This week I was in Paris for a work meeting and whilst there I went along with some colleagues to see Notre Dame. It was evening, so we didn’t have the chance to go inside, and once we had taken a few pictures we decided to go for a wander and find somewhere to eat. As we were walking along we spotted a bookshop with shelves outside. I assumed the books would all be in French and besides I tend to avoid bookshops these days since I usually end up buying something. But the books on the shelves outside turned out to be English books and when one of my colleagues went inside the shop, we all followed.
The bookshop was called Shakespeare and Company. I didn’t know it at the time, but it is one of the most famous bookshops in Paris. Indeed, it’s listed as one of the top attractions in Paris. It’s not hard to see why as you wander round the many nooks and crannies piled high with books, or stroke the friendly white cat and listen to the sound of the piano on which some stranger is making beautiful sounds. Within seconds I felt at home and I probably could have stayed there all evening.
As I walked down the stairs, I passed a moral on the wall of various famous writers and the thought popped into my head: how nice it is to be amongst friends. Which was closely followed by the thought: that was a weird thing to think. After all, it is slightly weird to think of famous writers as ones friends. Perhaps they’re not exactly friends but it is comforting to know that this thing I’m trying to do, this putting together of words and ideas, memories and moments, it’s been done before. Sitting in front of my laptop all weekend, trying to fit together the puzzle pieces of an essay that might not even belong to the same jigsaw, can feel like very lonely and frustrating work (though when they finally come together it does feel a bit like having a superpower). But countless others have been this way before and left behind useful road maps.
There were a lot of books in the shop that have been on my ‘to read’ list for a while and I considered buying them, before I randomly pulled a thin volume off the shelves. The book was The Deer Pasture by Rick Bass and after reading the blurb on the back I decided to buy it. I started reading it this weekend and it is a beautifully evocative love letter about one family’s connection to a place. It reminded me once again of what words can do. Of how they can transport and illuminate. How they made me love a place I have never seen and probably never will. But mostly, as I sipped my morning cup of tea, I was glad of the delightful company.