Shakespeare and Co.

Still the same for the last 50 years. Shakespeare and Co., the english-language bookstore across the street from the Notre Dame cathedral in central Paris, is unchanged. 20 years ago, I stayed there for a few nights as an itinerant student, and recently returned to find it exactly as it was, run by George Whitman, proprietor. George opened Shakespeare and Co. in 1951, intending to carry on the spirit of Sylvia Beach's original Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. Opened to create a place for literary and artistic talent to gather and discuss their work and the times, Shakespeare has hosted many travelers, and been vistited by the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller, Carl Jung, and Alec Ginsberg. George will allow writers to live in the tiny, ancient apartments above the shop, if they work for it. When Lisa Jackson and I arrived, he promptly put us to work washing the windows in the front of the store. We found ourselves scrubbing ancient grime from the front of the store while the bells of Notre Dame rang out from across the Seine. George was irrascible, often shouting at you to hurry up, or to start some other chore. He also delighted in scattering pedestrians by riding his moped through the crowds.
He had a little daughter back when I was there, he was 70 years old, and she was 7. She had her seventh birthday party while Lisa and I were staying there, and we had to help clean the bathroom for it. We also helped with the dishes and sang happy birthday to her along with her proud papa and several of the writers/students staying there. In 2005, when I returned to the bookstorethere she was, a 21 year-old woman! George was there too, a bit whiter on top, and no moped in sight,but still likely to shout at you to "close the door!" He really shocked me when he seemed to remember where I was from. He said, "Eugene?" when I reintroduced myself. I told his daughter that I had been at her 7th birthday party, and she was amazed.

Outside the bookstore is a chalkboard. On the board is written, "Dear Passerby-- The benches below are open to one and all as a modest symbol of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite and are for you to sit down and enjoy the beauty of Paris--"

( photos: Nick and Greg in Paris, George Whitman and me, George Whitman as a young man, and outside chalkboard.)

Here is a great virtual tour you can take of the area!


Anonymous said…
Diane, The bench in front (in the virtual tour) is where I put the sticker in honor of your friends.