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Memorial: George Whitman, Founder of Paris’ Shakespeare & Company

What can I add to this week’s hundreds of tributes to the legendary proprietor of Paris’s Shakespeare and Company bookshop, George Whitman, including one by the writer, Jeanette Winterson?

Why was she impelled to remember him in print? Because, like so many others, she had stayed at Shakespeare and Company. George Whitman started a tradition of hosting writers, most famously members of the Beat generation, and the bookshop’s ‘Tumbleweed Hotel’ is still a place where literary dreamers can exchange a few hours’ work in the shop for a bed on a bench amongst the books of George’s personal open library on the first floor.

When I came to Shakespeare and Company a couple of years ago, it was a while before I actually met George. Already in his mid-90s, he spent his days in the apartment on the top floor.

He still owned the shop downstairs, now run expertly by his daughter Sylvia and her team, its ‘Tumbleweed Hotel’ principles intact.

When they arrive, Tumbleweeds are required to write a brief biography for the shop’s records. Employed by the shop to create stair murals, I decided I would do this later. Anyway I was here to draw, not write. I wasn’t a Tumbleweed.

Was I?

The next time I stayed I didn’t write it either, but I did spend my time writing. I’d do it on the next visit.

Or the next…

The last time I visited the shop in October 2011 , Paris was cold. George had just suffered a stroke and was in hospital, ‘recovering well’. The writers’ room, with its tiny electric radiator, was warm. Under my window, tourists snapped continually; Tumbleweeds lunched at the little round table by the door; drunks gathered at the fountain; a busker turned up and performed Shakespeare’s most famous speeches in rotation. Later on, the drummers took over outside the cathedral.

I stopped writing to eat at the café across the road. The man at the next table was telling his teenage daughter – her first trip to Paris – about how he’d been to one of George’s famous Sunday teas and heard the bookseller relate how he had set off to walk from North to South America but had been forced to turn back in the impassible Central American jungle. He was like a child, the man said. It was like he didn’t understand why he just couldn’t go as far as he wanted to go.

But after opening Le Mistral in 1951, which became Shakespeare and Company in 1964, the traveler largely stayed put in Paris, dying peacefully last Wednesday in his apartment above the shop, two days after his 98th birthday.

I walked back from the café to the bookshop and got back to work.

I wrote. Notre Dame chimed ‘Three Blind Mice’ on the hour: the light went.

I thought about space: Kilometer Zero in front of Notre Dame; Place René Viviani  next to the shop where the 2010 Shakespeare and Company Literary Festival was held – a free event into which the public could wander. That was the last time I had seen George downstairs; wearing an extravagant paisley jacket, he was carried in triumph through the shop on a sofa held shoulder-high by Tumbleweeds. Continue Reading »

Posted in Arts, Events, Parisian Living | 4 Comments »

Paris Winter Fashion: What do Parisiennes Wear in the Snow?

On a recent Paris jaunt during the now infamous snow storm of last week, Badaude made some Paris fashion observations. As usual, they are right on and just right. What do you wear in Paris in the snow? – Erica

I was decorating the windows for Christmas last week in legendary Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company and I had (perhaps too much of a) good chance to see what Parisienne’s wore during the recent cold snap. With snowflakes the size of postage timbres falling onto the Christmas tree outside Notre Dame, it was picture postcard pretty but definitely necessary to wrap up warmly. This is what I, with a Posca pen tucked behind my ear, saw from the top of a ladder…

(Click on image for full size)

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Text and illustrations by Badaude for the HiP Paris Blog. For our amazing rentals in Paris, Provence & Tuscany check out our website Haven in Paris.


Posted in Parisian Living, Shopping | 10 Comments »

A walk in Paris in the sun

photobridge

After many years of living Paris the beauty of the city is often lost behind the cloudy grey weather and daily train-train*.  Often I find I must make a concerted effort to find the time to take advantage of this beautiful city.

Yesterday, a sunny day, I decided to steal a few hours in town. First stop: the Passerelle de Solferino, a small bridge across the Seine from Musee D’Orsay to the Tuilerie gardens, to admire the spectacular view up and down the river Seine. Continue Reading »

Posted in Food, Parisian Living | 1 Comment »