Friday, July 10, 2015

Shakespeare and Co.

Books for sale plaster the walls of the most famous bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare and Co., a running maze of ceiling-high bookcases that tower to the ancient rafters in perpetual overflow in a two-storey, one-time monastery.

Upstairs is a reading room where the books are not for sale. Having been acquired as collections, often as estates, many are old and out of print.

In the corners are worn and cracked leather seats with collapsed cushions and shredded arms from the claws of the resident cat, and in one of them is me, reading passages from the out-of-print Selected Prose by Henry Miller amid the sparkling motes of morning light.

The sole window in the reading room is open to the fresh air and overlooks a small cobblestone path below that trickles out through a narrow garden and into the traffic of the Quai de Montebello. Beyond is the Seine, above it Notre Dame.

An old portable typewriter, maybe a Remington or a Royal, sits in front of the window atop a table where a young woman, consumed, captive to her notebook, scratches pencil scribbles into the morning quiet.

And suddenly a swarm of tourists who have heard of Shakespeare and Co. squall up the stairs and into the room, wheeling around us and clicking like chattering birds. They snap photos despite the signs requesting they not and pose in front of books they don't touch, spewing loud, vapid commentary and filling their iPhones with images of what their lives are not so they can be admired by those at home.

I am practically pushed aside by a vulgar American so she can pet the cat—"hey, kirty kirty!"—before she turns to her fat friends and yells "time-check! How are we doing for time? We need to make up ten minutes!" In waves they come, as they are drip-fed into the cramped aisles from their queue of uncouth on the cobblestones outside.

Then they clatter back down the narrow stairs and are gone. As the tempest clears and quiet returns, emerging at the foot of the bookcases across from me is a boy of nine or so sitting in an old wooden folding chair, unperturbed amidst the whirlwind, absorbed in a story.

There is hope for humanity yet.

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