid for it late last night when leg cramps at first twinged and then screamed until I could limp to the bathroom and get a magnesium pill. Amazing. In minutes, the knots in my muscles loosened, and I was back in bed dreaming.) A young architecture student back for the summer was working in the same aisle as I. All the times we come and cull for various reasons, and I still found books we sent over from the “teens” in Civil War, American West, Military…

Store Culls

I know the bookshelves will fill back in like sand on the beach. But the stores will have space for the stock that flows from the warehouse like a river.

I spent the rest of the day sorting through the endless carts of old books.

This Library of Congress poetry publication was fun in that it’s signed by many icons of the second half of the twentieth century.

Consultants' Reunion 1987

Though my teacher and mentor William Meredith is featured in it, he didn’t sign. But Gwendolyn Brooks did. As did… well, a lot of poets.

Finally, 4:30 was indicated by the black hands on the round white face clock high on the wall. I felt I could leave without guilt.

A day in the life…

I’d removed the flannel sheets and replaced them with lighter weight cotton ones. Royal purple. (Frederick had been cool when I left for France. The heat was switched on when the solstice occurred.) The bedspread was yucky. Stained by the dogs sleeping atop it. It wasn’t worth washing. I needed something lighter anyway. I stopped at Home Goods and picked up a Brooks Brothers “quilt” on sale. I didn’t want the dogs sleeping atop the fresh sheets. Too much hair. I picked out some other things—strawberry jam…

Then home.

My housekeeper was supposed to have come. She’d missed the last several appointments. Most recently was Saturday. She’d sent a text saying she was running late. I got back late after visiting the New Market Plains Winery. The thermometer read “100” there. So we went inside and sipped and chatted and watched the vineyard outside the windows. Then the owners and I decided to go out for dinner. I got home in the dark and expected a freshened home.


I’d stripped the bed but was too tired to make it. I slept atop the loose purple cotton that night.

But she had been there Tuesday. And gone.

I was glad to be alone. I turned the a/c down, put the leftover burger from Saturday into the oven, let the dogs loose, got two Natty Bohs from the fridge, put on a DVD of The Twilight Zone episodes and decompressed.

It had been a good busy day.

The house continues to improve in other ways as well.

My librarian was in last Friday and got the huge Shakespeares shelved. They’d been languishing in the (climate-controlled) garage since before COVID.

Huge Shakepeares

She wants to put up curtains so I can hang more of the framed stuff without concern about sun-fading.

I hauled out two big tubs of old shoes from the walk-in closet. I stopped wearing “shoes” about 8 years ago when I developed a heel spur on my left foot. I took to wearing clogs. At times, it was so excruciating I felt it would be better to shoot my foot. Even though my heel spur got miraculously cured—without the butchery surgery I’d been contemplating—in the depths of COVID, I still wear the clogs usually. They’re so easy to slip in and out of. I kept some “old friend” shoes—including the 7 pairs of Chuck Taylors—all different colors.

I also emptied the odd sock drawer. Where’d the mates go? There must be a portal to another dimension here somewhere. Time to give up on them.

Those will go in the “cotton compost” garden in the glen below the side porch. I toss cotton rags and socks with holes in them etc… in among the daylilies. There they are hidden from view while they turned into “soil.”

Cotton Compost

I have an aversion to putting things into the landfill.

My bookselling has its roots in recycling as well as an innate passion for books since I was a small child.


Ernest is driving southeast on I 270 to the Gaithersburg store.

We need to cull for Books by the Foot.

The big movie prop order has become a “rush.” Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Humanities (what’s that?), Music History, Art, Travel.

And a couple of huge coffeetable book orders. Over 120 linear feet in total.

And so it goes on… the same only different every day, every week, every month… next Monday will be July! In two weeks, I will turn… I shudder at the thought.

And it is hot, Hot, HOT!

The Paris trip separated Maryland spring and summer.

Did I tell you about the mustard?

My hotel was located about a ten-minute walk east above the Seine and Place de la Concorde. There are dozens of high-end boutique stores to pass by. There’s even a Havilland china store. I have my grandmother’s Havilland china. It is in the basement in Pennsylvania.

One of the little shops had a sign “Maille.”


‘Is that honey?’ I first thought. No. But the name was familiar. Eventually, I stepped into it and discovered it was the Maille brand of French mustard. I was outbound so didn’t shop, but made a mental note that there would likely be mustard in my future when I was heading back to the hotel one day.

The place is in an old row of shops. Maybe even 18th century. Lots of royal and civic sites nearby. It is maybe 10 feet wide and 50 feet deep. The sales counter and employee area takes up half the width. So when I stepped in late Friday afternoon, I needed to adjust my “head.” There were 4 or 5 French customers. I deferred to their spatial needs and squeezed by to find some open space where I could inspect the product.

The “public” wall was mostly little jars and crocks. Mostly mustard, but also other non-mustard condiments.

