My final day in Paris I was alone, it was raining and cold and completely miserable outside. I’d completed all my “must-see’s” but one - visit the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. The bookstore has captivated me for years and I was devastated in December when George Whitman, the bookstore’s owner, died at age 98. Knowing I’d never get to meet this amazing man, who opened his heart and bookstore to traveling writers, hurt my heart. His daughter runs the store now, which is staffed largely by traveling writers who stay in the bookstore on little cots tucked between shelves - under the agreement that they are actively working on something.
I slept a little later that day, opening the doors to the little balcony and enjoying a Parisian morning in a less than comfortable hostel bed. When I finally dragged my sleepy self out of bed, I headed first thing to the bookstore. It was pouring, and a sudden gust of wind caught my umbrella right under Notre Dame and flipped my poor little umbrella inside out. And then, exploring the little pathways around St. Michele, damp, umbrella-less, and taken by the beauty of it all, I saw it - with it’s green trim and stacks of books and big strung light bulbs overhead. It felt like far more a temple to greatness than the cathedral that stood just across the street. Inside, it was more magical than I ever had imagined or hoped or expected. Books stacked in every corner, ever wall space - used and new, some not even able to be purchased. They encourage you to linger, to feel their spines and read them on cushions in corners. In one tiny room upstairs, two men found piano sheet music in a book and propped it against a small, out of tune piano where they played together. We all gathered around reading books on the floor, like an impromptu living room jam where no one knew each other, but we were all best friends for ten minutes.
They don’t allow pictures inside, and for good reason. The privacy, and intimacy of those just enjoying the place should be respected. It seems far more a home than a tourist destination, the words “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise,” written above a door.