In this early afternoon of May, as usual, the pastel coloured shutters are reflecting in the windows of our boutique in 19 rue du Cherche-Midi. For a few minutes, a relaxed and smart, mature aged man, has been standing there, still, and slightly on the side of the window. From the inside, Nicole is discreetly watching him while taking care of a group of customers as he starts to take pictures. He is not behaving like usual tourists taking quick shots with a mobile phone. Not at all! The short man is taking his time, looking for the right angle, checking his composition, adjusting the focus to finally shoot with his expensive camera. Inside the boutique, the customers are still hesitating between a Vallrevers cardigan and a burgundy Laps open jacket… Nicole is used to it as she has been running this boutique since the beginning when Catherine André first opened it in 2006.
The man is still outside the window. As many other places in Paris, rue du Cherche-Midi is full of history and one can often see people investigating about the famous baker Poilâne, following the tracks of Victor Hugo or Abbé Grégoire, a figure of French Revolution, and so many other personalities… Number 19 is well known because of the decorative sundial sculpted on the wall above the boutique. It was set in 1874 to replace the painted signboard figuring an astronomer and his young assistant holding a compass whose ends are pointing at noon and 2pm. This scene then, in which “one is looking for noon at 2pm” would be at the origin of the name of the street.
The customers are leaving the boutique and we will never know whether Vallrevers or Laps styles are packed inside their shopping bags! Nicole is still curious about what is happening outside. She crosses the street to meet this mysterious character. As she is getting closer, she greets him with a warm “bonjour!”. The man is obviously delighted to be approached but shyly joins his hands and politely bowing, he says: “ohayo gosaimasu!”. He is Japanese and can’t obviously speak any French. Nicole tries to express her curiosity as best as she can, with gestures and mimics. The nice visitor then takes a picture book out of his bag and flips through it to find a page. It is a collection of old pictures of all kinds of frontages, of touching moments now gone. Here it is! He points at a picture entitled: “J. Laurans, wine, beer and liquor merchant”, settled at 19 rue du Cherche-Midi in the very beginning of XXth century. Nicole is looking at this copy of one of the first pictures, thinking that Catherine would like this shot. She manages to explain her interest to the man and runs back to the boutique to do a photocopy of the page. Of course, their conversation is limited to smiles and gestures but both of them are happy with this short and unexpected meeting. Back again outside, Nicole gives the man another generous smile as a thank you sign. The man takes his book back, bows to greet her and goes back to explore the streets of Paris.
Photography Eugène Atget - 1900-1927