Day Nine: Full Speed Ahead! Notre Dame and Shakespeare & Company

Tuesday, September 22

We don’t know what was in the cough medicine we bought for Mary Ann but by Tuesday morning she was nearly fully recovered and ready to go. So, after a nice, leisurely breakfast, we caught a cab over to Notre Dame Cathedral.

When we left, it was cloudy but dry. By the time we got to Notre Dame, it was raining quite hard and the seemingly endless lines into the Cathedral were all cowering beneath their umbrellas. Seeing that, we decided to go across the river to look for our other target for the day, the American expatriate bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. It’s on a short street on the left bank called Rue de la Bûcherie. It’s only a few blocks long, so we figured it wouldn’t take long to find. Wrong. The street was nearly the size of an alley and few storefronts were on it, and certainly Shakespeare and Company wasn’t one of them! We looked around and around the whole cluster of streets and blocks (all in the rain) and finally gave up and sought out shelter — and lunch — in a delightful little brasserie called Robert’s. Hot onion soup tastes wonderful on a rainy day. The other bonus was a waiter who spoke good English and told us exactly where to find Shakespeare and Company!

DSCN4124As it turns out, the store was across the main north-south road behind a small park. Rue de la Bûcherie apparently picks up across the street away from where we were looking, so when we got to the appointed area it was easy to find.

Shakespeare & Company has something of a history. Opened in 1919 at another location, it was started up by an American named Sylvia Beach as a bookstore and lending library! It quickly became a magnet for the young American writers of the day who were living in Paris. Among them were the likes of Ernst Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, the composer George Anthiel, and artist Man Ray. This iteration of the store only lasted until the German Occupation and never reopened.

The current store opened in 1951 and a new generation of writers became its habitués. Among them were Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, Gregory Corso, and many others.

It’s a small, compact two-story store. Narrow aisles and lots of people like us. Don’t think in terms of Borders or Barnes & Noble. You probably won’t find cooking books or how to find a job. Mostly it’s literature, poetry, political commentary mostly from the left, and just good writers. New books and used. Little couches and flop spots are all taken up with engaged readers and little slogans and artwork are all over the walls. Titles they had were interesting, and given the namesake, there was what looked like a wall of various Shakespeare editions, new and old, for sale. I’m not really claustrophobic, but I’m not fond of crowds in small spaces, so I went out front and people-watched. Mary Ann is a real bookie, though, and I think she enjoyed it all a lot. Eventually she emerged with a small book on the history of the store, AND a store bookmark for our little collection of bookmarks!

DSCN4135By then the weather had cleared and was actually getting sunny, so we headed back to Notre Dame and got into a long, but fast-moving line into the church. Notre Dame is a massive church that started being built in the 1100s. The two large Rose Windows opposite each other in the nave are original to that period and are stunning, as are all the other windows high up in the vaults. There’s a beautiful wood sculpture mural depicting scenes from Christ’s life facing out from the altar area, and as with many other cathedrals in Europe, little side chapels devoted to one saint or another. While the place was crowded with tourists like us, there were people there praying in areas that were demarcated for such purposes that thankfully kept looky-loos like us at some distance.

It’s a massive church of course, though unlike Italy, the interiors are rather austere. The great Italian cathedrals have lots of sculpture, mosaics and frescoes. The churches here that we’ve been in so far do not. But the windows are amazing. For me, the exteriors of Notre Dame are the really amazing part of the building. The massive sculpture festooned entrances, the twin towers, the gargoyles, the flying buttresses, the many statues all make it a feast for the eyes. And now in the sunshine it shone even brighter than ever.

After this we were pretty pooped, so we caught a cab back to the apt and called it a day.

I have to say that we’re really falling in love with Paris. Food is so good, the city is so visitor-friendly, there are so many museums and things to take in. If we come back we’ll probably go out to the provinces and not spend as much time here, so I’m glad we’re giving this the better part of five weeks to see as much as we can.

I’m also so glad Mary Ann is back and running at 100% and that the weather is clearing up. So much more is possible when we’re all in good shape and the weather cooperates. Wednesday I think we’re going to the Rodin Museum and Dôme des Invalides, which is just across the street. Then later, maybe a wine and cheese dinner from shops at Rue Cler.

We’re starting to think about the six-day museum pass and all the museums we want to visit, and then there’s the run out to Chartres which we really want to do. But there is still so much more time, so it will all unfold in due time. But for now, it’s my turn to wash the breakfast dishes before ritting up the place and taking off to visit Mssrs Rodin and Napolean!


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