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I noticed it the first day I arrived in Paris, in the form of a Canadian flag not too far from my apartment. It belonged to the “Abbey Book Shop,” and it was something I instantly connected to, in this city where I didn’t know a soul. Due to various circumstances (crazed insomnia, an entire day at the Louvre), I wasn’t drawn back to my country’s flag until day number three.
And this time I went inside.
If you can imagine a cross between a library from the Middle Ages and something out of Harry Potter, that’s how this bookstore felt to me. The overflowing shelves, the narrow winding aisles, the warm lighting, the rare books and the beautiful books, not to mention the stone-walled basement that seemed like a cave…it was nothing short of enchanting.
The shop was opened by a Canadian in 1989, and as he directed me to the Hemingway books I was looking for (required Paris reading) we got to talking. He was so full of knowledge and interesting facts, it was almost like he himself was a book, minus the “old-book-smell” and thin layer of dust (not that there’s anything wrong with “old-book-smell,” actually I love it and would wear it as perfume). After he explained that his shop carries the version of “The Sun Also Rises” with the original title of “Fiesta” (I told you, he’s full of facts!), he invited me to come back at seven p.m., for cider with a few of his friends. Once I finally understood that cider is not apple cider, I did that whole “North American thing,” where you’re thankful for the invite but you’ll just have to check on this, that, or the other before you can see if it’s possible.
He rolled his eyes at me.
I quickly understood the eye-roll, because where I come from we “schedule things in” with such detail and so far in advance, that spontaneous invites three hours before seem almost laughable, in the face of our regimented lives.
Against all regimented instincts, I came back at seven p.m.
What I found was a little table outside of this little book shop. There the owner chatted away, with an audience of Canadians that included a couple in their forties, and a guy doing some crazy-complicated-sounding doctorate or PhD about the seventeenth century (I am probably screwing up the title, sorry Mr. Smart-Man!). I could tell you the specialization, but then he might lose his anonymity…moving on!
So this, on day three, was the first time I’d spoken to anyone in Paris outside of a store clerk.
And three hours flew by like minutes.
The end of the first hour had its share of North American default statements like “we should really be going soon,” but the magic of Paris easily dissolved those echoes, ’til we settled into this world where human interaction isn’t rushed.
Pretty soon, the book shop became (and remains) a permanent fixture in my Paris life. The quick chats on my way to or from a jog, the delicious coffee the owner makes for his customers (not the kind of service you get back home unless you’re paying for a Starbucks!), and the memorable book shop “street parties,” that last far into the night. I’ve seen guitar performances, I’ve had wonderful discussions on writing with a successful author (whose memoir “The Traveller” I recently started reading—it’s addictive!), I’ve met cool Romanians, Swiss men, French men (don’t expect any juicy sentences to follow, I’m just describing nationalities), Americans, and some other Canadians too. Most importantly, it’s the specific kind of people I’ve met, which this book shop consistently attracts: writers, art history majors, thinkers…sometimes it feels like the shop is the center of the Renaissance period. Other times it feels like it holds the remnants of Gertrude Stein’s salon from the Lost Generation. None of us are Hemingway but we don’t even need to be, because having a place that feels even one percent like THAT when the world we’re living in is ninety-nine percent like THIS (insert any image of a Kardashian)…well that’s my version of modern-day magic.
The best part of all is that the “writer network” at Abbey Book Shop introduced me to a writers’ open mic, which happens in a basement bar once a week. If it wasn’t for finding that Canadian flag and meeting those writers, I would not be producing and presenting my writing by week four in Paris (and yes, I’m actually presenting this week!).
So how can I not believe in fate?
The irony of it all is that I DID have a book shop in mind when I arrived in Paris. It was the famous “Shakespeare and Company” (not to be confused with the original shop from the 1920’s owned by Sylvia Beach); after reading so much about it I had this highly-romanticized view of spending entire days there and connecting with so many writers…little did I know that a totally different place I’d never even heard of would end up sweeping me away instead. That’s the magic of Paris, you never know what’s around the corner.
I did eventually make it over to Shakespeare and Co, for what turned out to be a very different experience. Not a bad one by any means, but…different.
I’ll tell you about it another time,
Bookstores are wonderful places, mostly. That the red maple leaf flag drew you in is certainly a little magic. Good work coming back at 7 pm. 🙂
coming back at 7pm was the best thing I ever did! 😉
Sounds like a great place. I’ll see you there!
[…] so, the writing community in Paris continues to grow as I experience it; I’ve got “The Abbey Bookshop” for random conversations and aperitifs and meeting writers just like me, I’ve got two […]