Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recipe of the month: Cassoulet

Every country has two types of food: haute cuisine - for when company comes - and comfort food. For instance, in America, there’s pork and beans in Boston and ham hock and beans in the Deep South. France has a similar recipe: cassoulet.
     Cassoulet gets its name from the glazed earthenware casserole - cassole - it’s cooked in. It’s a regional dish from southwest France, in Languedoc... and more specifically Castelnaudary. When that town was besieged by the English during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), legend says the starving citizens rounded up all they had left, dried beans and various leftover meats, to cook up a stew. The aroma wafted down to the English, who grew disheartened by the fact that there seemed to be enough food left to make tasty-smelling cuisine, and so the French were able to chase them off... after finishing their meal. Kind of like Popeye and his spinach. The only flaw in this legend is that the kind of bean used comes from South America, and Europeans hadn’t traveled there yet. But it makes for a good story. (The original version probably used broad beans, along with mutton, which was a typical Arab dish, and the Arabs had invaded the south of France, so...)
     Whatever its true origin, this was French comfort food par excellence: cheap to make, hearty to eat, and easy to cook, left to simmer while the peasants were out working in the field. Today’s peasants could use a crockpot, if it’s sufficiently big. And today’s yuppies could use more expensive meats, like duck. Recently, I made some cassoulet for a dinner where one of the guests was Muslim, so I took liberties, substituting chicken sausages for the traditional pork variety and lamb replacing the ham hock. It worked pretty well. Besides, there are three types of cassoulet from three different towns, so there’s room for a little creativity. And I didn’t have the appropriate cassole either. Sometimes you just have to get inventive. But the recipe I give here is the traditional one. Or one of the three traditional ones, each with a slight variation.

  • 1 lb of dried white beans
  • 1½ lb lamb shoulder, cut into large pieces
  • 4 Toulouse sausages (or kielbasa or Italian sweet sausage)
  • ½ lb garlic sausage (chicken can be used), sliced into thick rounds
  • ½ lb pork rind, cut into small pieces (optional)
  • 3 T of goose fat (or olive oil)
  • about 3 c of stock (beef or chicken, according to choice of meats)
  • 1 large onion, studded with 2 cloves
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

- Soak the beans overnight in cold water.
- On the day of the meal, brown the meats in goose fat or olive oil, starting with the lamb, then adding the rest. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, turning occasionally.
- Strain the beans. Add them over the browned meats and almost cover with stock. (Use beef for a traditional cassoulet or chicken if you’re going pork-free.) Mix in the tomato paste, bouquet garni and onion. Cover and let simmer until the beans are tender (1-2 hrs).
- Remove the bouquet garni and onion and serve.
Serves 4.

If you’re going very French - and you can find it - add 4 pieces of confit de canard - preserved duck - to the beans when you put all the ingredients together.)
     You can cook the cassoulet over a burner or start it there and finish it in the oven at 350°F (180°C), but in either case you’ll need a heavy enameled casserole. If you’re finishing it in the oven, you can sprinkle breadcrumbs over the entire top and drizzle some olive oil, which would make it a cassoulet de Toulouse. You can also add up to 4 peeled carrots along with the onion.

Accompany with a strong-bodied red wine, for instance a Cahors or a Corbières.
As this is a hearty meal, it stands alone. You could serve a plain green salad afterward if you want. And if there’s any dessert, I’d suggest just fresh fruit, or maybe a fruit salad.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It started out as a simple run to renew my press card.
But this is Paris, a European capital.
Things happen.

