Street vendors

When we need to stay confined at home for a while, our senses, desperately on the lookout for what's happening outside, pick up either the noises or the unusual silence pierced by the songs of birds. Perhaps the confinement has been an opportunity to read or reread authors sometimes forgotten on our library shelves.

Thus, I resumed reading Proust, in this curious period of confinement, not so much because it was largely recommended by magazines as the writer lived part of his life, confined and withdrawn from the world. If I reread Proust, it was rather because as a voice giver I had to read aloud an excerpt of Proust from a book about Paris: a literary anthology, from François Villon to Michel Houellebecq. One of the chosen texts was La Prisonnière (the Captive), in which Proust evokes the street merchants crying their various wares.

Paris is in the background of many pages of In Search of Lost Time; However, Proust's Paris is essentially the wealthy neighbourhoods of the 7th, 8th and 16th districts, the meeting places of the high society, far from the more popular places photographed by Atget. However, simpler aspects of Paris are also described by Proust, like the merchants in the streets. Atget captured a lot of them, as he was also looking for a lost time, that of an old Paris that had already disappeared or was inexorably disappearing.

The following stroll is in a very distant Paris, inside the past, where the streets and the small yards are resounding with the cries of the small street merchants. Merchants, so well captured by Atget and their cries so well described by Proust in La Prisonnière (the Captive), a title pretty well adapted to the circumstance. (April/May 2020).

The Captive - The street cries of Paris

"Outside, popular themes skilfully transposed for various instruments, from the horn of the mender of porcelain, or the trumpet of the chair weaver, to the flute of the goat driver who seemed, on a fine morning, to be a Sicilian goatherd, were lightly orchestrating the matutinal air, with an Overture for a Public Holiday."

The Captive - Proust

Lamp shade merchant

Lampshade vendor
Atget - 1901
(Getty Museum)



"It was true that the fantasy, the spirit of each vendor or vendress frequently introduced variations into the words of all these chants that I used to hear from my bed. And yet a ritual suspension interposing a silence in the middle of a word, especially when it was repeated a second time, constantly reminded me of some old church."


Bakery - 28, rue des Blancs-Manteaux
Atget - 1910
(Musée Carnavalet)


 "The iron shutters of the baker’s shop, of the dairy, which had been lowered last night over every possibility of feminine bliss, were rising now like the canvas of a ship which is setting sail and about to proceed, crossing the transparent sea, over a vision of young female assistants."


Dog shearer

Dog shearers - Port des Tuileries,
near Solférino bridge
Atget - 1898



"Tond les chiens, coupe les chats, les queues et les oreilles. »

"Cutting cats, tails, and ears. Here's the shearer."


Artichokes seller

Artichokes seller - Boulevard Edgar- Quinet
Atget - 1899
(Musée Carnavalet)


« A la tendresse, à la verduresse
Artichauts tendres et beaux


Tender and green,  
Artichokes tender and sweet,


Atget - 1899



“But with the Pyreneans airs of this good shepherd was now blended the bell of the grinder, who cried:

Couteaux, Ciseaux, rasoirs."

Knifes, Scissors, razors

Saw sharpener

Saw sharpener
Atget – 1899/1900



« Avez-vous des scies à repasser, v’là le repasseur »

Saws to grind , here’s the saw sharpener


Tinker shop,
rue de la Reynie
Atget – 1912

…the tinker, after enumerating the pots, pans and everything else that he repaired, intoned the refrain:  

Tam, tam, tam,
c’est moi qui rétame,
Même le macadam,
C’est moi qui mets des fonds partout,
Qui bouche tous les trous,
Trou, trou, trou ;

Rataplan, Rataplan, Rataplan,
I repair any pan,
Bim, Bim, Bam,
Even the macadam,
I mend all casseroles,
I fill all the holes,
Holes, holes, holes;

Fish hawker

Fish hawker
Place saint-Médard
Atget - 1899
(Musée Carnavalet)

" Fortunately, Albertine, partly from inconsistency, partly from docility, quickly forgot the things for which she had been longing, and before I had time to tell her that she would find better oysters at Prunier's, she wanted in succession all the things that she heard cried by the fish hawker:

« A la crevette, à la bonne crevette,
j’ai de la raie toute en vie, toute en vie.
 Merlans à frire, à frire.
Il arrive le maquereau, maquereau frais, maquereau nouveau.
Voilà le maquereau, mesdames, il est beau le maquereau.
A la moule fraîche et bonne, à la moule
 ! »
Shrimp, fine shrimp,
I have skate all alive, all alive.
Whiting to fry, to fry;
Mackerel's arrived, fresh mackerel, new mackerel.
Here's mackerel, ladies, beautiful mackerel!
Mussels, fresh and fine, mussels!"

