Shakespeare and Company is not your average book store. It has a story behind it that makes the wonderful place original and has a special place in the hearts of the people who step into it.
I am sitting on the couch in my Parisian apartment switching between looking out the window and seeing the life below me and reading the excerpts from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company. After reading both works, I close my eyes and take myself back to just a few days ago when I stepped into the historic Shakespeare and Company at 37 rue de la Bûcherie.
I quickly scan my Navigo pass on the metro entrance and rush up the stairs in order to catch the next train. I hear the loud buzz indicating that the doors are closing just as step into the packed cabin. I’m up face to back with the French person in front of me and try to stay as still and morose as possible. I don’t want to create a distraction. A few stops and a metro change later, the voice over states that the exit for Notre Dame is approaching. I squeeze my way through the crowd, get to the door, and wait for the door to open. As soon as the door opens I get lost between the people exiting the metro cabin and the people entering the cabin. I finally find my way out and to my friends and find the exit for Notre Dame. I walk down the long hallways of the metro station before finally feeling the cold breeze of winter air rushing through the exit. I walk up the stairs, look up to my left, and see the Notre Dame. It seems like the Shakespeare and Company shop is miles away, well at least according to Google Maps. We start to walk down the street and a part of me makes me look to my right and I stop in my path. I see the green and white Shakespeare and Company sign peeping through from behind the naked trees. I walk to the nearest crosswalk and impatiently wait for the man to turn green, indicating that it’s my turn to walk. I have been anticipating this moment for a while now. I think back and about how much reading has affected me and my life. I think about how reading allows me to fall down a rabbit hole and to a place where I get to be someone else, see something else, and experience different and new things: a sweet escape. All I can think about is how excited I am to find a copy of my favorite book and story of all time, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and get the stamp of Shakespeare and Company on it. I walk up to the door and take a deep breath before stepping in. I open the door. As soon as I walk in, a feeling of warmth overcomes me. Not only the warmth of the heater or body heat of the crowd of people, but the warmth of the stories, the history, the love. On a cold winter day where the crisp wind slaps against my skin, I find a warm feeling and safe haven in a small book shop. I find my books, read parts of others, take in the history on the walls, and step out.
In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway describes the shop in a way that reminds me of how I saw it. He says that “on a cold windswept street, [it] was a warm, cheerful place” and that is exactly how I experienced my first encounter with Shakespeare and Company (328). The lively and cheerful aura of Sylvia Beach filled the space. I felt the loving and friendly air of the time of Hemingway and Beach but also could imagine the post-war, dark rooms with empty shelves.
Being in Shakespeare and Company really felt like I had fallen down a rabbit hole and into different worlds; one of the past, one of the future, and many of different stories from the books that fill the walls.