22 Feb My first reading in public @ Shakespeare & Co., Paris
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in September. After we had lunch, my good friend Julia and I were walking along the banks of the Seine, enjoying every shade of Paris reflected on my poetry book, in other words, making a master shooting with the book, in our beloved Paris.
We were heading towards the famous library, Shakespeare & Co, opposite to Notre Dame de Paris. My Parisian good friend promised to take me to the most beloved library in Paris, Shakespeare & Company, shocked in the same time, that I had never been there, yet.
*A glimpse into the history of the place…
I discovered the library through the Internet and I was absolutely fascinated by the marvelous and sometimes spicy stories around the history of the library.
It was founded by the controversial Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), an American born bookseller and publisher, who lived in Paris and remarked herself, as being one of the leading figures in Paris, during the interwar period.
In Paris, Sylvia Beach met Mlle. Adrienne Monnier, an influential figure, in the 1920s and 1930s. She was a French bookseller, writer and publisher, who owned her own bookstore, “La Maison des Amis des Livres”, at 7 Rue de l’Odéon, Paris VI. To own your own bookstore it was a very rare thing at the time for a lady.
Sylvia Beach became a member of Monnier’s lending library and she made a habit from attending to readings by authors. The two women later became lovers and lived together for 36 years.
Mlle. Adrienne Monnier advised and encouraged Sylvia Beach to open an English bookstore and lending library in Paris and this is how Shakespeare & Company was opened at 8 Rue Dupuytren, Paris VI and then moved to a larger place at 12 Rue de l’Odéon, Paris VI.
It was a delightful place of gathering for beloved authors and artists from the 1920s, such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, to name a few. It was closed during the German occupation in 1941 and never re-opened.
Sylvia Beach is well known for publishing the masterpiece “Ulysses”, by James Joyce in 1922 and for selling Hemingway’s first book “Three Stories and Ten Poems”, in 1923.
The famous “Ulysses” was rejected by publishers in English-speaking countries, because was considered obscene, however daring Ms. Beach publishes Joyce’s book for the first time and when Joyce signs with another publisher she is left in debt, after suffering severe loses from the publication.
During the 1930s, Sylvia Beach received help with the library from wealthy friends and from a group of writers organized by Andrè Gide into a club “Friends of Shakespeare and Company”. The writers paid an annual subscription to the library to attend readings in the library.
Afterwards, in 1951 the amazing ex-serviceman American George Whitman (1913-2011), opened the bookstore “Le Mistral” at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie (where it still is today) and renamed it “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964, as a tribute to Sylvia Beach’s bookstore and on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.
George’s place immediately became a point of interest of the bohemian intellectuality at the time, in Paris. The Beat Generation writers Allan Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, other famous writers, such as Anaïs Nin, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Max Ernest and so on, found the place absolutely suitable for meeting and sharing brilliant ideas, as Henry Miller used to say about Shakespeare and Company, “a wonderland of books”.
George was one of a kind human being. The shop had beds tucked among the bookshelves for the aspiring writers that were welcomed to accommodate free of charge in exchange for helping George around the bookshop. He was well known for his generosity, above the doorway to the bookshop’s library he inked: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” Ethan Hawke, and Geoffrey Rush were listed among other 30,000 artists and writers who had stayed at the bookshop, thanks to heartfelt owner George.
He was a wizard and his various books were magic potions used to enchant readers and writers worldwide.
For his over 60 years of contribution to arts, he was awarded “Officier des Arts et des Lettres” in 2006 by France’s Ministry of Culture.
The famous bookstore today, is conducted by his lovely daughter Sylvia Whitman, an angelic creature from another world, this is how delicate she appears.
**Our real fairytale
Getting back to our story, although I knew some pretty things about Shakespeare & Co., have never been there before.
When you enter the door and put your feet into the bookstore, you are immediately transferred to another realm and the more you advance you get deeper into the fairytale.
This is exactly what had happened, the minute we entered the library, we were immediately caught into a dream, surrounded by thousands of books all over the place, all of them craving for our attention.
There were millions of words whispered in our ears, deafening our hearing, words of love and hatred, wisdom and ignorance, hope and disbelief, radiance and darkness, bliss and grief, passion and apathy, words about you and I. Absolutely mesmerizing…
We just loved to get lured in magic. Discovering every single corner of the library was a delight itself.
At one point I felt like time stopped for a second or more and I became one with the place.
I felt its secrets and allowed myself to sink and float among the immensity of its dreams. Mysterious notes of elegant secret love hidden in the walls wrapped my senses. Unforgettable love stories spread out on paper, millions of heartbeats, French kisses, unspoken words… It was all in there, beautifully, magically preserved.
At one point I had seen my good friend getting into one of the rooms in the back. It was crowded and what I could have heard from afar, it was only a beautiful voice of an elderly woman, with a lovely British accent reading out loud a beautiful poem. Fascinated, I got closer and closer. Shy, I looked into the room from the door, without daring to enter the room. It was a piece of a fairytale. The books were seated obediently on the shelves covering the walls, less the gorgeous window with a view towards “Our Lady of Paris”, as Victor Hugo used to call Notre Dame de Paris. In front of the bookshelves, there were chairs holding beautiful souls of young readers and writers of poetry. In front of the window seated with its face to the chairs and backside to the window, there was a marvelous old desk. On the desk there were cookies, tea and poetry. “What an amazing assembly of fine art…”, I said to myself.
Aside the window and the old marvelous desk was George’s armchair, empty…or who knows?! Maybe his beautiful soul still garnishes the old armchair…
In plain sight, right in front of me, seated, close to the door and with poetry pages in her hands, my dear darling friend, Julia was waiting for me. Of course I got scarred, when I had seen her seated. I kind of had an idea about what was about to happen. She invited me in, enthusiastically. I got closer. When she told me to read poetry for the group, I jumped and ran like a lunatic. I found peace in another room, George’s room, where I relaxed enjoying the company of a gorgeous old cat. My beloved friend was still hanging in there, waiting for the loony to calm down and come back after the crisis passes.
I came back after a while, full of guilt that I abandoned her and extremely shy I looked inside the room from the door. Julia invited me again and told me that it was my chance to read poetry in front of people and not specifically my poetry. I refused and threatened that I would leave for real, if she doesn’t leave me alone. She smiled and understood that I needed more time. She even read herself out loud, just to tease me and ensure me that nothing bad will happen.
The atmosphere was one of a kind…there were young adults reading selected poems by Ms. Pamela Leschevin known as Panmelys, the host of Tea Party events at Shakespeare & Co., a veritable artist and poet herself. She invited poets in the room, if any, to read their works aloud in front of everybody.
My friend looked at me and made me a sign to start reading from my book. Of course another performance of the “drama queen” started. I categorically refused and threatened with leaving once again.
One young girl read her works, another one and then all of a sudden I hear my friend aloud introducing me and my book to the world, at Shakespeare & Co.
Panmelys invited me in front of everybody in the middle of the room and asked people to encourage me with applauses…
I looked towards my friend, her eyes were encouraging me…I was trembling from every bone. I didn’t even realize what I was doing. It was like I was living a dream in a dream… A multitude of unexplainable feelings and emotions flooded my entire body, my hands were sweating, my eyes were blurry, my lips were shivering… It was like my entire body disintegrated piece by piece.
So I read “Paris” in Paris, at Shakespeare & Co. A dream came true. I smiled. I blushed. I received great applause. I’ve seen tears in my good friend’s eyes and that meant the world to me and I said to myself: “We did it!“. No wonder she is and will always be “ma copine eternelle”…
Thank you, Paris. Thank you, Shakespeare & Co.
A fairytale, to always remember…