Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Visit to Shakespeare and Company in Paris

Across the Seine from Notre Dame is the world famous book store, Shakespeare and Company. The history of the store is very interesting, it first opened in Paris in 1919 by an American, Sylvia Beach. She closed her store in 1941, during the German occupation.

In 1951 another American living in Paris, George Whitman, had collected so many books he opened a bookstore under the name Le Mistral Bookshop. Silvia Beach visited over the first years and as the story goes suggested he rename his shop Shakespeare and Company. The eccentric George created a bookshop where writers could stay a few days for free with rules of helping in the shop for an hour, reading a book a day and writing a one page biography. He called them tumbleweeds. Many thousands have stayed.

Our first visit to Shakespeare and Company was in the early 1990s, it seemed rather odd to me that there were books laying flat on what appeared to be narrow beds. Books were stacked everywhere and aisles were tight.

YouTube has many videos about the store and George's famous haircuts, burning off his hair with a lit candle.

George named his daughter Silvia for Silvia Beach and for years planned that she would take over some day. Here is his story at the front of the store. George died two days after his 98th birthday in 2011 and Silvia has taken her turn.

On our recent trip to Europe we planned to visit the store on September 15, not knowing that was the official launching of the book, Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart. We went to the shop after visiting Notre Dame, this is me with my very special purchase.

When I purchased my book Silvia Whitman was in the store and graciously posed and signed my book.

She signed around the official stamp.

We didn't plan on attending the 7 p.m. event but were still in the neighborhood late in the afternoon and decided it would be memorable so we were first to line up. As we waited we watched the guest speakers and readers arrive. Below is Silvia carrying a Shakespeare and Company bag, the young woman in the yellow and black is a current tumbleweed.

Silvia opened the event.

Editor Krista Halverson was introduced, she is at the right.

Wine and hors d'oeuvres were served in one of the upstairs rooms.

On our way out Krista was available and I asked for her signature also. Wow! I was thrilled to have both signatures signed to Jan and I.