Friday, October 1, 2010
Hemingway, a bookstore, a medieval church, and a tapestry
He devotes one chapter to Shakespeare and Company, the English-language bookstore in Paris that has championed writers from the very beginning, even loaning them books to return at their leisure. In Hemingway’s Paris, the bookstore was on the Rue d’Odeon on the Left Bank. It was closed from 1941 (the Nazis) to 1951. Today, it is still on the Left Bank but on the Rue de la Bucherie, very close to the Seine.
In 1999, we were in Paris, part of our 25th anniversary celebration. The phrase of the moment while we were there was en strike, which means the same thing in French as it does in English. The state workers were upset with proposed changes in the pension law, and were staging wildcat strikes at all the museums. You never knew when something would be open and when the workers would be en strike. (This lasted the entire week we were there. And the day we left, we arrived at the airport to discover that the baggage handlers were en strike in sympathy, and we had to take all of our luggage through x-ray and security, all the way to the gate, where the flight crew and airport office staff loaded it on the plane.)
Our first full day in Paris, we arrived at the Louvre, to find the workers there en strike. So we walked to Notre Dame Cathedral (the priests were not en strike) and then crossed the Seine to have lunch at a little street café two doors down from Shakespeare and Company. I knew the bookstore was in a different place than the 1920s, but it was the same bookstore in spirit. After lunch, we explored the shop. I had to. This was not an option.
After getting my fill of books, we walked to another place nearby, St. Julien-le-Pauvre Church, reputed to be the oldest in Paris (13th century and built in the Gothic style). The building has an interesting history (it was almost demolished during the French Revolution) but was largely restored in the 19th century and eventually given to the Eastern Catholic Melkite community in 1889.
The pictures of it I see online today are not how I remember it when we visited. Now the pictures are light and almost airy; what I remember was rather dark and medieval. Perhaps they installed new lighting. But its age – the fact that it predated Notre Dame and almost all of the rest of Paris – was what enchanted me. It was one of my favorite places of the visit.