I served a mission for my church in the Paris mission, and in 2008, my family and I spent a month there, so I think I’ve seen most of the standard ‘must-see’ spots. Most. For my weekend in Paris last week, I decided to construct my itinerary around a literary theme.
On Friday night, A Moveable Feast in hand (well, on iPhone), I went off to Shakespeare and Company, an old bookstore with the most delicious literary past.
Oh! It might have been built by a hobbit—so many rooms, tucked in and around each other, sagging shelves to the ceiling, ladders on rails. It was heaven. This store opened in 1951, modeled on the original ‘Shakespeare and Company’ which opened in 1919 and closed during the war, never to reopen. The original store was a meeting and writing place for Hemingway, Joyce, Elliot, Pound, Stein, and more. After this store opened, it was popular with Ginsberg, Burroughs, Nin, Miller, and more. The ten beds that were made available to writers early on are still there. Over 30,000 writers and artists have slept over, including Ethan Hawke and Goeffrey Rush. The original owner’s daughter runs the place, and it’s still a literary hub.
Upstairs, past tiny alcoves with old typewriters, is the library. The shelves are packed and stacked, and a desk with fresh flowers and an old typewriter sits in front of a window.
I had nowhere to be, so I pulled Hope by Ernst Bloch, a German philosopher, from the shelf, and started reading.
We have in us what we could become. This announces itself in the unrest at not being sufficiently defined… In this state, people are on the tip of their own tongue, only they do not yet know what they taste like.
On Saturday morning, I toddled off to Cafe Le Flore, another writerly place frequented by Hemingway, Capote, Picasso, and tons of others, who I guess went to be seen. I went to see, but, though I thought briefly I may have spotted a regular, Francis Ford Coppola (alas, on standing, too short), the best thing I saw was my breakfast.
I did a little jotting, hoping erstwhile visitors of literary genius might whisper their secrets to me, but I was totally distracted by my boiled eggs, lovely and gooey in the middle, and my thick hot chocolate. Yumsa.
Next on my literary itinerary was Victor Hugo’s house. Meh. Don’t bother. It’s all copies of things that have nothing to do with his literary life, except a copy of the tall stand he leaned on to write. I came out more confused about his life than I went in, and I paid for the audio tour!
The gardens on Place des Vosges were pretty though.
On my way there, I stumbled onto another little gem of a garden. Paris is beautiful, even in winter, don’t you think?
I spent hours walking around on Saturday. I visited Notre Dame, as I always like to, and I accidentally arrived at Laduree, supposedly top macaron-maker in Paris. They were okay. I ate four, to give them a fair chance. I like my macaron fillings very thin and quite flavorsome—these were a little buttercreamy for my tastes. The texture was good though.
Apart from Shakespeare and Company, my absolute most favorite thing was l’Orangerie—the small gallery in Jardin des Tuileries, near the Louvre.
I was overwhelmed.
I did not know that Monet’s Water Lily Cycle was life-sized. It’s huge. Four vast canvases hang in two oval rooms. I had to suppress tears. It was just so… beautiful. You feel as if you are in the pond, surrounded by the water lilies. Go to Paris. See the water lilies at l’Orangerie.
I wish I could write what they are. It’s not possible.
This is a virtual tour. It can’t do this most beautiful creation justice. Please go!
Apart from Monet’s water lilies, there were many French artists’ work, but really, I was full of water lilies with no room for much else. I did like some of Picasso’s very fluid paintings. And Renoir. There was also an exhibition of photography by women. That was interesting, too.
But those water lilies… Thinking about them is making my heart beat a little more slowly.
A crowd was protesting near the Orangerie. It’s Paris. I’m not sure what they were protesting about, but some of them carried fleur de lis flags.
On Saturday night, I went to find Polidor Restaurant, featured in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris, but changed my mind after checking it out. Woody Allen did some Hollywood magic, no doubt. It was really grungy looking from the outside. The menu on the door had virtually nothing vegetarian—pumpkin soup was the only thing I might have eaten, and I’ve got serious doubts that it would really be vegetarian, since the lentil soup had foie gras in it. Lastly, it wasn’t going to open for another half hour, and I was hungry. Double lastly, two of the staff came out and smoked right outside the front door while I was looking at the menu. I know, I know—probably very common, but when added to the other things, it put me off. Even though Kerouac, Miller, Joyce, Hemingway and Gide used to eat there, I opted out. Instead I had some pretty average falafel in St Germain des Prés. Two cuisine types will never fail the vegetarian: Middle Eastern and Indian.
On Sunday morning I went to church, and I spent the afternoon at Pere LaChaise cemetery. Wow. It’s worth more than just a couple of hours. It’s vast and rather darkly magical. My photos are in three sections: 1. Spooky stories waiting to be told. 2. Famous people’s graves. 3. Really interesting, often very moving graves.
2. Famous people’s graves: Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Modigliani, Edith Piaf, a popular French singer Michel Delpech, who recently passed away, and one of the cartoonists, Bernard Verlhac, known as Tignous, who died in the Charlie Hebdo shooting last year.
3. Graves worth looking at and thinking about.
The last two mark graves of holocaust victims. This section was powerful: vivid, often graphic, and beautiful, terrible, unrestrained imagery.
This was a wonderful way to end my weekend—to dip into its history. I love cemeteries, largely due, no doubt, to early childhood trips in which we often visited cemeteries as we passed through towns. My dad loved to tell us cemetery jokes. Here’s one we heard often: Why is that no one who lives around here is buried in that cemetery? I’ll let you figure out the answer…