Tag Archives: Paris

Second Wind now at Shakespeare and Company in Paris

Today, along the banks of the Seine, on a tiny street called Rue de la Bûcherie, sits a literary institution: Shakespeare and Company.

9425782709_7f65b8d096_nIn more historical times, the original bookstore by this name occupied a different spot from 1921 until the Nazi invasion of Paris. This creative haven was owned and operated by Sylvia Beach, supporter for the arts and artists of The Lost Generation. She encouraged Hemingway and Picasso, just to name a few, and also published James Joyce’s Ulysses, at a great personal expense to her financial funds.

In 1952, American George Whitman opened an English speaking bookstore along the Seine, catty-cornered from the Notre Dame Cathedral on the opposite side of the river. In honor of Sylvia Beach, he used her bookstore’s name…and, years later, named his newborn daughter Sylvia, too.

As a young lad, George Whitman backpacked over Central and South America long before the activity was as popular as it is now. He was deeply impressed by natives who opened their homes to him, giving him a dry, warm spot to sleep and a nourishing meal. After opening his bookstore, he started the same tradition. Over the years, he provided lodging (a cot stuck in an out of the way spot) and free meals to struggling artists and writers. In return they had to read a book a day and work two hours in the store. It’s reported he helped over 40,000 would-be authors, poets and artists before he died at the age of 91. He called these guests “tumbleweeds.”

Paris-Day 7 026Today, his daughter runs the bookstore, carrying on her father’s legacy. Shakespeare and Company is known worldwide. And I’m proud to say Second Wind has a tiny spot there. My PHANTOM LADY OF PARIS is now part of their inventory and is also included in their lending library on the second floor.  My book. like all those purchased at this Paris institution, will bear the famous stamp of this bookstore visited by travelers from across the globe.

Shakespeare stamp


Filed under Art, books, Travel, writing

The Laundromat, Not the Louvre by Carole Howard

When I vacation in Paris, I’m like everyone else, transported by the beauty, the history, the food.  A lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing with an occasional ooh-la-la.

Living there for ten months was different, though.  More than museums, monuments, and meals, what interested me then was getting a glimpse into French-ness.  Not exactly, “What makes French people tick?” More like, “What makes French people French?”

The Louvre can’t tell you about that. La Joconda looks the same whether it’s in Paris or London or New York.  The painting is the point, not the venue.  Real life, on the other hand, changes from one venue to another.  And that’s what I was interested in. Real life.  Nitty gritty.

Since people were more interesting to me than paintings, I loved going on the metro, or to the supermarket, the florist, the gym, the post office.  But my favorite observation-deck for reality was the laundromat. The people-watching was easy, interesting, and fun while I sat quietly, read a little, observed a lot.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Most of my fellow-washers didn’t do anything while they waited.  They didn’t read.  They didn’t talk to each other. They stared at their laundry. Were they wondering if the socks were really getting clean?  Or whether they were getting along with the undershirts?  Were they thinking deep thoughts?  Meditating?  Stoned?  Even the young ones only occasionally listened to music.  Mostly they stared, too.

One day, an oldish woman in nunnish glasses, plaid skirt and sensible shoes, with thin hair pulled into a bun smack in the middle of her head, was there at the same time as me.  It’s true: not all French women are young, tall, svelte, fashionable!

She stared at the instructions on the wall:  Load washer.  Close door.  Add soap.  Pay.  Didn’t she know those already?  She found Le Parisien (like the Daily News) on a washing machine next to her and riffled through it.  She tried unsuccessfully to take her sheets out of the dryer without spilling the underwear and socks that were still rotating.  She went to the folding table in the middle of the room. Then she did something unusual.  She talked to me!

Unfortunately, I was sitting next to the noisy spin cycle of the largest washer in the place, 16 kilos.  (Why did they measure the capacity in terms of weight?  Couldn’t some things take up the same amount of room but weigh different amounts?  Do American laundromats do it that way, too? I digress.)

I put my finger to my ear and shook my head, indicating I couldn’t hear her.  And then she did what French people always do – she said the same thing at the same speed and the same volume.  I semi-shouted that I didn’t speak French fluently.  She did what French people always do.  (See above.)  So I did what I always do in that case: watched her body language and mimicked.  She smiled, I smiled.  She furrowed her brow, I furrowed mine.  A nod here and there.  She was satisfied with that, so I was too, though I had no idea what she’d said.

Then I noticed my reaction to not understanding her and realized that, somewhere along the way, I’d absorbed some Frenchness.  I’d mentally used that very French phrase,  “C’est comme ca, voila.” (“It’s just the way things are, oh well.”)  It’s about accepting something you can’t change or don’t want to be bothered trying to change. A sort of Froggy Buddhism.  It felt great.

Have you ever tried to penetrate another culture?  What happened?


Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under musings, Travel, writing

For the Price of a Cup of Coffee by Calvin Davis

thumbnailCAZ5PHH5This time next month, I’ll be sitting in a café on the Left Bank of Paris, sipping an espresso or munching a croissant while perusing endless streams of humanity streaming up and down Boulevard Saint Michel. September is the ideal month to be in Paris. Most tourists have gone by then. And Frenchmen have returned from their month-long August vacation. Many cafes, shuttered in August, reopen for business.

In September, The City of Light stretches, yawns and awakens from its summer nap, reassuming its more natural routines, free of some of the foreign visitors. The metropolis on the Seine once again becomes the property of the natives.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Paris. From time to time I have to return, to recharge. I was born in America, but I discovered years ago that my spiritual birthplace was not Virginia, but Paris.

Paris, where sitting in a café, sipping coffee and discussing art, literature…or even cooking, is not considered a waste of time, but a fruitful use of the same.

Paris, where it’s OK to be eccentric, even weird (being both are encouraged, if not celebrated). Where you can paint your hair green or blue, and either color is considered an artistic statement, not a sign of stupidity.

Paris, where you can sit all day over one cup of coffee and write your novel, and no waiter will dare tell you to move on, that you cannot not lease a table with the price of one cup of Java.thumbnailCA8PHDKJ

Paris, where if you don’t kiss the woman whose hand you’re holding, the French consider that an affront and insult to their culture and conclude that you lack good taste…if not good sense (regardless of how ugly the woman is). Paris, the one place in the world where you can be yourself and not worry about what others thinks.

Paris, where you can be eccentric and not worry about it, because in the City of Light there is always someone who is weirder than you. So you’ll be among friends.

Instead of yakking about the city I love, I’d better start packing for my trip. I’ll be sitting in a café in Paris soon. I hope I see you there. I’ll be looking for you. You’ll be able to identify me. I’ll be the guy with the electric blue hair.

**Calvin Davis is the author of The Phantom Lady of Paris.


Filed under writing

A Christmas Card From Paris by Calvin Davis

Nothing can compare with being in Paris during Christmas season.  Usually it’s a relatively mild time of year.  The temperature, energizing. Briskness tingles the air, but there are no freezing artic blasts or gusts that chill to the marrow. Snow? Seldom. But you can expect a frostiness that paint shop windows with coats of gray. It’s an excellent time for strolling while holding hands and observing other lover-strollers doing the same.

Along boulevards you whiff the scent of roasting chestnuts and crepes as you pass venders’ stands. “Crepe, monsieur. Une crêpe pour la dame, monsieur?” From cafés, the pungent and clean aroma of espresso coffee, rich and robust, pours across sidewalks in swells. The delicious aroma is spiced with the sound of café laughter and chatter.

And during noel, if you can visit Galerie Lafayette, the famed department store that’s topped by a dome which makes the structure seem more like a holy temple for worship than a center of commerce and fashion. Inside, the eyes feast on a delightful spectacle, for through the stained glass dome pours shafts of sunlight, painting the vast floor of merchandize with an impressionist’s palette rich in amber, scarlet and gold. Galerie Layfayette is a beehive of clerks, a sea of counters and display cases, plus row upon row of mannequins decked in the latest trendy fashions. Bottles of perfume are everywhere, and nearly as many clerks to sell them. “Perfume for your lady, sir. Perfume. Chanel, Dior, Hermes.” Amid this symphony of color, bustle and fragrances you’ll hear the hum of Christmas carols whispering from overhead speakers.

Meanwhile on the Left Bank, French families pack cafes, and amid lively conversation and laughter, sip bottle after bottle of vin rouge. And as the night ends they join voices in singing Yuletide songs, then toss their goblets over their shoulders and smile joyously as the glasses shatter.

Christmas in Paris? A banquet for the eyes. Bon appetite and joyeux Noel to all.

Calvin Davis is author of The Phantom Lady of Paris.


Filed under books, Travel


Have you ever been to Paris? Wait. Before you answer, let me quickly add that if you are an American, you have frequently visited the City of Light, though you may never have set foot on French soil. You see, Americans, perhaps more than any other nationalities, know a secret. The secret is that Paris is more than a geographical location. It is more than the capital of the French Republic, more than a city where natives sit chatting for hours over feasts while sipping crystals of vin ordinnaire. They know Paris goes beyond being a mere cosmopolitan center whose cafes are now community centers, debating halls and rendezvous sites for meeting one’s paramour or one’s mistress… and occasionally one’s spouse. (That is life. “C’est la vie,” as the French put it.).

In addition, Americans know the city goes beyond being a literary magnet where a would-be author can sit writing for hours at a café over a single demitasse of coffee and be assured that no waiter would have the audacity to tell him to buy more or move on. Americans realized that The City of Light is all the things above, and they also know it is more…much more.

Americans are aware that Paris is an idea, a state of mind, a metropolis of the imagination populated with sprinkles of stardust and magic. It is a destination one can visit in the blink of an eye. All one needs do is press the instant-imagination button and, voila, one stands before the Mona Lisa or Winged Victory, ascends the Eiffel Tower, browses the galleries in the Louvre, surrounded by the fruits of the greatest artistic minds of Western civilization.

