Every now and then somebody finds an unattached femur or maybe a tibia in the St.-Michel subway station of the Paris Métro and the French tabloids start raising a hue and cry about another unsolved murder. The femur or tibia generally turns out to be an item purchased from the venerable Left Bank House of Nérée Boubée and planted in the Métro by some prankster.
Pranksters, however, are not the only, or even the principal, customers of that famed store at 3 Place St.-André-des-Arts, a bone's throw from the Seine. Sportsman-Premier Georges Pompidou has his pheasants stuffed at Boubée's. Nikita Khrushchev's son-in-law Aleksei used to buy butterflies there. Mountain Climber Maurice Herzog, Movie Actress Marina Vlady, Aviatrix Jacqueline Auriol, Biologist Jean Rostand and Lawyer René Floriot are all Boubée habitués.
Since it was founded in 1845 by the original Boubée, a 25-year-old Gascon geology teacher, the shop has become famous as "the department store of nature." As its erudite director, Jacques Poutiers, remarks, "We furnish absolutely everything that touches on natural history in the broadest sense. Exotic seashells, rare butterflies, handsome fossils, authentic prehistoric tools, mounted zebras and dismountable, real human skulls. We have over 100,000 items for sale, more than a big American department store."
Among Boubée's enormous collection of seashells are the pink-red-lavender, harp-shaped Harpa ventricosa from the Indian Ocean for only $3, lovely lemon and orange two-valve shells from the Pacific for $4 or $5 apiece and the rare, long, yellow-brown Japanese spiral Tibia fusus for $32.
Every year Goubée "naturalizes" (i.e., stuffs) 3,000 animals, including a lot of pet cats and dogs. Most costly is the zebra—$1,700—followed by the lion at $1,300. A 10-month wait and $100 will fetch you a boar's head.
Recently a hunter brought Boubée's the head of a strange animal that he had killed in the Ardennes in Belgium. "What the devil is it, I've never seen anything like it?" asked the hunter. After considerable detective work, Poutiers finally identified the animal as a musk deer found only in the forests of Burma. Not content merely to mount the animal, Poutiers determined to solve the mystery of how it got from Burma to Belgium. It turned out that the musk deer had been the mascot of a French colonial regiment in Indo-China that had returned to France in 1939. The deer escaped, headed north, and was adopted by its distant Belgian cousins, the roe deer.