Books Baguettes and Bedbugs
The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and CoBook - 2005
If you ever come to Paris/ On a cold and rainy night
& find the Shakespeare store/ It can be a welcome sight
Because it has a motto/ Something friendly and wise
Be kind to strangers/ Lest they're angels in disguise
'Shakespeare and Company' in Paris is one of the world's most famous bookshops. The original store opened in 1921 and became known as the haunt of literary greats, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.
Sadly the shop was forced to close in 1941 when the owner, Sylvia Beach, refused to sell the last copy of 'Finnegan's Wake' to an occupying Nazi officer. But this was not the end of 'Shakespeare and Company'...
In 1951 another bookshop, with a similar free-thinking ethos, opened on the Left Bank. Called 'Le Mistral', it had beds for those of a literary mindset who found themselves down on their luck and, in 1964, it resurrected the name 'Shakespeare and Company' and became the principal meeting place for Beatnik poets, such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, through to Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell.
Today the tradition continues and writers still find their way to this bizarre establishment, one of them being Jeremy Mercer. After his life as a crime reporter in a Canadian city takes a terrifying turn for the worse, Jeremy packs his bags and, on a whim, heads to Paris to see in the new millennium. With no friends, no job, no money and no prospects, the thrill of escape soon palls but, by chance, he happens upon the fairytale world of 'Shakespeare and Co' and is taken in.
What follows is his tale of his time there, the curious people who came and went, the realities of being down and out in the 'city of light' and, in particular, his relationship with the beguiling octogenarian owner, George.