Woke up to the sound of the church bells. Even in these modern times, in a secular city that worships at the altar of cuisine and couture, the bells toll as they have for centuries.
Today is a good day for an audio guided walk. But first, Instead of my usual grab and go noisette, I sit down in Miss Manon’s patisserie, order fresh orange juice, a noisette and an apple pastry, take out a postcard and a pencil stub, and start a little drawing. I knock back the noisette, and time disappears until I’m done. I stretch and look out at the passing street scene. The shoes alone are worth watching. People are carrying boxwood clippings under their arms. Ah, it’s Palm Sunday. I order another noisette, and set my little cup carefully on the postcard, twice. An authentic two-ring, Paris café stamp.
The audio tour begins with the incomparable view of Notre Dame from the bridge next to the Quai de Montebello. The third stop on the audio tour is Shakespeare and Company, the legendary English bookstore and holy ground for a writer. I go in with the fizzy feeling I had pushing open the door to Sennelier. Everything about it is appealing, from the quotes on the walls, a glass dome with a slot over a lighted basin in the floor filled with coins, and a ‘Feed the Starving Writers’ sign.
So many interesting books of varying vintage crowd the shelves. It’s like joining a party in progress with charming rakes, notorious wits,wily politicians, deadbeats, drunks, and philosophers all talking amongst themselves. I wander through the warren of rooms below, then climb the twisting narrow stairs to find more little rooms with floor to ceiling shelves of second-hand book available to all to read. I sit in a room with a typewriter in front of the window and a fat white cat napping on a worn velvet cushion.
I write – on my iPhone – an email to my daughter and a few notes to myself, then I pull out my Nook and read. I soon discover that waves of tourists wash up in that front room, some hushed, some raucous. Everyone takes a selfie with the cat, whose poise is unshakable. A young man sits next to me and opens a book. After fifteen minutes or so, he asks me if I’m reading something interesting. He’s reading love poems, because, like all young men in Paris since the dawn of time, he is hoping to get some cherchez la femme leverage. Youth is truly wasted on the young, y’all. I advise that love poems aren’t a reliable field guide to women, but might help him hold onto one. It is a truth universally acknowledged that chicks dig romance. Surely he has no problem meeting women. Just strike up a conversation with any one of the pretty girls here. Too transitory, he says glumly. Plus he can only muster the courage to approach women like, erm, me, implying that as an old lady, I am safely beyond such foolishness. I whip out my iPhone and show him photos of my girls and Robert. Ah, the King, he says. Astute lad. He’s forgiven.
So we talk. He’s one of the writers that sleeps on the floor in exchange for a couple of hours working the register each day, while he writes a book. I urge him to e-publish. I suggest writers’ blogs to read who have broken new ground in the field. I recommend Facebook pages and links. It’s what I’d be doing if I was trying to be published and make money doing it. We exchange emails. He keeps one of my painting showcards and says it will be his bookmark. A signal honor, coming from a writer. I do miss the scraps of notes and postcard bookmarks in these electronic reader times. Before I leave on my audio tour, I walk back through the rooms and see typewriters on window sills, end table, and alcoves., reminding me of my recent typewriter paintings.
I continue on my walking tour, learning all sort of curious facts about the Julian le Pauvre church, and the lives of the Parisians in this little corner of Paris. At the end of the walk, I decide to walk back along the Seine. Before I head down the stone steps, I stop at one of the green wooden book and poster stalls along the road, and buy risqué 1930s vintage French postcards (2E for five). The antique aspect somewhat blunts the edge, keeping them just this side of filthy. I walk underneath a bridge bristling with padlocks snapped to railings by hopeful lovers.
I buy a carrot salad to go with the brie and figs I have in the apartment, and a chocolate and nougat pastry called Little Saint Antoine. When I spent a month in Italy I swore that espresso replaced my red blood cells. In Paris, I’d bleed butter.