In order to ensure a spot on the train from Luxembourg to Paris, tickets need to be reserved weeks in advance. A month ago, we had no way of knowing that this past weekend was destined to be a rainy one. There was a lot we didn’t know then, though—a month of living will do that to you—and despite the almost constant rain, we maneuvered our way through historically long lines (weaving around the puddles) and checked off all of the items at the top of our to-do list, effectively making the most of our twenty-seven hours in Paris.
As a tourist with very limited knowledge of the French language, I found Paris to be
surprisingly easy to navigate. We bought two day passes for public transportation, which helped significantly in terms of making the most of our time—Paris is a pretty big place, and we had a lot to see! Knowing that lines for the Eiffel tower can be hours long, we decided to go there first. This is where the rain came in handy—we made it to the elevator up the tower within half an hour of jumping in line (okay, I didn’t actually check the time, but it was pretty quick)! We stopped first at the second floor, where we needed to switch elevators in order to get to the top. We took a lap around first, battling both wind and rain as we did so. The weather definitely wasn’t ideal, but it provided shorter
lines and some pretty cool views of the storm over the city. Waiting in line for the next elevator was, to be honest, downright miserable, but by the time we reached the top, the clouds were beginning to move on, and when we emerged from the elevator on the way down, the sun was shining and the city was transformed!
We treated ourselves to some
crepes at the bottom before moseying our way along the river to one of the Metro stops: our next goal was to check in to our hostel. This took a little longer than expected due to the actual hostel being in a different location than the reception, but we checked in, changed into dry socks, and then set out for Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore, which was my favorite part of the whole trip. Some background information here would probably be helpful:
I first discovered Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore through Pinterest, at which point it was simply an image of an old armchair surrounded by bookshelves (naturally full of books). After a little more research, I stumbled upon a memoir called Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.Having already decided that I wanted to visit, I checked it out of my local library and found a world of books, writing, and a constant stream of new people. I learned about George Whitman, the founder of Shakespeare & Co. (which bears the same name as a previous bookstore in Paris, one frequented by Hemingway and other
writers of the time, owned by Sylvia Beach, who published her friend James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would), a man for whom “it was more important to have a community of readers and writers than to just sell books” (Shakespeare & Co.: A Brief History of a Parisian Bookstore, edited by Krista Halverson and Jemma Birrell). George not only lent people books, he allowed them to stay at his store, asking only that they write him a one-page autobiography, mind the desk for one hour (per day), and read a book each day. “Give what you can, take what you need” was one of his mottos, the other being “Be Hospitable to Strangers Lest they be Angels in Disguise.” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Alan Stillitoe are some of the more famous past residents, but hundreds of people have stayed there over the years, and the shop still houses these
writers in residence on the cots dispersed throughout the store. George died in December of last year at the age of ninety-eight, but his daughter, Sylvia, runs the store today with the help of the writers in residence much like her father.
When I found Shakespeare & Co. this past weekend, it was dark and the Notre Dame was glowing across the river. It had rained all day, but books were back out on the sidewalk and the store had a consistent stream of customers. It was perfect. I think I could have very happily spent the rest of my time here (a good two months) in that store, but our time allowed only for a relatively quick tour of the rooms (punctuated by the periodic sniffing of books) and a few purchases. It was enough to fall in love with the place, though. Even if I hadn’t known all I do about the store, I think that the physical space tells the story. Books are quite literally everywhere: stacked on shelves up to the ceilings, above door frames, even along the stairs. The community
aspect is obvious, too, in the bulletin board of news and events and the conversations you overhear—co-workers that double as roommates asking about plans or gossiping about someone’s romantic interests.
Knowing what I did about the store, though, I asked the cashier a few questions and discovered he no longer lives at the store, but did when he first arrived from Northern England four years ago. It was a quick conversation and a quick visit, but enough for me to know that I want my classroom to be like that—maybe not one where we have overnight guests, but definitely one where we have a strong community of writers and readers.
Okay, back to the rest of Paris…the reason we had to leave is because we wanted to
make it back to the Eiffel tower before 10:00, when it was due to light up. We made it, and “sparkle” is probably a more appropriate term for what happens the first five minutes of every hour after 10 each night. No camera would be able to photograph that sight, and I’m glad we went, even if it had meant leaving Shakespeare & Co.
We made it back to the hostel without any trouble and planned for the next day’s adventures. Since we needed to be on the train back to Luxembourg by 3 (it was the latest one we were able to get), Kayla and I went straight to the Louvre in the morning, getting there before it opened so that we were some of the first in the building while Tina explored the city for a bit. Our Louvre experience was guided by the art I studied in Art History during my freshman year of
college, but our first stop was the Mona Lisa—once again, we beat the crowds! Despite my memory being a little fuzzy on the details of everything I learned about three years ago, it was really neat to see things I had studied on 3×5 notecards up close!
After the Louvre, we met up with Tina to visit the Notre Dame. The line there wasn’t bad, but I felt awkward because they were celebrating Mass while hundreds of tourists filed around the outskirts of the church. It was really pretty, but I think the pushy crowd made the experience a little less enjoyable than it might have been. After Notre Dame, we grabbed food and headed for the Paris Opera House (location of Phantom of the Opera) before heading back to the train station. We had no concept of how long it would take, so we got there in plenty of time. Instead of waiting in the station, we went out to explore the surrounding neighborhood and stumbled upon the St. Lawrence church. Maybe it was the lack of crowds, maybe it was the lack of expectations, or maybe it was something else, but that was one of my favorite churches in Europe so far (the one in Oslo is also up there). It was smaller, but still grand, and a lovely way to end our rainy weekend in Paris.