Let me insert here that I love mustard. There are always 5 or 6 varieties in the fridge. And it’s not just exotic stuff. I like good old yellow mustard on burgers and hot dogs etc. I’ve had the Maille mustards before.

Finally, a few customers left, and I was able to assess the whole place. There was a French guy tasting mustard at the sales counter. It was then my brain and eyes focused on what really goes on there.

They have Mustard on Tap! There were 6 or more pump taps like you’d see used for cask ale in British pubs. There was a crock of long flat thin wooden “tongue depresses” that you could dip in to crocks of what they had available on tap.

Maille Mustard

They were all so good! I went through and tasted them again.

I asked how purchasing the stuff works using a few French words but mostly being a friendly curious tourist anxious to learn and please.

You can buy various sized ceramic crocks, and they will fill them with mustard of your choice. They’ll seal the crock with a big cork.

“When they are empty, you can bring them back for refills. It will be much less expensive.”

I imagined myself flying back to Paris in a year or two to get my mustards topped up.

Several were special, limited edition varieties. I have some experience with limited editions.

I decided I could take 2 back. Medium size.

I narrowed it down and chose the whiskey-infused variety and the one with Chardonnay white wine from Burgundy.

The truffled mustard was a close third. Truffles used to be rare and very expensive. Apparently, you can now even cultivate the rarer white truffles.

I picked out some jars of non-mustard stuff to take to my kids since they aren’t mustard aficionados.

Standing near the checkout while my crocks were wrapped in black tissue paper and placed in small black paperboard boxes, I was bothered when someone stepped in front of me. It was two someones. Tiny, skinny, frail, bent—an ancient husband and wife. He reached into his cloth sack and pulled out two crocks. He spoke some rapid French and another mustard clerk took them for refilling. I wondered at their life of gourmet mustard and, likely, other delicacies.

The crocks survived the trip and customs. When I got home, I picked up some pretzels and had my own tasting.

Maille Mustard Tasting

They were both wonderful.

Ernest and I pulled most of a vanload of books for the various Books by the Foot order.

I chose some neglected areas to start on. Germany. Of course, a customer chose that moment to want to shop it. So I moved to a slightly less neglected section—British Isles and Ireland. That section sells pretty well and is pretty large. But I was able to pull a lot of old photo books of London and other cities and sites. There was duplication or dated titles about the royalty as well.

Finally, the shopper moved out of Germany. I didn’t notice if he bought anything.

It was terrible. My responsibility for neglecting it. The tops of the tall books on the bottom shelves were covered in dust. They hadn’t been taken off the shelves and looked at for… a long time. A lot of them were about German cities—written in German. That’s a long stretch to sell. The odds that a German-speaking person would come to the Gaithersburg, Maryland store, find the Germany section and want to acquire a 1980s coffeetable book on Hamburg are pretty slim. Since most of the foreign language books pass through me, I was responsible. The dates were old. The books were dusty. I was sneezing. I wasn’t paying attention and pulled a group of big books off the top shelf. One slipped, and its corner dug into my bare forearm. I have thin skin on my forearms. The dermatologists diagnosed it as “sun damaged.” (They used a fancier name. Helio… something, I think.) I was never much of a sunbather. Anyway, I got a nice bruise and a little gash for my carelessness. It’s not the first time I’ve bled for Wonder Book.

It was clear the German section was dead, defeated.

The books and the dust flew.

Sneezes exploded as well. (I’m sneezing more. I never had allergies before. Did I grow into them?)

A good number of books belonged elsewhere. Brecht in Lit. Hitler in World War II (or hell.)

I moved to the other European countries. Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland…

This was the perfect time for renovation and resizing, as the books removed would go to good use.

Then I ran out of tubs, and the purge was over. For the day.

Patrick, the excellent co-manager (with his brother Paulo), met with me, and we discussed condensing these sections so they can be made smaller. We haven’t decided what sections to expand.

The doors were propped open, and the tubs rolled out to the van at the curb. The landlord was replacing the parking lot, so the sound of construction and smell of asphalt seeped in.

Back at the warehouse, Ernest backed to the Dock 2 door. Eric began unloading the tubs for Books by the Foot.

Store Culls

It is a bit counterintuitive to work selecting books to send to the stores and then go and bring them back. But it is an important learning experience. If a “type” of book is covered in dust, that “type” shouldn’t be sent as often—if ever.

Live and learn.

It is Thursday morning.

My right arm has a 3-inch red “strawberry.” Blood has seeped beneath the band-aids and dried.

I usually wear long sleeve shirts when I’m working…

A thunderstorm passed through late last night. It didn’t last long, but it did wake me up and got the dogs panting nervously.

The plants need the rain though there wasn’t much of it. Best of all, the heat wave may have been broken. The forecast shows no highs in the 90s for 10 days and actually two days in the 70s.