La Grande Roue, Place de la Concorde
I take the Métro to Place de la Concorde and decide to walk the rest of the way,
instead of transferring for just one station. That takes me past the American Embassy (once accessible to all, and now barricaded... but that’s another blog) and then through the gardens that line the most famous street in Paris: the Champs-Elysées.
     Surprise! The entire avenue - all 1910 meters of it (1.2 mile, or 21 football fields) - is cordoned off by those metal things that look like bike racks. Not a car anywhere. Quite an apocalyptic image, like something out of "On the Beach" (look it up). There are two formidable-looking gendarmes in uniform at the crosswalk. And other pairs of them spaced out evenly on both sides of the avenue, in both directions, as far as the eye can see.
     (Here you need to know that gendarmes aren’t some slapstick Mack Sennett type of cop. They’re a branch of the military that serves as police in the provinces throughout France, anywhere there’s no municipal police force. They’re also sent into the roughest possible situations around the globe. Trained to obey and execute orders, much like Navy Seals.)
     I ask the nearest of the two officers whether there’s any chance of crossing. Politely, he replies, "No, ma’am. But there’s an underpass at Concorde and another at Franklin Roosevelt."
     Both are quite a hike, and well out of my way. Plus I’m curious to see what has merited the cost and bother of hanging these banners all along the avenue. (The French government must have a whole warehouse somewhere full of banners in the colors of every country in the world for just such occasions.) Paired with France’s bleu-blanc-rouge today are orange-white-and-green banderoles. I have no idea which country that could be. I decide to wait a while and see which bigwig they’ve battened things down for. After all, they can’t keep the Champs-Elysées closed forever.
     Little by little I strike up a conversation with both gendarmes. They are very apologetic and seem to enjoy my curiosity and lack of attitude. They identify the bigwig as the new President of the Ivory Coast, Alassane Outtaro, on a diplomatic visit to Paris. At that very moment, he’s doing what all visiting heads of state feel they must do: place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the very top of the Champs-Elysées. How long that will take? They don’t know. But after that he’s going to drive down the entire length of the avenue - Lord only knows why, maybe for the same reason a dog licks himself... simply because he can. Meanwhile, no one else can drive down the avenue and no one can cross it, even on foot.
     The younger of the two gendarmes tells me that he had been deployed to the Ivory Coast to help keep the peace during the civil war between Outtaro and the previous president, Laurent Gbagbo. I ask if it was dangerous and he says no, because the population had nothing against them. But when I say, "Oui, mais un accident est si vite arrivé" (accidents can happen fast), he smiles and nods and admits he’s glad he’s back.
     After about ten minutes, walkie-talkies crackle up and down the mile of gendarmes and word comes that "they’re on the move". Sure enough, here comes a whole motorcade, with a motorcycle escort tight around a limo flying the same colors as the banners - orange, white and green. They zip by at a fast clip, President Outtaro safe and invisible behind his armor of motards français.
     After two more minutes Gendarme Numéro 1 opens up the passage and I rush to take a photo of the Champs-Elysées sans cars... which is something not many people get to see. Then it’s across the rest of the still-bare avenue to take care of the business at hand.

                                                                     * * *

Formalities at the branch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs take only a few minutes, but there’s a journalist’s event going on in the reception area, complete with TV cameras. With my press card renewed, I’m welcome to attend.
     Curious again, I find it’s a Human Rights Watch press conference on how the French police targets minors - mostly Arabs - for contrôle d’identité. A few minutes listening shows me it’s the same refrain as in the U.S. - Driving While Black, police profiling of Latinos... but focused on minors. Different country, different Usual Suspects, but same old same old.

                                                                                         * * *

Seeing as I’m already out - and there’s so much to do anytime in Paris - I decide to check out a prehistoric exhibit on my way home. The museum’s in the same building as the journalism office: the Grand Palais, a stone-and-glass building built for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. (It’s also the same place I took my first final exams when I was at the Sorbonne.)
     Walking around the building, I’m engulfed by several busloads of schoolkids headed for the same entrance. Must be a prehistory field trip. When we get inside, there are many more busloads of schoolkids, all sitting cross-legged on the ornate mosaic floor, eating their lunch. Good timing. Thank you, President Outtaro.
     While they munch, I enjoy an almost private tour of the small exhibit that has been set up like a treasure hunt, complete with a booklet of hints and questions. The theme? There’s been a double assassination. Find all the clues you can. But being French, the displays have a definite didactic touch. The most interesting part to me was the skeletons themselves. Not the ones laid out at the beginning on what the curator chose to call an "autopsy table", but rather the ones at the end: two skeletons huddled together in their tomb, festooned with necklaces of tiny cowrie shells and shielded by an arbor of prehistoric deer antlers. They look so fragile, this man and woman murdered some 7,400 years ago.
     Something to think about in the Métro on the way home.

