Monday, April 06, 2015


That's where I was from the 19th to the 23rd of March from 10am to 8pm every day, behind stand Number B46. All because I heard about the Salon by chance the week before it opened and, on the spur of the moment, decided I had to be there.

This is a major international book fair and it was extremely unlikely that any stands would still be available - they are generally booked a year in advance. I got on the phone to the organisers and demanded the smallest possible space in the Art Square section where, according to the website, there would be livres d'artiste exhibitors. As luck would have it Stand B46 was not taken. I took it. Too late for inclusion in the already printed catalogue but an online mention was posted. The Old Stile Press generously agreed to share the cost of my coup de tĂȘte and I took plenty of OSP publicity along with copies of the three books we have collaborated on: Revelation,  Scenes from the Life of Jesus and, of course, the newly minted Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France.

Pushing the button which activates my inner robot I sprang into Organiser Mode, booked Eurostar tickets, obtained instructions for collecting keys to my sister's flat in Paris, bought a new lightweight wheelie suitcase to carry heavy books, ordered business cards and ...ah... that's when I noticed my outer robot was not as springy as it used to be. On the way to collect the cards all the way across London, the tube suddenly stopped abruptly and I fell, hard, onto my right side. Sharp pain in the ribs but, lifted up by kind passengers, I went on my way with no further ado. Further ado came later when cracked ribs began protesting every movement they were forced to make before, during and after unpremeditated jaunt to a book fair, of all things unsuited to dodgy ribs. Fortunately I could take advantage of the situation by asking for Assistance getting on and off Eurostar and was hugely impressed by their efficiency in this respect.

Did I enjoy the whole experience? No. Would I do it again? No. Was it worth doing? Yes, absolutely. Reasons why it was not enjoyable: cracked ribs. Freezing cold inside the huge hall (heating out of order). Not the right ambiance for showing/selling this kind of book. Bad/expensive snack food at the fair. Interminable hours sitting and mostly standing. Long daily metro journeys to and fro. Awkward and off-piste position of stand B46 at first.

One of a few (not good) snacking areas.

Reasons why it was worthwhile: excellent contacts established. Meetings with some very interesting and sympathique individuals. One sale and potentially more to come. Sincere, deeply touching comments from many who stopped by. Everyone, regardless of background or age (including adolescents) was familiar with the writings of Blaise Cendrars and admired our version of Trans-Siberian. Fellow exhibitors in the immediate vicinity were without exception friendly and supportive. And, on the third day, out of the blue, a Salon official came over and told me to get ready fast because he was moving B46 to a much better position. Delighted and puzzled as to why this hadn't been done sooner since the space had been free before, I shifted my stuff pronto to the wider area with much improved visibility.

The signs and prints on the left belonged to another exhibitor.

In the past I've had stands at book fairs in America, in the UK, in Germany and in France and I've never ever liked playing the role of sales/PR person for my own work or being in those high-pressure environments. But one thing makes up for innumerable discomforts: the special people one encounters. For this reason I'm grateful to the inspiration which led me to the Paris Salon du Livre 2015.

  Demonstrations of litho printing were given by a master printer.

   Many talks took place during the fair, at very loud volume and often all at the same time.

   School children arrived in vast numbers. (Note Trans-Sib in foreground)

            African poets performed with music and song.

Back home, ribs settling down, I'm gradually catching up with loads of things left undone when I rushed off, hence my poor blogging performance. Isn't it pretentious and silly to think that blogging or not blogging matters one jot to the universe?

In the universe on Saturday, a wonderful visit from the Lucy and the Tom, both of them together this time. No matter how well you think you know blogger friends you've been reading for some time, their physical presence adds details which neither photos or mental pictures can ever fill in. It was my second 'live' meeting with Tom and my first with Lucy: all the fine qualities she expresses in Box Elder were manifest while entirely new ones were added. Tom, temporarily but frustratingly incapacitated by an injured foot, was still in fine form and we three enjoyed much laughter as well as more than one glass of wine chez moi and with lunch at The Junction across the street. Thanks be to real friendship in the real world.

As this Easter day ends I wish you, my friends known and unknown, a springtime renascence. And what could be more life-affirming than the Kemptons' seriously smiling faces.


Anonymous said...

Well, firstly, I’m so sorry to hear about your accident and I hope you’re well and truly on the mend now Natalie.
I loved reading this post, although I was exhausted by it too, it really captures the highs and lows of doing an event like this, being catapulted into a strange world for a few days. But the rewarding contact with all those good people really shines through, and the work you showed was obviously appreciated, even though you started off in a difficult stand space - quality will out!

Jean said...

