September 26, 2014

This is the time for fall openings in New York City: art exhibitions, theater, opera, dance, but the most special and quietly spectacular: Albertine, a new bookshop (yes, a bricks-and-mortar store), opening to the public on Saturday, September 27, and located in the Cultural Sevices building of the French Embassy at 972 Fifth Avenue (between 78th and 79th Streets). Designer Jacques Garcia has created Albertine as a grand, private French library on two levels with an internal staircase that connects the shop and its reading room. 

What’s inside? The most comprehensive selection of French-language books and English translations in the United States: more than 14,000 titles, including novels, non-fiction, art and rare books, comic and children’s books, in addition to DVDs, magazines, stationery, and beautiful paper goods.

The reading room is furnished with sofas, armchairs, and tables and it, like the shop, provides visitors access to formerly private sections of the Beaux-Arts mansion by architect Stanford White.  

Antonin Baudry, cultural counselor of the French Embassy, is the dynamic force behind Albertine. The author of the award-winning graphic novel Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, made into a movie as The French Minister, is passionate about books and culture.  “Because books are at the core of culture, especially French culture, and because there has been no access to contemporary French literature, I wanted to change that,” says Baudry. “But I want it to be more than a book shop, it is a place for French-American cultural exchange and debate, a place of ideas,” Baudry adds.  Indeed.  Albertine will be inaugurated with a festival featuring French and American artists and thinkers in talks and discussions, including filmmaker Olivier Assayas, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, economist Joseph Stiglitz. 

And the name? Albertine is named for the mythic and mysterious character in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Baudry’s says, “Albertine has a complex identity, an emblem of mystery and representative of the fact that one can never really know another person, who they are fully, whether one’s partner or one’s parents. In a similar way, Albertine symbolizes a quest for knowledge and understanding. Stepping into bookshop is opening the door to a world of ideas and possibilities. There is some mystery. One has to open the book to see what’s inside.”

If you aren’t visiting New York soon, you can order books from Albertine and come 2015 some titles will be available digitally. Baudry stresses, “above all, this bookshop is for the American public, it really is intended as a gift for them.”

Mario Mercado is Travel + Leisure's arts and culture editor.

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