This is the story of how I found myself at a sort of mad hatters tea party, sharing a moment with Hemingway and reading my diary aloud to a room full of strangers.
I ran my hand over the typewriter, the piano keys, the bookcase. In hindsight, I guess I was trying to retrace history.
The light fell in pastels, stained by the art- deco lamp. So I couldn’t really see her face when she called to me.
Come on. We’re about to start
I followed her, this white-haired stranger, to a back room. I had no idea who she was or we she was calling me. I followed. It was crowded – barefoot girls in vintage dresses, boys with beards. I noticed a glamour about the way they lounged, some on church pews, others across the floor. A glamour not diminished by the chipped tea cups and crumbling orange cake. She looked straight at me.
How would you like your tea?
They all seemed about my age, young enough to know a lot but not to know better. The English language was as dappled as the light, refracted through so many accents. A kaleidoscopic bunch, all oscillating patterns and color. Yet I couldn’t pinpoint the axis on which it all spun. Why were we here?
The boy next to me – milk, no sugar – was wide eyed behind his glasses. I remember that I took comfort in the fact that he was just as confused as I was. Yet I’m guessing that we both knew that, seeing as this was Shakespeare’s bookshop, it was going to be interesting.
Shakespeare & Co is a sort of literary Mecca. In its day it hosted Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Allen Ginsberg. The owner deemed it “A sort of socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”. I had come for this history. I stayed for the tea.
The tea cups were passed from person to person. The same with the stories. Staring with an english girl – pixie cut and confident sprawl – we made our way across the room, each person reading something that they had written: poems, stories, songs. The boy next to me hesitated when it came to his turn.
I haven’t brought anything.
Nonsense, you’re a writer aren’t you? You must have something on you.
He drew out a crumbled paper from his pocket and read.
So it was my turn. I found myself opening my diary and drawing in breath.
Only in Paris.
Are you a Paris Person?
In my mind, the city breeds this kind of serendipity. In Paris, I am overcome with a sense of providence – that everything is ruled by a sort of narrative balance, the story will end how it should.
This is why I am surprised that so many of my friends profess that they don’t like Paris. Typical objections are that it is crowded, dirty, smelly.
I try to understand. I have never been there in summer, maybe it is different then?
I guess what I love about Paris is just the wandering. I feel like it is not a city that you “do” – A checklist to tick. I really think that it is providential – Paris is a place where things just happen to you.
This is what I would tell my friends who don’t like Paris: next time around, throw out the checklist. There is no need to climb the eiffel tower twice. Find a neighborhood and walk. See where you end up.
What to do in Paris, round 2.
My favorite neighborhood to wander is Marais. There are a few places that I always try to find my way back to.
– I choose to stay in an Airbnb apartment so that, doing my best impersonation of effortless, I can pretend that I am Parisian.
- The vintage shops in Marais are my favorite in the world. See Come on Eileen for vintage Hermes, Free’P’Star for bargain finds and Hippy Market for buried treasure.
- The falafels and middle Eastern food are incredible.
Though I am dying to suggest that you do the same, I am going to stop myself. The best things that have happened to me in Paris are the things that have happened when I have had no plans. Or when plans have gone astray.
Though I can’t help but say that Shakespeare’s bookshop is a good place to begin.
After all, spontaneity is what freedom and thus flight, are all about.
© 2015, Alexandra Rose. All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission. Purchase this article for reproduction rights.