Shakespeare and Company, Houellebecq, Murakami(again) and my summer of leisure July 2006 part 2

Shakespeare and Company for many sparks a sense of literary history, for others memories of Before Sunset with Ethan Hawke – the movie made the little cavern of books seem grandly large, when in fact it is a cramped, jam packed nest of books in disorder. Walking through the entrance one is easily transported back into an earlier incarnation of City Lights in San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti most assuredly spent time here, before opening his store on Columbus Ave. And yet it was different, tighter, compact, steamy, of course it was mid-June and we had finally found the place. Hunting for Shakespeare and Company seemed to take on gargantuan proportions, maps were studied, web addresses were checked out, and walking down streets for two afternoons led us to believe it was an aberration of literary myth.
Walking the streets of Paris is search of Shakespeare and Company
We did in the meantime during these wonderings find a small vegetarian restaurant – it was packed outside – inside though it was dark and sweaty – it being a very hot day – and we found Gilbert Juene – a mecca we continued to go back to once found – they have the most exciting array of maps of all of France – it would be incredible to find something of this type here in the US, bicycle path maps, road maps, broken down by county/states, we bought tons of maps – a special group of maps of the southern French area where we are planning another bicycle outing in the near future. When we did finally find the bookstore we were a bit surprised at the location, how many times had we passed by this area, the name of the store above the entrance, poem by the owner on one of the open shutters
Shakespeare and Company store front
Shakespeare and Company poem
It was here I was looking for a new book to read after finishing Murakami’s “Hard-Boiled Wonderland”, and of course in English, my last attempt to buy a book in French – Henry Miller’s “Rosy Crucifixion” panned out – still haven’t found the time to translate one of my all time favorite pieces of writing, so it had to be English and I was sure I would find something to read at Shakespeare and Company, – actually I was looking for more Murikami – obsessive compulsion I guess. There was none to be found except Kafka on the Shore which I already had, so I picked up a copy of Luis Cernuda’s Poems “written in WATER”, translated into English, one of my favorite poets. We have a copy of his homoerotic poem books from when we first met and Palm Springs still had a decent bookstore on the main street, which of course was along time ago before the Modernist Nazis and the no growth morons moved into the town. Book in hand I went to the front of the store, hoping to purchase this book without too much difficulty English wise, but still didn’t feel I had found the book I wanted to read. Nobody was at the cash register, so I stood back and looked at the books in front of the buying station, English translations of French Novels, there were all the Balzac’s, and Genet’s Dave A purchased Quereelle even though I had a copy at home, and I picked out a book, Atomised by Michel Houellebecq, the cover of course wasn’t very appealing, some emaciated blond chic, bikini clad, black and white photo, and some notes from critics saying it was a fabulous story. Ignoring the quotes, marketing is a fucking bother when it comes to choosing a book, I kept tossing it about in my head, I knew I had read somewhere about the writer but couldn’t remember where, I liked the heft of the book. I liked the first few sentences on the first page. I liked the size of the type. I was looking for something light to read. I figured since the cover had such a sexual look to it, that it might be just the right type of vacation novel to tackle, light, easy read. Wrong. This is some powerful, dark writing. More later on the writing, as I have just finished four of Monsieur Houellebecq’s novels, and I can unqualifiedly say he is one great writer, even though he is sexist, racist and a bit of a misogynist. Politics and fiction have their discomforts. I finally decided to buy Atomised and “written in WATER”_. The girl who sold me the book opened the books and stamped them with the Shakespeare and Company logo, kind of a nice souvenir, plus she slid in between the pages this handy bookmark reminding me where I had purchased the books.
Shakespeare and Company book stamp
Shakespeare and Company bookmark
We were damned hungry after trying to find the bookstore and it was the night when France was going for the second slot of the World Cup and the streets and restaurants were filled with people, many places had video screens of the game on and people were congregating outside of these restaurants 10 and 20 people deep while the game played on – luckily the place next to Shakespeare and Company was not completely full and we were able to get a table, Le Petite Chateau.
Le Petite Chateau
Where we had this absolutely incredible meal, the air was perfect, the sounds of the city was lively, the escargot was delivered in a puff pastry bowl, the wine was magnificent, the company was delightful, we just had a grand time. I think it was one of our favorite nights actually.
dining at Le Petitie Chateau
Afterwards we walked across to Notre Dame while the cars raced by us with flag waving, horn honking Parisians chanted about their success in the World Cup, there was such an exuberance in the crowds of people. We ended up on the plaza in front of the Hotel De Ville where they were showing on an inflatable movie screen our number one favorite animation film “The Triplets of Belleville”, families, couples, tourists all gathered in the warm evening air, were chuckling at the antics of the three triplets, the grandmother, the dog and the gangsters. What a great way for us to get ready for our trip to Strasbourg and the opening of the Tour de France – another story of course.


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