My god, Natalie, your stamina and determination are formidable! I remember travelling to and working at a conference once with injured ribs - only bruised, not cracked - so painful, and tiring and anxiety-provoking the way it hurts when you breathe. Hope you are mending now and that something interesting comes of the contacts you made. Yes, meeting lovely, kind, interesting people does tend to make anything worthwhile. But you have my huge admiration for sticking it out xxx

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Phil, thanks for your good words. The wonky rib (singular) is pretty much mended, just as the GP said it would be, with no medical intervention required - amazing self-healing properties of the body, even when put through unecessary stresses. Anyway I'm glad to be home.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Jean, I might have been over-estimating the benefits of presence at that Salon and my mental image was quite different from the reality. But, as often happens with such spontaneous decisions, unexpected results may turn out more valuable than expected ones!

Ellena said...

What brand of pep pills are you taking?
Good on you Natalie!
And to top it all off, the loveliest visitors one could have wished on you.

marja-leena said...

I too am astounded by your energy levels. especially with such an injury! After that, it all worked out well for you, as you are very good at promoting your work and that of Old Stile Press. The noise and crowds would have instantly sent me back home.

And how wonderful to see Tom and Lucy's faces here! Glad you all had a great visit, and that your rib is healing..

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Ellena, no pep pills, no pills at all! I don't think I'm so energetic, just stubborn and I hate to give up.

Marja-Leena, thanks. it's very flattering to hear these compliments but I really am not good at promotion. I make the attempt but don't have the PR skills. Behind the table at my stand, I only talked to people if they asked questions or were interested in the books. You should see some of the people who are good promoters! Yes it was great to have a visit from Tom and Lucy.

Tom said...

Lovely post Natalie, and so wonderful seeing you again. I didn't know about the ribs at the time; do hope I didn't hug you too hard! And I simply cannot imagine you "demanding" anything, except in the French sense of "demander" perhaps.

Roderick Robinson said...

A good tale, well and breathlessly told, with detail (rather than opinion) predominant.

Took me back into Nostalgia Land. Once upon a time the main exhibition hall in Paris was to the south, possible near the Porte de Versailles. A scruffy, rundown structure from which it was possible to depart half an hour before lunchtime and find an old-fashioned brasserie in the quatorzieme, a treat denied you as an exhibitor; I was there as Presse. Later they built a new exhibition complex to the north, too far out to partake of Parisian atmosphere, a heartless desert consisting of many hectares of concrete.

On rarer occasions I've been there representing the magazine I worked on and thus on the other side of the counter. A talent for sarcasm and asking penetrating questions wasn't a terribly useful asset on these occasions but it did work once, in the USA, in Indiana of all places. I'd always thought that if I had to depend on selling I'd starve to death but some switch clicked over and I sold subscriptions relentlessly, leaving the magazine's salesman way behind in my wake.

But Paris was always my favourite stamping ground and I'm sorry that circumstances conspired to withold the city's delights. Even when I dined alone. Always take a book, of course, it seems to create a form of rapport with the waiters. Especially if it's in French.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Tom, the hug was most welcome and didn't harm the old ribs at all. Your and Lucy's presnce made my day, made my week - I wish it was a regular event. Anyway we are still in transcendental communication. right?

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, welcome back to my cyber home. The Salon du Livre was held in one of the (ugly) buildings in the Parc des Expositions at the Porte de Versailles. Hundreds or probably thousands of people flocked there over the five days, which was good for business for some, but such surroundings are not my ambiance. I wish I'd been able to try your selling technique but it's a knack I ain't got. As for my birthplace's delights, there was no chancee to savour them this time as I spent all the time either in the Fair or in the metro getting there and back. Luckily I had a family flat to sleep in.

Dale said...

This just makes me smile all over myself, especially with the comments reassuring me that the ribs are taking it in stride. xoxoxo

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hi Dale! Your smiling self is always a welcome presence over here.

Beth said...

Dear Natalie, feeling awful about your fall and sympathetic to the trials of travel and book-fair endurance while hurting. Glad you went though, and happy for the contacts and - I'm sure - appreciation you deservedly received. My experiences at large trade shows/exhibitions have been mostly unpleasant though not without excitement; there's something numbing and inhuman about them, but the people you meet do make it worthwhile. Glad you're home and on the mend now.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Beth, so glad to see you back. Can't wait to read and to see pictures about your Mexico trip.

Hattie said...

It sounds ardous yet very much worth doing, as you state. I'm glad to hear you are on the mend. You are tough. I think broken ribs would have caused me to cancel my trip.
There was a book fair in progress when we were on our visit to Cuba, and participants had booked all the rooms at the Hotel Nacional, the most famous hotel in Havana, so we had to stay elswhere. I got pix of the hotel, anyway, but did not have time to go to the book fair.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hattie, too bad you didn't have a chance to go to the Havana book fair - it would have been interesting to hear your impressions of it.

I'd rather be a visitor han an exhibitor at such things- it's so much more pleasant to look around than to be rooted to one spot, repeating the same words to streams of people passing by.

Anonymous said...

Experiences like that can have a pretty awful side and still be really good, can't they? Glastonbury mud springs to mind.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dominic, I've never rolled in Glastonbury mud but it's said to be good for the soul, isn't it?

Zhoen said...

So much happy!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

happy to see you here, Zhoen.