Friday, May 23, 2008

Shakespeare & Company

Today is a cold and rainy day. Usually I like this kind of weather, but I was swept up in the promises of summer with the hot weather we had last week and the last few days of cold weather have taken some getting used to again. Today the rain that's threatened for days finally arrived and I finally got "in the mood" for it. A good day to drink hot steamy drinks and watch the rain spatter on the windows. A good day to clean out the vegetable bins and make a pot of hot soup for dinner. And I spent an hour or so in probably the best place one can spend a rainy afternoon, a local bookstore.

This makes a perfect segue to talk about a bookstore we visited in Paris, Shakespeare & Company. I knew a small bit about it's popularity and history - an English print book shop in the heart of Paris frequented by writers both famous and obscure, with some sort of tie to City Lights Books in Paris' bohemian sister city San Francisco. It was on our list of places to find.

It turned out it wasn't hard to find at all as it's just across the Seine from Notre Dame in one of our favorite parts of Paris. It's actually two side-by-side stores - one that sells "antique" books and the other that sells new and used books, as well as doing much more.

Here's another view of the antique book side, with a drinking fountain out front. Yes, that's a drinking fountain. We didn't go into this part of the store. I planned to, but was distracted by hubby and forgot.

And if you're like me, you'll want to know what those tall chalkboards say. Here's a close up of one.

And here's the other. I'm not sure if these are permanent prose or if they are changed from time to time.

Here's me sitting in front of the other shop. Those tarps behind me cover more carts of books. It was spitting rain but people just pulled back the tarps a bit at a time to see what was underneath.

Did I ever post about when I finally stopped to visit Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon? How exciting it was to wander around a bookstore the size of a city block and four stories tall?! Well, this bookstore had the same sort of bibliophile's mecca feel to the experience. It's a place where every booklover will feel an immediate sense, even not knowing anything about it's amazing history (we certainly didn't) that they've stumbled into a wondrous and magical place. I won't go into that history here, as they do an excellent job of it at the Shakespeare & Company website's history page (and don't forget the owner of the first S&C, Sylvia Beach), except to say that what I found the most inspiring was the sense that instead of being a place where history happened, that it's a place where history is still being made, as it continues to be true to itself.

But let's not dawdle outside anymore. Forgive me so many photos but I just loved them all. I would have taken even more except that my camera batteries chose to give up while I was inside.

The store had two stories. The first floor was books, used and new, for sale. Books crammed into every conceivable place from floor to ceiling, tall ladders, customers browsing. Check out the awesome, eclectic floor design. There were signs and quotes scattered everywhere you looked.

The Poet's Corner.

This is a quote that referenced the bookstore itself.

Philosophy, posters, and another photographer trying to capture a bit of the magic to bring home with him. There were a lot of people taking photos inside and no one seemed to pay much mind to the activity. I think they understood that for some folk, it was almost like a pilgrimage visit. When you bought a book they even offered to stamp it for you, sort of the location equivalent of a "signed book". And yes I bought a book and yes I had it stamped.

In the middle of one room, a wishing well of sorts. I'm not sure what the signifigance is, but I'm guessing many of those pennies are filled with writer's and artist's dreams and traveler's hopes of returning to Paris again one day.

After wandering for a bit one finds their way into the back of the shop where a staircase leads up to the second floor. A sign tells you that none of the books on the top floor are for sale but you are welcome to come and read and use them at your leisure. A bookstore that loves books so much that they can't part with half of them. Ah, cool.

Books everywhere. And check out the old hewn beams.

It turns out, as I discovered talking to the young many in the foreground, that one of the things the bookstore is famous for is for offering a place to write and sleep to young traveling writers. There's a few expectations in the deal, but even though times have changed, the tradition continues.

This is probably one of the reasons I have such a hard time decluttering my house. Because musty (well, symbolically - it didn't smell musty at all) old rooms filled to the rafters with books and old furniture make me feel limp with happiness!

Here's one of two (or was it three?) beds for writers on the second floor.

And tables - overflowing with stacks and piles like my tables. Typewriters in case the muse whispers in your ear. Although I suspect that even poor traveling writers these days might carry a lap top in their backpack. This young woman was so engrossed in what she was reading that she didn't even seem to notice me.

You don't get a real sense of how hobbitlike this office is but it's only accessible by sitting down. Books are stacked even on top of this workspace.

This was the children's book area upstairs - I think that section did have books for sale, actually. Hubby is writing down some quote from the bulletin board overflowing with papers in the background.

On a landing halfway back down the staircase (or halfway up it if you're going the other direction) are more bulletin boards that I suspect hold memories to those that have been a part of the long history of the place. I should have come back another day with recharged batteries.

Books and music go together naturally. At the base of the stairs, this gentleman played several songs for us, or perhaps for himself.

Time tends not to exist for me inside a bookstore. Alas, hubby got hungry so it's time to go....

... back outside. Did you forget about the rest of the world too? Blinking at the daylight? Oh, there's people? And the sound sound of traffic? Hmmm, maybe I am a bit hungry.

But wouldn't it be lovely to return someday, perhaps on a rainy afternoon....


Blogger Leslie said...

Some wonderful weekend you should go a little north to Newport Oregon and stay at the Sylvia Beach Hotel B&B.
It's a magical spot and I have no connection with the place except that I spent a blissful weekend there once.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Belita Rose said...

Haven't had time to read much, but I love to look at the pictures!! Papa looks somewhat not out of place too!!

12:33 PM  
Blogger Jana said...

What an amazing book store! Its so nice to stumble onto treasures like that!

12:20 AM  
Blogger Laume said...

Leslie - Mav Leslie? Thanks for the info. The prices are a little steep but not in the winter, when I actually favor the coast - all stormy and gray. I might someday manage a stay there!

12:35 AM  

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