Greetings all! Here is something a little different today, as my friend Tom is taking over the blog to amuse and amaze you all with talk of the Paris experience he had with his missus Lorraine, namely the bookish part. So please direct all your comments to ‘The T’ (as no one refers to him) and I will put them up and possibly put my two penn’orth in where appropriate:
I don’t really do books, at least, not as much as I’d like. A curious intro to a guest-post on a book blog I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m more of an audio-visual kind of guy. Not to suggest books are in any way inferior, simply that as you develop and ones day-to-day habits become entrenched I tend to spend more of my life watching and playing stuff than reading it. A tragic shame, yet also a fact. Thank goodness for Ste J: constantly reminding me of the magic, whimsy and power of the medium: enthusiasm dripping off him like the sap of countless trees felled so that people may write words down on something and then have it read. I even read stuff he recommends me, sometimes. So our relationship goes: he tuts at the over-abundance of graphic novels and barely read classics on my bookshelves and I tut at the ‘Recently Watched’ in his Netflix queue. In our own ways we try to help each other out with this sort of thing, you could call it a kind of mutual-pity. I think we’re just ashamed of one-another.
Nestled near Notre Dame Cathedral there lives a small English language bookshop by the name of Shakespeare and Company. Me and my girlfriend Lorraine were having a weekend city break and we’re both huge fans of Richard Linklator’s ‘Before’ trilogy (as in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight). A miraculous series of films involving the romance between two people, a French woman (Julie Delphy) and an American man (Ethan Hawke) each of the sequels was shot 10 years after the previous film showing the couple at different life stages and in new, increasingly complex emotional territory. I would argue, as a whole, they represent one of the great romances in cinema and certainly one of the most thorough and honest cinematic documents of the nature of modern love, warts and all. But I’m getting carried away. The second film: Before Sunset, involves the two characters reconnecting in Paris, after having not seen each other for 10 years. They meet in a book shop, where the man is doing a signing for his newly released book. Me and Lorraine thought it would be nice to visit this bookshop. We did, and yes, it was.
Similar to my local Geoff Blore’s (which has received a lot of attention in this hallowed e-tomb) Shakespeare and company feels truly alive with literature. It smells like pages of forgotten manuscript. There are books crammed into every crevice. It eschews all modern ideals of interior design. It’s one of those magical buildings that, appearing pokey on the outside, seems to expand within: Shelf-lined passageways contorting and twisting round into new avenues of discovery like the roots of a gnarly old tree, blooming into whole rooms you weren’t even sure could exist within the buildings labyrinthine frame.
On the first floor they sold new books, but as you explored upward the line began to blur, there were simply tomes of all shapes and size, in all states of preservation haphazardly lining the walls in that way that simultaneously looks intentional. On the second floor, we discovered a small reading library, with express instructions that books not be taken away and a polite request they be put back in the same place you found them. There were plenty of comfy seats in which to curl up with your novel (or novella?) of choice and enjoy the remarkably quiet ambience, impressive as the building was stuffed with tourists.
Dotted throughout were antique typewriters, a call to arms for any would-be writers passing by that day that seemed to say “stop thinking about it and just write it!”. There were many other treats to be found: a tiny piano with hand written music upon it and a hulking white cat, asleep in a nearby chair, enjoying the afternoon sun streaming in through the open window. As a lovely touch, they stamp the books you buy on the front page with the motif of the shop, and because we spent over 40 euros we received a classy display box (For the record I bought Lorraine a book containing the scripts for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and I got a fancy looking book about quirky director Wes Anderson).
Before visiting Shakespeare and Co we stopped by Notre Dame Cathedral. A vast piece of Gothic architecture that dwarfed all around it, the opulence and majesty of the structure was so overpowering it wasn’t even diminished by the glee club-esque ‘Rock Choir’, situated in the park behind performing horrible renditions of mid nineties guitar music, but I digress. Within, bustling tourists aside (nobody looks clever taking pictures with an iPad) the sense of purpose and reverence was potent, a true physical monument to the conviction of human kind. I found it curious that Shakespeare and Co filled me with a similar feeling. These little independent bookshops stand as monuments themselves, shrines not just to books but to the minds of the people who fill their pages, Notre Dame was a lovely cathedral to visit, but books are something more, something infinitely more personable and powerful, they too are built with conviction but they are infinitely more generous; they help us build our own cathedrals, in our minds.
At one point I was reminded of my crushing lack of cultural education in the literature world when an American woman asked me if I knew which Ernest Hemingway story mentioned that very bookshop. Confused, I slumped off to the Film section in shame. Do you know, fair readers?