When we were in Paris last year, a large number of transit and public utility workers were on strike. I am reliably informed that strikes of this kind are extremely common in France; a week when no one is on strike would be considered strange. In any case, a lot of people weren’t showing up for work, either because the subways weren’t running or because they were participating in demonstrations on the streets. As a result, museums and other attractions were forced to scale back their hours of operation. After leaving the Musée d’Orsay early, we had some time to kill on the left bank, and we took the opportunity to look up a nearby shop Morgen had read about.
In Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik describes the five years he spent living as an expatriate in Paris along with his wife and young son. One of their favorite places to go on rainy days was a strange and fascinating shop called Deyrolle on the Rue du Bac. Deyrolle could be described as a taxidermy shop, but that doesn’t begin to do it justice, and besides, taxidermy shops are not exactly a dime a dozen—especially in Paris.
The Dead Zone
When we arrived at Deyrolle, we couldn’t determine if it was even open for business. At street level, there are large glass display cases on either side of the door; beyond that, a dark foyer. There was no sign saying “Ouvert,” no lights on, no people, no signs of life. In fact that last point should have been the tip-off that everything was normal. We tried the door; it opened. There was a creaky old staircase ahead of us, and we tentatively mounted the stairs. When we got to the top we were greeted by the reassuring glow of fluorescent lights, and the somewhat less reassuring sight of a moose staring at us.
I had always thought of taxidermy as a craft marketed rather narrowly to hunters wishing to display their prized trophies. At Deyrolle, no animal is too exotic, or too ordinary, to be stuffed. You’ll walk past a zebra, lions, tigers, and a giraffe, not to mention a polar bear, a warthog, a chimpanzee, and a kangaroo. But you’ll also find every imaginable barnyard animal, as well as birds, deer, rabbits, and—most surprising of all—quite a few dogs and cats. The animals are scattered throughout the store as though they were customers, and they are for the most part extremely lifelike, sometimes eerily so. Some of the more exotic animals are for display only, but most are available for sale or for rent. That’s right: you can rent a dead zebra, elephant, or bear for your next party.
Take This Pet and Stuff It
The shop was founded in 1831 by Emile Deyrolle, and it moved to its current location—the former home of Louis XIV’s banker—in 1881. It is now owned by a company called Le Prince Jardinier that runs a number of specialty household goods stores. Most of the people who walk into Deyrolle are there mainly to browse, though the store does a fairly brisk business in mounted butterflies, beetles, and other insects, as well as rocks, fossils, and a variety of educational products. It is, however, a functioning taxidermy operation, and for a few hundred euros you can have your household pet stuffed when it expires. (The cats and dogs around the store were for the most part abandoned by their former owners, who sent them to be “reanimated” and then never returned to claim their pets.) Deyrolle politely declines requests by humans to have their mortal remains stuffed and mounted; I heartily agree with the wisdom of this policy.
Deyrolle looks as if it has changed little in the last hundred-plus years. Like its products, it seems to be in a perpetually immobile yet lifelike state. Current laws make it virtually impossible for a taxidermist to obtain the kinds of large, exotic animals that were once Deyrolle’s main trade. That’s probably just as well; it’s a rather discomfiting notion given modern sensibilities about wildlife preservation. But the store is still well worth a visit for the sheer strangeness of it all. —Joe Kissell