17 August, 2010
So I went to Paris for four days last week with my family, something we do every few years. My parents met in Paris so it’s their favourite city in the world. We went in August this year so it was nice and empty except for tourists dotted here and there. But compared to London, there was enough breathing and walking space and we were able to get a table in any café and bistro we walked into. Nice one!
We each drew up a list of places we wanted to visit and of course, you’ve guessed mine: the Shakespeare and Company bookshop. Last time we arrived just at closing time and were unable to have a look, so this time, after a breakfast of tartines, croissants and café au lait while taking in the gorgeous view of Notre Dame, we trotted off to the famous secondhand bookshop bright and early. We spent a good hour there marvelling at the decor, the illustrations along the staircase by one of my favourite illustrators and writers Badaude and trying to figure out the sleeping arrangements of the tumbleweeds (aspiring writers who come to Paris in search of their muse and kip over at Shakespeare & Co in exchange for working in the shop and reading a book a day).
It’s a beautiful, cosy and welcoming place with lots of very interesting nooks and crannies filled with books. Lovely. Lucky for me I was born into a family of booklovers, but we had places to go and see, so I left with a copy of the poster (illustrated by Badaude again) of the biannual literary festival Festival and Co (where events are free!) which I sadly missed this year and also a copy of Shakespeare and Company’s literary journal, The Paris Magazine.
We stayed in a lovely hotel near the Odéon and because it’s very close to the Sorbonne and the University of Paris Medical Faculty, the streets were teaming with small bookshops from medical to architectural. Near our hotel we found two other English secondhand bookshops: The San Francisco Book Company and the The Berkeley Books of Paris! I’d heard of them but didn’t think I’d stumble across them.
And of course, how could we overlook my father’s favourite bookshop when he was a student there all those years ago, Gibert Jeune next to the Metro Saint Michel, with it’s iconic yellow signs.
We also had our after dinner coffees at a wonderful literary café, les éditeurs with book-lined walls and comfy red leather chairs:
I think I now understand why my parents are always going on about the Quartier Latin and Boulevard Saint Michel. Naturally we left Paris with a new nickname for my dad: Boule Miche! Vive la France and May 1968!
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On a different note, have you all had a chance to visit the BBC Archive – In Their Own Words: British Novelists site? Interviews galore! I’ll be spending the next few weeks with my ears glued to the screen.