Bonjour, toute le monde!
I just returned from a vacation in France, and when in Paris, I stumbled across a most intriguing bookstore named “Shakespeare &Co.” It is in the heart of the city, on the left bank, just across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral. I was browsing displays of books on the street when I heard strains of excellent jazz piano, and followed the sound into this dusty and disheveled bookshop. As I followed the music through small rooms receding into gloom, I realized the music was not recorded as I had thought, but live, and very accomplished. Way in the back I found a young man, pack on his back, leaning over an upright piano in a dingy hall, playing this wonderful music on his feet. Abruptly he stopped and wandered off among the many alcoves, soon to be replaced by another. I realized that the musicians were standing because there was no room in the tiny hall for a piano stool.
The shop was endless, at least three floors of tiny rooms and halls, crammed with books, photos, and memorabilia. I spent an hour in there, unable to break away, and I barely scratched the surface. Here’s a virtual tour for you to get a taste of it.
This shop was opened in 1951 by George Whitman, a man from Salem, Massachusetts who traveled the world, mostly on foot. Whitman’s good friend, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, started City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco about the same time. In his 90s now, he calls it his “rag & bone shop,” and has passed the nuts and bolts of its management on to his daughter, Sylvia. For all you book lovers, Shakespeare & Co’s staff picks are worth a look. Next month, Shakespeare & Co will co-sponsor TRAVEL IN WORDS: A Four-Day Literary Celebration in Paris (15-18 June 2006), the third one that Whitman’s daughter has organized to great acclaim.