Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Shakespeare & Co.

Looking around from the peaks of Notre Dame Cathedral (IMHO, still the best place to see all of Paris...yeah, yeah, I know you Eiffelites are barely holding yourselves back in insisting your vantage point (allegedly because it's higher) is better. To this I ask, "Which is at the center of Paris, the Cathedral or the Tower?"), I concentrated on the lower buildings on the left bank of the Seine, staring, rudely at times, until the store came into view. Like

Shakespeare & Company is all it's made out to be, the cathedral of English print books in Paris. It is a mecca but it is not a tourist trap. Were there other idiots like me, mouth agape and itchy finger on a digital camera, there? Absolutely! But, to the credit of the staff and of the other customers there, we were not treated like pests or neophytes. There were occasional chuckles dripping in my direction but not even a slight mote of sarcasm was detected. After a good 2 hours in the store and a (mightily) self-controlled purchase of only one book (Richler's "The Incomparable Atuk" ), I felt at home, my pulse back down to a steady unhurried beat. If there is a place of comfort more soothing to the soul than a tome-packed non-chain bookstore, then, folks, please let me know of such a nirvana. Shakepeare is crammed to the gills with books and yet one doesn't feel hemmed in at all. Lighting is minimal but it isn't dark inside, almost as if the contents of the works are illuminating your way through the alleys of verical, horizontal, and pyramidal stacks. All of the books on the first floor are for sale and for one's perusal. There was no bum's rush behaviour evidenced by the folks working there; one felt acknowledged to be there in the presence of gob-millions of words.

In the back of the first floor, by the right corner, a narrow staircase took you to the next floor. The painted stairs were well-worn with a carefully placed stack of books took up each step's wall-side end. Pictures and drawings took up the balance of the free wall space as you slowly ascended the stairs, stopping at almost each step to give the once-over to the books and the wall art. Folks were very patient with each other as they ascended/descended the stairs, not rushing to each other's destination, simply enjoying the trip.

The second floor had three sections, defined by their use and not any fine demarcation. There was a children's section, centered around a small "cave" of a secretive place where 3 walls and a ceiling were plastered with pictures and notes of people who'd laid down for a read and a nap. Another area had an upright piano (not sure if it worked as it was loaded up with books) as its center piece, with packed bookshelves all around as sound-deadeners. In the front part of the second floor, with windows looking out toward Notre Dame, the Seine, and the book/art/postcard/souvenir sellers along the wall of the Seine, was a working/sitting area where authors and poets did the occasional reading. Up here on the second floor, all the books were for reading. On the premises. No books were for sale up here; they were parts of the permanent charm of the place.

(Click on any picture to get a larger view.)

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No sarcasm, you say? And in Paris, yet. That certainly beats some of the American boho book sites I've visited (I'm thinking particularly of City Lights in SF. My ego is still a little tender from the last visit).
Seriously! I was prepared for all of the sarcasm, sardonicism, look-down-their-nose-isms that was to be heaped upon me by the French while in Paris.
Nada. Rien. Pas de tout. The lack of any of those attitudes/stances is what surprised me the most.
Actually, I felt ashamed after a while for having such pre-conceptions.
And Shakespeare & Co.? Sir, your seat upstairs is waiting. They do readings/critques each Tuesday night. Anyone is welcome as long as they bring at least 5 copies of their writing to be critqued. Not fully aware of Canadian tax laws, but it seems you'd be able to write your trip over there as a business-realted expense, non?
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