Shakespeare & Company: La Meilleure Librairie

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Oh how I love this bookshop. I sometimes wish I could own a bookshop like this, or have my apartment be filled with books so that it resembles the shop’s interior. There’s just something so cosy about the shop, with its velvet chairs nestled amongst shelves filled to bursting. It’s the kind of place I could (and did) spend hours in. My next trip to Paris (whenever that will be) will include a lot of time.

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Jeremy Mercer wrote a book called ‘Time Was Soft There’ about Shakespeare & Co. It’s a bit of a memoir, but I love the details of his time spent there in the shop, sleeping on one of the beds tucked away, the people he met there, and his time in Paris. The film ‘Before Sunset’ also begins in the shop, where Ethan Hawke’s character is autographing his book and doing a reading.

If you’re ever in Paris – you must go. Check out their website too. Curl up in that green velvet chair and flip through Jean Genet’s ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’, or poetry by Baudelaire…

What would I do without Google StreetView?

Some of my first research for my novel started out as recreational travel. I traveled to Paris in June of 2003 for 10 days. The city enchanted me, and it seemed the perfect place to set a story. I did visit museums (the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre), and some of the other tourist areas, but I was mostly inspired by a visit to the well-known jazz club Le Bilboquet, just off the Blvd St. Germain. (Unfortunately it no longer exists at that location.) But, my memory isn’t photographic, much as I might wish it.

Google Maps, especially the Street View, is a godsend. In my original draft I had a character looking out over the Seine from the Left Bank. Rather than guess at what that view might be, I took a peek with Google. It turns out that where they were standing was right across from the Louvre. So instead of coming across as a complete idiot author who doesn’t know Paris, I was able to properly set the scene.

Sophie’s gaze was drawn to the Louvre, whose windows glittered in the orange light of the sun that was beginning to set.

“I love this city. Sometimes I wish that I never had to leave.” She leaned on the low stone wall, looking over the water. He leaned beside her, his eyes mostly on her, flicking occasionally to the museum and the river.

“Why don’t you stay?”

She turned to him. “What would I do here? I’d have to find a job.”

He shrugged. “Everything’s possible.”

“Is it?”

“Of course. How badly do you want it?”

Most of what I find out via Google Earth isn’t used in the actual writing, but gives me enough background information to write with confidence. If I know that walking from Saint-Sulpice church to Shakespeare & Co. is going to take an average of 15 minutes (20 for the laggards), then I know that I can put in a lot of conversation without the Parisian wondering how I was able to get almost half an hour’s worth of conversation into a five-minute walk.

Google Earth is also fantastic for wowing your non-computer-savvy relatives with the awesomeness of having them look at their own house online, or finding out how they can get from the middle of the prairies to London, England. (It involves a lot of swimming.) So, +1 internets to Google!

Why Paris?

I’ve been fascinated with Paris for a long time. I’m not sure what first interested me, but once I started working on my BFA, Paris was always there.  It helps that the city has been a centre for the arts for centuries. One of my larger essays for my Canadian art history 300-level class was about Canadian artists that traveled to Paris to learn (and then usually came home again.) Conveniently, my character Sophie has a similar focus for her art history thesis.

I’ve traveled to Paris, just the once. If I had the money I’d go back regularly. There’s something about having all these fantastic museums in the same city, just waiting there for your visit. It’s also one of the most walkable cities. When I was there I walked from the Arc de Triomphe and avenue Wagram down to the Ile de la Cite and back. I don’t know about where you live, but it’s tough to cover that sort of ground in most cities without being detoured by freeways or other pedestrian-unfriendly areas.

But that doesn’t answer the question, Why Paris?

There was no way that I was going to be using my hometown for a setting in my novel. I just don’t think that there’s enough about it that is interesting. If I lived in a larger centre, that might be a different story altogether. I could see setting something in Vancouver, or maybe Toronto or Montreal… but not here. Some authors seem to do really well with novels set in their hometowns. Laurell K Hamilton comes to mind, with St. Louis. And Anne Rice with San Francisco and New Orleans.

It was the club and cafe culture that drew me to using Paris as the setting in my novel. The artsy culture that, (mostly) unlike my hometown, thrives and is right out there with everything else. It’s visible, it’s accepted, it’s part of life. It’s not tucked away in some hidden little cranny for only those ‘in the know’ to enjoy. And, most importantly, how many different types of people can you have encounter each other in a jazz club? The possibilities are endless.