“SPAM” does not necessarily mean the same in French as in English. Although French computer-users may know the English word SPAM meaning unwanted junk e-mails, in French the letters S.P.A.M. are also used as the abbreviation for the Société Parisienne d’Animation et de Manifestation, a society that organizes street markets (known in French as brocantes or vides-greniers = empty attics) in Paris and vicinity. Their website https://www.spam.fr/ is not spam at all, but a perfectly safe and useful site giving details of when and where the upcoming street markets are scheduled.
One such street market was going on in the middle strip of the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet, right in front of my hotel, while I was there in May 2013. In my first photo, the big building in the background is the tallest building in Paris, the Montparnasse Tower (Tour Montparnasse).
At the street market, several small family upholstery businesses were represented, offering to renovate old chairs and other pieces of furniture: “Tapissiers de père en fils” = Upholsterers from father to son.
In addition to professional brocanteurs who travel from one street market to the next, there were numerous vides-greniers stands by people who were just trying to sell miscellaneous items that had accumulated in their attics over many years or generations.
Speaking of generations, I should point out for the benefit of the younger ones that the word SPAM originally had another meaning. It was the brand name for a kind of canned cooked pork (with various dubious additives) that was introduced in 1937 and became famous in the Second World War when it was often included in field rations for American soldiers.
I was reminded of spam when I read about a canned beef product known unofficially as the boite à singe (‘monkey box’), which was sold in great quantities to the French army for feeding troops in the field during the First World War. Presumably there is no one still alive who remembers what the boite à singe tasted like. In any case, it contributed mightily to the fortune of its inventor, the Avignon industrialist Louis Vouland (1883-1973).
The Boulevard Edgar-Quinet not only has a wide middle strip where the street markets are held, it also has unusually wide sidewalks with large and popular cafés.
This boulevard was named after Edgar Quinet (1803–1875), a French author, historian and professor. Like Victor Hugo, Quinet was a fierce opponent of Louis Napoléon, later known as Napoléon III. Both Hugo and Quinet went into exile when Louis Napoléon seized power in 1851 and did not return to France until after his downfall in 1870.
The author and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre lived at 29 Boulevard Edgar-Quinet (on the second floor, entrance A2) from 1969 until his death in 1980. He is buried, along with Simone de Beauvoir, in Montparnasse Cemetery, which is also on Boulevard Edgar-Quinet (entrance at number 3).
On the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet there are several large Vélib’ bicycle stations. Except in 2018, when the Vélib’ system was not working properly, I was always able to find a bike here when I need one and always found an attachment point when I came back at night.
My photos in this post are from 2013 and 2019. I revised the text in 2019.
See more posts on the Montparnasse quarter of Paris.