Vegetable sellers

Vegetable seller
Atget – between 1898 and 1901
(Musée Carnavalet)

"And to think that we shall have to wait two whole months before we hear:

« Haricots verts et tendres haricots, v’là l’haricot vert »

Green and tender beans, fresh green beans! 

… the vegetable woman who came next announced: …

A la romaine, à la romaine !
On ne la vend pas, on la promène."

Lettuces-oh, lettuces-oh
They’re not for sale, they’re just for show

Barrel repairer

3, rue de la Ferronnerie


 « … Tonneaux, tonneaux

« … Barrels, barrels ! »

One had to swallow one’s disappointment that he was offering only barrels, since the word was almost completely drowned out by the cry of:

« Vitri, vitri-er, carreaux cassés, voilà le vitrier, vitrier »

“Glazier, mend your panes, gla-zier”

Rag picker

Rag picker
Atget – 1899/1901
(Getty Museum)


« Chiffons, ferrailles à vendre,  ».

« Rags, old iron to sell

(all slowly intoned, as were the two syllables that followed, while the last one was dispatched even more rapidly …

peaux d’la-pins

“raa-bbit skins.”


15, rue Maître-Albert
Atget – 1912
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

« La Valence, la belle valence, la fraîche orange »

« Voila d’beaux poireaux »,

« huit sous mon oignon »

« Voilà des carottes
A deux ronds la botte

« Valencia, Valencia, oranges straight from Spain”

“Lovely, lovely leeks!”

“Eight sous your onions”

“Carrots, carrots, tuppence a bunch”

Fresh dairy seller

Fresh dairy seller
Atget – between 1898 and 1900




« Bon fromage à la cré, fromage à la cré, bon fromage »

Cream cheese, lovely cream cheese

Ice-cream seller

Ice-cream seller,
rue de Rennes
(Musée Carnavalet)



“It needn’t be a big one, a half-ice if you like, but those lemon ices are always like miniature mountains, tiny ones …”

Tramway driver

Tramway - Line gare du Nord – gare d’Orléans
Atget -



" First there was a silence, against which the tripe-seller’s whistle and the tramway horn resonated in the air octaves apart, like a blind piano-tuner at work."

Toy seller

Toy seller
Jardin des Plantes
(musée Carnavalet)

“…replacing the sweet-seller who usually accompanied her song with a rattle, the toy-man, on whose military cap was mounted a puppet which he moved in all directions, was showing off other puppets ..."

« Allons les papas, allons les mamans, contentez vos petits enfants ;
c’est moi qui les fais, c’est moi qui les vends,
et c’est moi qui boulotte l’argent.
Tra la la la.
Tra la la lalaire, tra la la la la la la la.
Allons les petits ! »

Come on Dad, come on Mum,
Look,  the kiddies’ best friend has come.
You’ve got the pennies, I’ve got the toys,
All home-made for your girls and boys.
Tra la la, tra la la la lero
Tra la la la la la la la.
Come on boys and girls !

Statuette seller

Statuette seller
Atget – 1899/1900



"Some Italian boys in felt bérets made no attempt to compete with this lively aria, and it was without a word that they offered their little statuettes."


Mender of earthenware
Atget – 1899


« Voilà le réparateur de faîence
et de por-celaine.
Je répare le verre, le marbre, le cristal, l’os, l’ivoire et objets d’antiquité.
Voilà le réparateur
. »


" China to mend, china or earthenware ?
I mend everything, glass, marble, crystal, bone, ivory and antiques.
Here’s the men-der! "

Baker girl

Baker girl
Atget – 1898/1900




" The little bakers’ girls were hurriedly piling up in their baskets the long, thin loaves for midday dinner ”


Dairy car
Atget - 1910




“… and the dairy-girls speedily hanging from their carrying-poles the bottles of milk."

Basket seller

Basket seller
Atget 1899/ 1900



" The emotion that I felt grip me when I caught sight of a wine-merchant’s girl at her desk or a laundress chatting in the street was the emotion that we feel on recognising a goddess. Now that Olympus no longer exists, its inhabitants dwell upon the earth. And when, in composing a mythological scene, painters have engaged to pose as Venus or Ceres young women of humble birth, who follow the most sordid callings, so far from committing sacrilege, they have merely added, restored to them the quality, the various attributes which they had forfeited.  "