Palais de la Découverte

Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt
75008 - Paris
Tel : 33 (0)1 56 43 20 20

Open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30-6, Sundays and holidays 10-7.
Closed Mondays, Jan. 1, May 1, July 14, August 15 & Dec. 25
(specializes in the sciences)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Breakfast run

8:15 on a Saturday. It’s the cusp of daylight. The streetlights are still on, shining pale in the dawn but not really needed. The cobblestones are soaked from an overnight rain I didn’t hear.
No one out, not even the dog-walkers. The streets are mine.
Light from the bakery window brightens the greyness of Paris in January. Christophe has been baking since 5 am (and will stay open until 8 pm, all alone). A few cheerful words as I pay for my pain au chocolat...... and head back up the steps. A man stops to catch his wind. He makes me feel younger, as I stride past him and across the square. A week in Paris has given me back some of the stamina that driving in America has leached out of me.
As I turn into my street, the streetlights go out... and it makes no difference. It’s officially morning.

For the first time since I arrived, there’s a light on in the artist studio across the street. So the old painter hasn’t died after all. A comforting thought.

Back across the courtyard and through my squeaky gate. It’s time for breakfast.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Project

     When I moved to an ex-artist’s studio in Montmartre, scads of books needed to be re-shelved. But the shelving from my old place wasn’t up to the job in its new appointed place under the 12-foot-long wall-of-window. So I lined the books up, balancing one row on top of another on the wood from the old shelving. Which meant they couldn’t be taken out and read because they were all imprisoned by those above them. A book version of the human pyramid of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders or Basque acrobats.
     A carpenter friend from the Pyrenees visited me early on and designed a lovely bookcase to run the length of the windows. Then left, promising he’d come back and build it.
     That was 7 years ago.

Day 1 of The Project     My friend Jean-Pierre arrives from the south with Aviva, and we start going over details. There are three main sticking points. Each of us voices an opinion, which only serves to bring up even more sticking points. Finally we come to an agreement on them and Jean-Pierre works out what are presumed to be the final details. Whereupon I cook them a light dinner and we retire to our respective beds.

Day 2     Slight delay in the execution of The Project. This morning, tree surgeons come to remove the top two floors’ worth of branches from my tree - which obviously did not get the memo that cherry laurels don’t grow taller than 2 stories, and certainly not four stories.

Jean-Pierre, calculating

Our salesman, with the BHV
logo in the form of the store

     Once that’s over, we take the Métro to the BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville), the Paris department store with an entire basement level solely for hardware and DIY. (Actually, it’s the only Paris department store to have such a section.) I’ve frequented its treasure trove for many years on various quests, but I’m sure I now have an honorary plaque on the wall of the wood department for longevity of attendance: four hours. Four hours while Jean-Pierre measures and calculates. And every time he arrives at a decision, our very kind salesman quashes his figures by bringing up just one more detail. He does that at least three times. By the end of our "visit", I know how many children the man has, how he got his bad back (not lifting wood), and that his daughter is having a difficult adolescence. No, seriously. I head off to pay for it all, and when I return with the receipt so they will actually start sawing the wood into the sections we need, he’s gone to lunch. It was kind of him to wait until we were through, commission or not.
     We retire to a café across from the store because the sawing will take half an hour. We share some cheese and bread, even though my stomach has given up by then. At 3:00, the wood is ready at the pick-up point, tied neatly into four bundles, which we regroup into five, given their excessive weight. Whereupon I make an Executive Decision. We will valiantly carry home the two lightest bundles in the Métro, stairs and all. The rest will be picked up tomorrow morning by me and my friend Ernest in his company van.

