A Walk in the Paris I Love

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Author Claude Nougat has become a frequent contributor to BoomerCafé, and if you look at what she has just sent us from Paris, you’ll see why. Claude is a baby boomer with a never-ending enthusiasm for exploration and education. Come on in and explore with her.

I was in Paris recently, and I’d like to share with you the Paris I love, a little bit hidden, not your usual monuments and touristic high points. Come with me to Shakespeare and Co., surely the most extraordinary bookstore in all of Paris and probably Europe.

Here it is, lying low and snug between two tall 19th century buildings along the river Seine (in the 5th arrondissement). Yet the bookstore is no doubt much older than its neighbors, just look at the beams climbing up between the two façades:

1. Shakespeare & Co et Le Petit Chatelet, vu de la Seine (Nov 2012)  (light)

Moving closer, the bookstore is in the back, on the left and a neat little restaurant is up front:

2. Moving closer, the restaurant in the forefront, the bookstore in the back  (light)

Here it is at last, the splendid, cluttered façade of the Shakespeare bookstore:

3._The_fa_ade_of_the_bookstore_light_

Over the front door there’s a reminder of George Whitman, a friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but above all, the mythical founder of the bookstore (he founded it in 1951 and died in 2011):

4. Whitman, the founder  (light)

Yes, “…the business of books is the business of life.” I love that! And there’s no bookstore anywhere that feels more like a temple dedicated to readers than this one. Inside, the charm of old rickety stairs and bare stone walls:

5. The charm inside, the staircase  (light)

The reading room with a view on the Seine: here you’re allowed to read whatever you like but you must put the book back on the shelf when you leave:

6. The reading room with view on the Seine  (light)

There’s a place to play chess:

8. In a corner, a game of chess   (light)

Another for music:

9. A small music room   (light)

Yes, this is a bookstore I love! Even their paper bags to carry your purchase are cute:
13. We got our book and now off to the restaurant next door  (light)

And of course, their trademark poster, a painted board on the façade:

12. Good-bye Shakespeare   (light)

This is a library with a personality, a brand, a mission in life: spread the love for books! And that’s becoming an ever harder thing to do!

Because times for book stores are not really any happier in France than in the United States or anywhere else in the developed world: a famous Parisian bookstore, the “librairie del Duca” on the Boulevard des Italiens just closed its doors on 30 November. It had been created in 1952 by Cino del Duca, a mythical editor and publisher as well as film maker. His widow had set up a foundation to help artists (she died in 2004) but in spite of annual sales over €2 millions/year, the library didn’t make it. Now it’s finished, according to the Figaro (23 November) the plot it stands on will be taken over by the next door supermarket, a Monoprix that probably won’t even sell books …

After we finished our tour in Shakespeare & Co. (I say we, my husband and I), spending the whole morning there, we went to the neat little restaurant next door that we had spotted walking in, Le Petit Chatelet. Cozy inside, with a working fireplace where they cook your meat:

14. A fireplace, a view on the Seine...   (light)

Yes that’s me in the mirror (looking very serious, sorry, I hadn’t realized my camera had taken me in!). And the menu of course is classically hand-written on a blackboard:

15. The menu on a blackboard   (light)

We opted for a fish soup and it was lovely! Afterwards a nice walk along the Seine, stopping at a book stall:

17. Afterwards, a walk along the Seine - another sort of bookstore...   (light)

You can see Notre Dame peeking behind him! And the Seine carries sometimes surprising boats (not just the fast ones for visitors), like this huge coal carrying barge:

20. Carrying coal (light)

The coal looks like warm black velvet…and what a beautiful river.

Ah, Paris!

Visit Claude Nougat online … click here.

8 Comments

  1. Rosemary, yes, it really hasn’t changed, that same wonderful, musty mess…I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Us boomers have some places like that, places we love going back to…

  2. Merci, Claude! We always stay at lovely little hotel (Henri IV Rive Gauche), on Rue Saint Jacques, right around the corner from Shakespeare and Le Petit Chatelet. Your words and photos made us feel ‘Francesick’. September can’t come soon enough! Thanks for sharing memories of your visit.

  3. Hi Claude,
    Your timing is perfect! I’m planning a trip to Paris with my mom-in-law in May and we’re both voracious readers and love to explore little nooks and crannies. She’s gone every year for the past 20 or so and this will be my second time. We will definitely seek out Shakespeare and Co and look forward to spending a lazy afternoon absorbing the ambiance (and maybe even sampling the menu)!

    Merci beaucoup!
    Anne

  4. Ah, Claude, on rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th. How many times I stopped by, when George was still alive. I’d start feeling a yearning for English books when I lived in the Cognac region, so would always pick up something at Shakespeare on my twice-monthly trips to Paris. Retail places with that much soul are rare in today’s world … and many of them happen to sell books. “Brava!” to his daughter for perpetuating and nurturing that feeling!

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