Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (& bookshops)

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) is the title of a famous painting from the year 1907 by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). This painting has been described as revolutionary and controversial, as one of the most important canvases of the twentieth century and as a pivotal work in the development of modern art.

According to the painting’s owner, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon “marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five naked women with figures composed of flat, splintered planes and faces inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks.”

(To see the painting, click on any of the above links.)

Contrary to popular belief, Picasso’s painting has nothing to do with the French city of Avignon. It turns out that the word ‘Avignon’ in the painting’s title refers to a street in Barcelona which was famous for its brothel.

Nonetheless, there is a boutique in Avignon called Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It sells clothing, accessories and knick-knacks to — you guessed it — the Young Ladies of Avignon. 

The shop window

The text on the shop window promises trucs (knick-knacks), objets (objects), conseils (advice) and cadeaux (gifts). The trucs come with or without straps and include lace thongs (because dentelle rhymes with bretelle). The objects come in three kinds; frivolous, useful and indispensable. The advice is both for decorating and for your life. The gifts are for “your husband Charly and your mother Emilie unless they are for your lover Armand.”

The shop gets good reviews in the local websites, but I can’t give you a personal opinion because I am neither young nor a lady nor from Avignon, so I do not qualify as a member of their target group. 

The building

The shop is in an older building at the corner of Rue Trois Faucons (Street of the Three Falcons) and Rue Laboureur. Typically for southern France, it has loose electrical cables hanging around the façade at odd angles.

(Compare my post on The Municipal Opera House in Marseille. As I wrote there, it could be that dangling cables are perfectly normal and that I’ve just been living in Germany too long, where cables are usually out of sight or at least routed inconspicuously through some sort of cable shafts.) 

Bilingual street sign

Even the street sign has a loose electric wire dangling in front of it. The bottom line gives the street name in Provençal. 

The bookshop next door

Next door to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon there is a small bookshop with used and new books in French. I did some browsing here, but resisted the temptation to buy anything.

Camili Books & Tea

Camili Books & Tea (formerly Shakespeare)

Speaking of bookshops, Avignon also has an English-language bookshop and tearoom over on Rue de la Carreterie. This bookshop was founded in 1994 (or 1992, depending on which website you believe) by Wolfgang Zuckermann. He called it “Shakespeare” in the tradition of the bookshop “Shakespeare & Co.” that was started in Paris by Sylvia Beach in 1919.

Wolfgang Zuckermann was born in Berlin in 1922. He became an American citizen in 1938 and for many years was a builder of harpsichords in New York. He left the United States in 1969 (to protest the Vietnam war) and moved to England, where he became known as an author and a social and environmental activist.

For many years, Zuckermann was a writer and editor for The Commons, which describes itself as “a wide open, world-wide, non-government, non-aligned, fully independent public forum concerned with making a modest contribution to improving our understanding and control of technology as it impacts on people in their daily lives.”

He was 72 (or 70) when he founded his bookshop in Avignon. After running it for 18 (or 20) years, he decided the time had come to retire (at age 90), so he sold the shop to a bilingual student named Camille Vourc’h, who was 25 at the time. She re-named the shop “Camili Books & Tea” and set about organizing writing workshops, workshops for children, knitting evenings (under the title “Stitch’n Bitch”), English classes, an English conversation group, French classes and art exhibitions, in addition to running the bookshop and the tearoom.

By the way, when I tried to mention the knitting evenings “Stitch’n Bitch” on the now-defunct website VirtualTourist, the word “Bitch” was automatically replaced by four asterisks ****.

When I first wrote this post, I said I didn’t know if Camille Vourc’h was related to the soprano Karen Vourc’h. In the meantime, I have heard from Camille Vourc’h that she is indeed Karen Vourc’h’s sister.

The name Vourc’h, by the way, is a Breton name which means castle and originally designated the owner or inhabitant of a castle. 

Camili Books & Tea

The bookshop now consists of consists of about 20,000 books:  80 % used, 20 % new. The tearoom has “a wide selections of teas from the world, as well as the amazing flower teas which bloom in your cup”; also organic coffee and “homemade pastries and organic snacks”. There is also a small outdoor patio described as “a hidden gem that stays cool in the summer!”

Update November 2018: An e-mail from Camili Books & Tea has arrived with the news that Wolfgang Zuckermann, the founder and former owner of the bookshop, has passed away. He was in his nineties, probably 96.

Address: Camili BOOKS & TEA, 155 rue de la Carreterie, 84000 Avignon
Phone: + 33 (0) 4 90 27 38 50
Website: http://www.camili-booksandtea.com/

Street sign, again with a dangling electrical cable

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on Avignon, France.

6 thoughts on “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (& bookshops)”

    1. You mean Camili Books and Tea, I suppose. I’ve never spent much time in Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, but it seems to me that Camili Books and Tea does more in the way of community outreach activities like readings, bilingual knitting evenings, language classes, conversation clubs, etc. Also she orders books for students from the nearby university. I don’t think tourists or visiting writers are a big part of her clientele.

      1. It’s been awhile since we were at Shakespeares’ but it was a treasure trove of little rooms with books piled to the ceiling. They covered many different languages and subjects.

  1. I’ve been 3x in Avignon. I bet you are aware of the famous music festival in June. That was so amazing. Very diverse. I loved it.

    1. Thanks for your visit and comment. Yes, I am aware of the festival, but I have never attended because I always have to teach in June. Glad you liked it!

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