Walking down the rue Saint-Louis en Île, it’s hard to tell what the Librairie Ulysse holds at first glance. The windows are a little dim, and tourists and school children are milling about, eating ice cream from Berthillon; it doesn’t even really look open…as a matter of fact, the odds are that it isn’t open. But still, there’s something captivating about this shop.
You linger around outside. There are flyers posted next to the door for something called the “Cargo Club.” The display in the front window has books about all kinds of exotic places, and, as you lean closer, you can see that inside there’s a veritable Aladdin’s cave of travel books lining the shelves, tables, desks and floor. So you ring the bell for admittance. And if you are extremely lucky, Catherine Domain will answer the door.
Like the store’s peripatetic namesake, Catherine spent the early years of her life wandering. In 1971, she decided to settle down and open the Librairie Ulysse on the impossibly-cute Île Saint-Louis. The shop is a curated collection of books, maps, magazines, posters and brochures, mostly in French, all related to travel. Some are new, but most are vintage. The shelves are packed floor to ceiling with books, all arranged by country, including some that no longer exist, like Zaire.
On tables, there are maps rolled up and carefully labeled, stacks of well-preserved National Geographic magazines, brochures and other items she has collected during a lifetime of travel. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a library stocked by a Wes Anderson character, this is it. Stock up on day dream fodder, source an old french map, or just chat with the proprietor. She has a lifetime of stories to share, and lots of advice.
And what about the flyer for the Cargo Club? Ms. Domain founded the Cargo Club twenty years ago. She said, “Travel by cargo ship is more time consuming and expensive, so the people that do it must be interesting.” They meet on the first Wednesday of each month at 630pm. Membership is free, just be sure to bring some food or drink to share.
Librarie Ulysse is open from 2pm to 8pm Tuesday through Friday. If the door is locked, just ring the bell. In the summer (from June 20th to September 20th), you can also find her running an outpost of Librairie Ulysse by the beach in Hendaye.
If you love travel and vintage, this is a must-see in Paris.
P.S.—We are seriously considering travel by cargo ship.