I just went to the most wonderful place. I have a few posts I need to catch up on, but this place was so incredible that I need to write about it right now, before I forget anything! Photos were forbidden, so you will just have to come and see it for yourself.
Today I am free as a bird, with no classes and no immediately pressing business to take care of. (This is my first such day in Paris.) I am getting over a cold, so I had a very lazy morning sleeping in, reading a book, and catching up on NPR podcasts. It’s a beautiful day, so I eventually decided to venture out. I went to a park across the street to read a book for a while in the shade from Notre Dame, but then it got a little too warm and I wanted to go inside. I decided to go to Shakespeare & Company, which is just around the corner from my apartment.
I had originally heard of Shakespeare & Company years ago, when I was studying abroad in Italy. We were nearing the end of our program, and my friend was planning to travel to Paris afterward. I asked where she would stay, since we were all out of money at that point. She told me she had heard that artists can stay at a famous bookstore there in exchange for helping out in the bookstore. She told me all about the bookstore and the bohemian artists there. I always remembered the name of the bookstore, Shakespeare & Company, and today I finally visited it.
When I first walked in, I was immediately struck by the endless amount of books covering every imaginable surface. Wooden bookshelves cover every wall, above every doorway, and underneath and along the staircase. Even the walkways between rooms are narrow because one side is covered in bookshelves. The books are lined up on the shelves, and if there is room left at the top they are stacked horizontally on top of the books. Oh, and they are in English, which is wonderful for a bibliophile ex-pat like me.
There are nooks and crannies everywhere, and the little kid in me immediately wanted to explore. The store is somewhat of a small labyrinth; the floorplan is haphazard, leaving you to discover the poetry, fiction, mysteries, art, etc. as you wind through the store. The random layout of the store is probably due to the fact that the owner kept extending the store by purchasing apartments and stores next to and above his original small shop. The walls are stone (although you can’t see much of them behind all the books), and the ceilings have exposed beams, as many places in Paris do. The floors are stone with tiles laid in them in a kind of random mosaic. The rooms have cool names like “The Blue Oyster Tearoom” and “The Old Smokey Reading Room.” There is a covered hole in the ground where you can throw coins for the starving artists at Shakespeare & Company.
The downstairs is where all of the new books for sale are kept. When you climb the stairs, you reach the library. None of the books in the library are for sale; they are there for anyone to sit and read. There are many couches and chairs and books. The windows in the front room open out onto a view of the Notre Dame. There are beds up there where artist/guests stay, a chess set, and even a piano. The owner’s motto is painted onto a wall: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” There is also a kind of “writer’s hut,” which is like a child’s fort. There are walls built around it maybe four feet high with an opening. There are small colorful lights on the outside, and inside is a chair and a desk with a typewriter on it. There is also another typewriter in a room with couches. Anyone is allowed to use the typewriters in the library.
The upstairs rooms encircle a courtyard that begins on the second floor and uses the roof of the first floor as the ground. Today there was an artist who had climbed out into the courtyard and was gluing model airplanes suspended from fishing wire in the courtyard. She was chatting up to another artist who was staying in another room on the other side of the building.
The entire shop was quite an experience. I will definitely be back, probably frequently. I highly suggest coming here to look around, read a book, buy a book, and maybe even write a book. This place is so unique. Visitors to Paris should definitely experience it.