Did you know that the French don’t really consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day?
As someone who often struggles to even remember to eat breakfast I was happy to learn that a baguette with butter or jam, yogurt, and coffee is the standard.
Of course I happily took advantage of the croissants that accompanied every morning meal - probably because I was frequenting more touristy locations.
After breakfast we walked to Shakespeare and Co.
The history of this amazing bookstore is pretty cool.
The original Shakespeare and Co opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach. She was an American living in Paris and the store was half bookstore half lending library. And this woman was pretty incredible. The famous authors that we look up to today like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and others would call her store their home away from home. She even published Ulysses by James Joyce when no one else would. I highly recommend taking some time to read the history page on the Shakespeare and Co website where they share so much more information and where I got these snippets that I’m sharing here.
In 1941 the store closed when then Germans occupied Paris. The strong woman refused to sell a book to a Nazi soldier which resulted in her having to stow books away and lead to her spending six months in an interment camp.
Sylvia Beach wrote a memoir titled Shakespeare and Company that I am definitely adding to my reading list.
Sadly Sylvia was never able to reopen her bookstore. But she inspired a lot of people.
George Whitman was another American who found his way to Paris. His story is pretty cool and I love how it organically intertwines with the store that Sylvia Beach was able to create.
When George moved to Paris while he was studying he turned where he was staying into a lending library where anyone could come and choose from one of his thousand of books to read or borrow. With his friends encouragement he opened a bookstore named Le Mistral.
Similar to Sylvia’s store, George built a place where French authors and traveling creativities could come and stay for free.
In his own life and travels, George was often met with kindness and generosity of strangers which inspired him to live by the following motto: “be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”
In giving from his own abundance, George would invite “Tumbleweeds” to stay at the bookstore for free and in exchange they agreed to read a book a day, work at the store for a couple hours, and write a one page autobiography.
And there are some pretty famous people who have the honor of being a Tumbleweed. Again, I’ll let you read the history yourself which is where I learned all this info, because it’s pretty cool.
On Shakespeare’s 400th birthday George changed his store’s name to Shakespeare and Company. He was also very inspired by Sylvia Beach, yes they did get to meet according to the website, he even named his daughter after her.
The Tumbleweed Program is still alive and well (I even emailed to check because yes I am manifesting adding myself to that list). But the building is undergoing some renovation so they currently aren’t accepting any Tumbleweeds. Don’t worry, as soon as the program is back up and running I’ll get there.
After learning all of those incredible things about the space I was even more excited to go there. I mean I already LOVE a bookstore. But one that was so full of history and community, I was giddy.
There of course was a line, but it we didn’t have to wait very long. It also could have been that I distracted myself because I was determined to take a picture of a pigeon that I saw.
I really hope that somewhere there is a video of the lengths that I went through to capture a picture of this pigeon.
Am I a pigeon person. Not at all.
I don’t really care for birds. I’m always concerned that one is going to fly into my head, steal my sandwich (along with the Tupperware), or use the restroom on me. All of which have happened to me by the way. Also seagulls really know how to make your already bad day even worse when all you are trying to do is give yourself a little TLC.
But this pigeon was unlike any that I have seen before. And I thought that it was pretty special to see such a magical looking pigeon right before we were going on a retreat hosted by The Pigeon Letters.
So I did what anyone would do in that situation. I chased the dang pigeon.
Well sort of. I didn’t want to scare it. I just wanted to take it’s picture.
BUT THE THING WAS MOCKING ME.
It’s like ever time I would get into position where there was no one obstructing my view the pigeon would run away from me.
As I squat ran to get the perfect shot through the tiny path between a restaurant and their patio tables I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous I looked. And how I never thought that I would actively want to chase a pigeon.
I mean of all the pigeon’s that I’ve encountered this one is one that I will certainly remember. When you see a random pigeon piece of artwork you’ll know where the inspiration came from.
Like I said, my pigeon chasing made time go by pretty quickly.
Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside Shakespeare and Company which I understand. Part of the magic is the location and history inside so allowing photos would definitely make people stay longer and probably turn it into a social media fun house instead of the special shopping experience it is meant to be.
Plus, we all need a reason to put down our phone and pick up a book.
Inside there were so many books. I was amazed at how they kept everything easily shoppable while carrying a really vast selection of genres.
It also helped that everything was in English.
Something fun is that the store keeps the top floor open.
That is where the Tumbleweeds stay.
Actually throughout the store you could see the spaces that could easily be converted to a place to sleep once the crowds leave.
Such as a built in pad on top of a bookcase or how I’d love to curl up in the little kid’s built in castle area and live out my dreams of being Belle from Beauty and the Beast, well at least the part where I’m in France and have a room full of books at my disposal.
That window in the main photo holds a room that has three walls of books (minus access to a door or a place for a couch or small bed). There was a small desk and chair where I envision creativities that are staying there use to work on their latest masterpiece.
And on the stairs on the way up you could find pieces of paper left by people who want to leave their signature in the space.
The store feels like you are witnessing history while also experiencing the magic and wonder as you explore to find the perfect next book to read.
I ended up leaving with an assortment of treasures to send to friends who opted to receive some hand picked souvenirs from my travels. And once Christina heard that I had never heard of Agatha Christie she helped me pick out the book that is next on my reading list so that I could get to know this prolific author.
The staff was lovely and very helpful. It was nice because they took the extra step to stamp the books that I purchased and chatted with me to share in my excitement over my trip and being able to visit the store.
If you are a book lover than you definitely need to make the time to visit Shakespeare and Company while you are in Paris.
Ok so full disclosure I originally planned to share my entire day in this post. But I guess that I had a lot to say about this bookstore and it’s history so I am going to break it up.
But don’t fret - there are a lot more adventures to share so make sure you are signed up to receive notifications for when the next update comes out!