Let’s go back to Paris.

Friday, June 14. One month til my catastrophic birthday.

I worked on that week’s story in the nimbus-like bed. At 7 when breakfast opened, I headed down and picked out my usual fare. Bacon, hard crusted brown bread, slightly runny scrambled eggs (maybe that’s the style here), a madeleine next to which I drizzled some nutella, a little chunk of honeycomb, some fruit, a small cranberry filled croissant, half a slice of mushroom quiche and coffee. Then back up to my room to finish and send off the blog and photos.

I flipped through my Paris guidebook and took some images of their sightseeing maps of the Latin Quarter. That way, I don’t have to lug the book along.

Out on the street, I found a cab.

“Musee Cluny, sil vous plais.”

He didn’t really understand me, so I brought up the museum location on my phone and held it out to him.

“Ahhh, Cluny!”

It was a pretty long ride. I figured I would walk my way back.

“We are here,” the cabbie said, pointing across the street.

I clambered out and found myself on a sidewalk in front of a soaring bookstore. Gilbert Joseph. 6 floors packed with books.

Gilbert Joseph

I wandered through and was impressed. How could such a place be supported in 2024? The Sorbonne is quite close. Do medical schools still use books? The wall of Pleiade Editions was impressive.

Pleiade Editions

These come in from time to time at Wonder Book. They are standard editions of classic works. They cost over 60 Euros. They had some used books as well, but carrying a book all day would be an anchor.

Across the street was the Cluny. Why hadn’t I visited it before? From the entrance, it appeared small but inside the place meanders up, down, down, around, up… It was much like the Cloisters in New York City. Hundreds and hundreds of medieval artifacts—tapestries, books, jewels, carvings…

Anne of Bourgogne

Wandering took a couple of hours, and I still didn’t do it justice. I sat in the room devoted to the six large The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries and basked in their splendor.

Then back out and across the Latin Quarter.

I aimed for the Eglise Saint Sulpice which is undergoing massive renovation. But stepping inside the cool dark soaring space, there was a pleasant surprise. An orchestra was rehearsing. The music was a joyful immersion. The church is huge—only a little smaller than Notre Dame. The artwork in the chapels along the sides was wonderful—in particular two large frescoes by Delacroix. The church is also known for its role in The Da Vinci Code. I lit a candle to departed family and friends and stepped back out into the bright day. There was a fair set up in the square just outside. Tents with vendors of books, prints, antiques…

The next goal was the Delacroix Museum. The phone spoke directions, and soon it said I was there. But I wasn’t. I was on a short, narrow, charming street with quaint shops—including one with a gilt-painted sign above that read, “Curiosities.” But no museum and no numbers on the buildings to narrow it down. Then I saw I wasn’t the only one. There were several other couples wandering the cobbles, looking at their phones and looking at the storefronts. Eventually, I found a nondescript door with a paper sign the read that the Delacroix was closed.

It was time to head back. I had reservations for Maxim’s at 7:30. Across the Seine and through the “forest” of the Tuileries. A stop for mustard and then back to the hotel. I put my feet up for a while and then put on my jacket and tie and walked back down to the venerable restaurant.

This time, I was a bit more conscious and a bit more confidant.

“You have returned! Welcome back!” I was greeted as if I was “somebody.”

Seated in the opposite corner from where I was the first time, I had a good view of the grand room.

The magic began.

Time travel.

A timeless gin martini.

Impeccable waiters in white linen coats and black bowties.

The cocktail menu offers a Hemingway Special, Callas, Onassis, Hepburn, Streisand… as well as more standard fare.


The starter was Duck Foie Gras Terrine and Toasted Brioche. (It was a struggle not to order the same the things as my first visit.)

The entrée—Sole Entiere a la Grenobloise, Champignons, Epinards.

I’m in a dream state which is only interrupted when the waiter brings the wine. It was 90 Euros—and I guess didn’t meet the threshold for the sommelier to serve me. He had decanted a bottle for the family of three at the table across from me.

The room fills, and the waiters pick up their pace. Runners from the kitchen bring the plates to them—carrying them on a silver platter using just one hand. There’s a rush and then a lull. Rush. Lull.

Three young women near the invisible stage take countless selfies or pose silly for another to snap them.

A jazz combo begins to play.

My sole arrives and is meticulously deboned tableside.

Everything is… perfection.

Eventually, a dessert menu is set before me.

I shouldn’t.

I had to.

“Does the souffle take long?”

“Ten minutes, monsieur.”

It is set before me, and the waiter spoons a small hole in the top. He inserts a little ball of ice cream there.


Then—J’ai bien mangé.

It is nearing 10 when I step outside and walk back past La Madeleine.

La Madeleine

Back to the hotel and the welcoming bed.

It is Friday. And I’m running late.

There are two full days in Paris I haven’t touched on. Maybe next week.

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