Monday, July 19, 2010

Time was Soft There

A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.

Jeremy Mercer
St.Martin's Press
New York 2005

A young Canadian journalist flees his hometown, Ottawa, for Paris after becoming inadvertently mixed up with some crime figures. He runs out of money and ends up living at Shakespeare & Co., since they have a writer-in-residence program.

The bookstore is filthy and filled with all sorts of odd and possibly violent characters. The owner is possibly the worst businessman ever in the entire world. It’s one of the world's most famous bookshops. The original opened in 1919 and was frequented by Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.

It was forced to close in 1941 with the Nazi occupation and complications. In 1951 was reopened under another name and in 1964 it resurrected the original name and became the principal meeting place for beatnik poet notables such as Allen Ginsberg, Wm. S. Burroughs down to Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell.

Down til today the tradition of the bookstore continues and writers of all sorts find their way here, one being Jeremy Mercer. He finds himself in Paris with very little cash and the very real possibility of becoming homeless.

A chance encounter leads him to the bookshop, Shakespeare & Co. Here he finds a temporary home in return for a little work and the requirement of reading books.

”When I'd arrived, Shakespeare & Co. appeared the answer to all my problems. A place to recuperate, time to calculate my next steps, an assortment of lost folk to camouflage my own disenchantments.

”This was the best of Paris. Dreams, like money, can be accounted for in simple terms of deficit and surplus...In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafes...Hope is a most beautiful drug.”

We watched the movie, Julie and Julia last week. There is a scene where Meryl Streep, playing as Julia Child, enters the bookstore. It was summer and lovely, but didn’t mean that much to me. And then a few days later this book fell off the bookshelf at the library and into my hands.

I’ll likely not get to Paris in this lifetime, but this book made me feel like I’d been there.

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