I am in Paris. I didn’t want to come . I envisioned walking through museums viewing paintings that I had known (or near enough) for decades. Sigh. It would be fine.
I wanted to be out in the country, enjoying the dry summer heat, or the cool summer breezes, in touch with a free-running river or the sea, not the hemmed-in, tightly controlled Seine.
I remembered the time I took my children to Paris and fought against panic attacks as I realized that feeding my teenage son and daughter, with the occasional ice cream treat, would run my credit card over its limit. Paris can still stab me with panic, just at the thought.
When we arrived here, I was so jet lagged that I didn’t even know it – that first stage of numbness. Only two hours of sleep on the airplane – I watched Lincoln and Argo in a bank of three unoccupied center-aisle seats, curled up or stretched out, as I preferred. Then I ignored all of science and my friends’ best advice and took a four-hour nap in the afternoon. I suggested to my husband, Terry, that we were not a science experiment. We could do as we pleased.
When we woke up, we set out for a stroll. Passing the archaeological explorations at Cluny was interesting enough, but a while later, we heard a voice speaking into a microphone and wondered what it was. There, in front of the Shakespeare & Company* bookshop, was Charles Simic, the Pulitzer Prize winning former Poet Laureate of the United States, reading his poetry and telling stories. There was a crowd of about 150 people, maybe 200, listening intently. They didn’t applaud between poems, but they laughed with him, and didn’t leave until the end, when they applauded heartily.
Paris provides enough of a literary audience to support hundreds of small, independent bookstores (called “librairies”): Librairie Lutece, Librairie des Arenes, Jazz Ensuite, Librairie Payot, not a Barnes & Noble in sight. I don’t know how well amazon.com does in France, but the French support a lot of small bookstores.
Like stories about the European health care system (which my American friends seem to think I am making up, or that I am telling them about exceptions to the rule), I feel it necessary to prove through photographs that there are places in the world where poetry is just a part of life, not a breathless Other, and where you can make a living with a small bookstore.
The toilets and art will come in another posting.
* On the front of Shakespeare & Company is a little sign acknowledging its close ties to another of my favorite bookstores, City Lights Bookstore.