Show me an American who has not at one time or another closed his eyes and “journeyed” to the City of Light. If you do, I’ll show you someone who, if he made the same assertion in a court of law, would be held in contempt and jailed for perjury. Parisian streets are flooded with countless” mental tourists. You see them every day and most are Americans.

For a year I lived in Paris, so allow me to give you a quickie “guided tour” of the City of Light, one that could supplement the reader’s mental excursion. For this sojourn, don’t fret about lost luggage, flight delays, cancelations or rebooking costs, or anything else that will diminish your America-to-Paris flight experience. So, are we ready? Good. All aboard. And away we go.

In the twinkling of an eye, we touch down at bustling Orly Airport, France, hop a taxi and we’re on our way. Relax. Don’t be frightened. All Paris taxi drivers dart in and out of traffic like laser beams on steroids. Seemingly, most are attempting to prove Albert Einstein was wrong when he proclaimed it is possible to exceed the speed of light – and thus go back in time. I think our driver has just shown how mistaken the great thinker Einstein was, for we entered his rig at Orly at exactly 10 a.m. and arrived in the heart of Paris at 9: 45 a.m. –fifteen minutes before we left our starting point, the airport. Immediately after our arrival, the driver, you note, angrily pounds the air with his fists, grumbling that he has never seen such reckless drivers in his life and that some should be taken off the road “maintenant…maintenant!” (now…now). Welcome to Paris.

Well, here we stand in the heart of Paris at Les Etoile. Ride enough taxies in Paris and you too can easily become a teen again – if you’re lucky enough to stay alive that long. (The ill-fated explorer DeSoto searched for the Fountain of Youth in Florida. He could have found it in Paris. In a taxi. Found youth and also a possible heart attack.)

Les Etoile is the bustling traffic circle ringing the Arch of Triumph, that grandiose monument built by Napoleon that perches like a king’s crown atop the highest point of the Champs Elysee.  We take a quick look down the Champs. What do we see? A wide and almost ceaseless thoroughfare, at the foot of which is the famed Louvre Museum. Ribboning either side of the avenue are rows of chestnut trees, beaucoup magazines (many stores) and more cafes than you or I can count. Hum, there’s an interesting looking store on the other side of the Champs. Let’s dart over and take a look at it.

Careful. Don’t get hit by a car. In Paris it is important that you remember these steps before crossing a street: stop, look both ways, if nothing is coming, pause, pray, then run…fast. An additional prayer while en route wouldn’t hurt any, and many say that upon reaching the other side of the street they kneel and make the sign of the cross. Doing the latter may not work, but what do you have to lose? Getting to the other side of a street in the City of Light, you need every advantage you can get. Some even use mojos, I’m told. The heavy duty, industrial strength ones are suggested.

Finally, we reach the boutique I pointed out. Its façade is not very impressive, is it? The soul of simplicity. Do you know what store this is? It’s Cartier’s, home of the world famous jeweler. Other than in the eyes of your first love and those illuminating the northern sky on a clear summer night, have you ever seen so many diamonds in one place? I doubt it. And the lighting in the window is strategically placed to make each gem’s sparkle titillate the eye like tiny bolts of lightning. And no, we don’t have to pay to look at the gems. Looking is free. As is the sense of wonder and amazement.

Oh, look. There…no, there, just to your left. See that panhandler sitting on the sidewalk with a blanket covering the area below his waist and the sign he’s holding? The sign is in French so I’ll translate it for you. It says, “I am a destitute amputee. I have no job, no food, nothing. Please help. God bless.”

You say, “That poor beggar is so heartbreaking?” Well, let me tell you where you’ll find the “heart-breaking poor amputee” tonight at around ten. Standing at some nearby bar downing one Bloody Mary after another and counting his “charity donations.”

Where else can an amputee be totally healed – and at a profit, no less – in a matter of hours? (Johns Hopkins University Hospital doesn’t stand a chance.) The answer, of course, is nowhere but in the City of Light, for Paris is a metropolis of miracles.

Thus, I end our mini-tour of the City of Light. Perhaps the next time we’ll visit the Latin Quarter or the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. Meanwhile, bon voyage on your own mental sojourn to Paris. Remember, fly safely. But this above all: while in the City of Light, take the Metro, never a taxi. Subways don’t exceed the speed of light – and their drivers, unlike Paris cabbies, never expect a big tip.

By the way, the next time someone asks you if you’ve ever been to Paris, pause, reflect, look him in the eyes…but say nothing, because if you told him the truth, that you often go, in fact, go on a moment’s notice and always without luggage, reservation or passport, he wouldn’t believe you. So, when the query is posed, respond by giving the questioner a shrug and a Mona Lisa-like smile…but again, say nothing.

Incidentally, why don’t we set up a point for a rendezvous when you make your next mental excursion to Paris? What do you say we meet at that little café next to Cartier’s? The view is perfect there, coffee is too. Agreed? Good. So, I’ll see you at Cartier’s. Till then…von voyage.


Filed under Art, life, musings, Travel, writing