Tucked away in the northeast corner of Paris bobbing gently in the waters of the Canal de l’Ourcq is a bookstore lined from floor to ceiling with rows of all genres of books both old and new, popular and rare.
L’Eau et Les Rêves, or “Water and Dreams,” set sail in April 2014 when owners Didier and Judith Delamare opened their barge-turned-bookstore.
“Didier was a sailor, and I worked with books before, so we wanted to [open it],” Judith said in her native French tongue. “The idea was to do a mixture of the universes of boats and books.”
With this idea in mind, the Delamares opened a store with a special focus. Lining the hull of the ship are books dedicated to boats, water and travel in addition to maps for sailing and a space for expositions, concerts or theater performances. By carrying books devoted solely to these topics, Judith and Didier hope to raise awareness for water conservation.
Although the péniche (French for barge) has been situated alongside the docks of the canal as a bookstore for over three years now, that hasn’t always been the case. Judith and Didier did not own a boat until they decided to open the store, and, even then, it was a long, arduous process to get it to where it is today.
L’Eau et Les Rêves was purchased in a town next to Paris before being sailed along the Seine, the river that runs through the middle of the city, and the canals to its final resting place in Paris’ 19th arrondisement, or district. Once there, the renovations that would eventually convert the 60-year-old boat into a bookstore began to take place.
“It was Didier who did all the renovations,” Judith said, looking to her husband, who quickly corrected her, adding that he had the help of construction workers and other professionals.
Because Didier was still working as a sailor when he and his wife first purchased the boat, the renovations took almost two years. But now, Didier, once a boat captain, has shifted his focus to his own boat full-time, despite missing the sea.
“I miss it some, of course, because here you miss the spaces—it’s always the same thing,” Didier said.
Didier said that perhaps the best part of a boat is being able to move. Yet, for someone who is used to sailing around the world, this is also the worst part, as L’Eau et Les Rêves stays docked year round—a constant, forbidden temptation to move and discover new places.
However, Judith and Didier still remain plenty busy with customers and events at their little floating bookstore, which, in actuality, is not that little, measuring 131 feet by 16 feet—almost the length of three school buses.
With new customers discovering their boat weekly, Didier and Judith continue to promote French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s ideas of water and dreams, L’Eau et Les Rêves, for which the boat was originally named, merging the world of boats and seas with that of cities and streets.