Opened in 1933 near the banks of the Seine, the narrow shop with its blue façade has long been the haunt of mountaineers in the French capital. Its founder, André Wahl, was himself a mountain enthusiast. His collection of books gave pride of place to the history of the massifs and their conquest by Man.
Among the works still available for sale today is a volume by Jean-Jacques Rousseau entitled "Lettre de deux amans, habitans (good spelling, editor's note) of a small town at the foot of the Alps", published in 1761, before a reform of French grammar.
Between the "Assault of Mount Everest" (1922), "Diary of vertigo", about the ascent of Annapurna (1950) or "The conquest of K2" (1954), the visitor discovers how much mountain adventurers were mythologized in the twentieth century.
And how political their image could be. In "The Last Three Problems of the Alps", the German Anderl Heckmair, recounts his ascent of the north face of the Eiger (Switzerland), in 1938. At the end of the book, a photo, captioned "The most beautiful reward", shows him posing with Hitler.
In this mixture of history and expedition, one element has long remained absent: global warming.
"With our parents, we never talked about it. It was at best: +It's hot this summer+, or +what snow this winter!+", says Jean-Louis Vibert-Guigue, the owner of the bookstore, which his mother Elise, mountaineer and sister-in-law of the founder, held before him for 40 years... until she was 85.
Ditto for literature. Nor did Roger Frison-Roche, whose novel "Premier de cordée" was a worldwide success and to whom several departments are devoted, that his contemporaries did not treat according to the bookseller of warming, "a very recent concern".
The dozens of photos on display, however, testify to the harsh impact of time, and heat, on the mountain, which previously "was quite white, including summer", but "today is much blacker, because there is no more snow, quite simply", he notes.
"The mountain hurts"
"The seracs, the frozen snow bridges, with some exceptions, it is much less visible (in the Alps), because for it to last, it must become very hard, because of the accumulation of snow and cold. Now they are rounder, lower and less sculptural."
Rocks, affected by strong heat much earlier than before, sometimes implode. "The mountain is hot, it cracks, it talks, it screams. She's in pain. Unfortunately, she needs a good cold snap to get better, "observes the artist and photographer Nicolas Seurot, met at the bookstore, where his book "The visions pastists: up".
Italian mountaineer Alessandro Sigismondi attended a dramatic demonstration of global warming in his country on 3 July. When he arrives at the bookstore, he immediately asks for photos of the Marmolada glacier.
Last year, he was climbing a wall facing him when a huge block broke off, killing eleven. The year 2022, very hot, had accelerated the melting of European glaciers. It was 10°C the day before the disaster at the top of the Marmolada.
"I see the changes that are taking place. They're amazing and they're fast," he said. He cited the Gran Sasso massif in the Apennines in central Italy, where a glacier "completely retreated" and has "now been downgraded to a category called névé".
Pierre Chassagne, a 25-year-old carpenter, says he does not feel nostalgia for "something (he) has not known". Hence the valuable role of the Librairie des Alpes. "When you see covers of old books, you feel like you're seeing a mountain that no longer exists."
© 2023 AFP