An uphill battle
      We barely make it back up the hill, panting and pausing. I’m proud to say I bravely keep up my side of the bargain until a block from the house when those last ten stairs and steep square get the best of me and Jean-Pierre gallantly finishes the long slog with both bundles.
     After a bit of a rest and a glass of water, he sets to building the smallest of the three bookcase sections, because that’s which bundles we carried home. Then disaster strikes. Jean-Pierre breaks the drill bit. No idea on what. There shouldn’t be anything in this beechwood that hard. So he soldiers on, using a smaller bit, and by 7:00 he’s finished and that bookcase looks fine. A bit strange, bookless, but sturdy and of the right proportions. Our reward? As I’m too pooped to cook, dinner at my favorite neighborhood restaurant. And an early night.

Day 3
BHV's rickshaw delivery service
won't deliver heavy wood,
especially uphill
      After breakfast, Jean-Pierre and Aviva trudge off downhill (everything’s downhill) to Castorama, France’s Home Depot, to buy a new drill bit to replace the one that broke last night. I decide to catch a quick shower, but just as I get stark naked my phone chirps that I have a voice mail. It’s from Ernest, about our Wood Run to the BHV. I thought he would come here first; he evidently thought we’d meet there. He says he’s half an hour away from the store. I throw on yesterday’s clothes - no time to be fashion-conscious - and power-walk to the Métro. In all, it’s a 45 minute trip; I do it in 25. As I reach the corner of the store, I see Ernest drive past in his van and park. Better timing - or luck - than that, I couldn’t hope for. We pick up the wood and drive it home. On the way, I confess my state of unreadiness when he called, although he needn’t ever have known. He thinks it’s funny. And he’s right.
     A quick lunch and then the fun begins. The tension, too... at least on my part. Details we hadn’t foreseen arise. They always do. Jean-Pierre spends seven straight hours measuring and drilling and screwing and assembling. He’s amazing.
     While he continues with the last section, I dust off all 32 volumes of my Encyclopedia Britannica and line them up on their assigned bottom shelf. They all fit, with not an inch to spare. Brilliant! These poor tomes have been off-limits for seven years because they were holding up the two rows of books above them. (Remember the cheerleader pyramid?) Now they stand smartly at attention, smiling at me for taking the weight of the world off their spines (pun intended).
      Finally, at 8 o’clock, we all stand back, admiring the finished product. The beechwood is darker than I had wanted, but it fits in perfectly with all the furniture. There’s the problem of the pesky electric outlet and especially the phone-plus-internet jack that needs to be resolved before the last of the three sections can fit snugly against the wall. Another Executive Decision: an electrician will move the outlets elsewhere next week. But the bookcases finally exist. Plus, to be fair, the four hours of calculations at the BHV paid off because it all fits together perfectly, and is exactly as long as the wall. Not a centimeter shorter nor longer.
     And the whole project took only seven years, start to finish.

     I will spend several days alone, sitting cross-legged on the carpet, listening to music and dusting off volumes, deciding which ones to bequeath to the local library, then sorting the "keepers" by genre and especially by height, until they’re all tucked neatly away on their various shelves. Jean-Pierre is long gone. And I’m smiling. My own personal library is open for business.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

But baby, it's cold outside

It was 50°F in Ann Arbor on Tuesday.  Then it all went south.
     Or north.  Depending on how you look at it.

My last day before a Transatlantic flight and I’m running around, doing last-minute things. Like lunch with a friend. And checking on new refrigerators. And banking and packing and all. By the time I hit the airport, it’s already started to snow.
     The plane needs to be de-iced... just in case.
     When I get off at the other end, it’s cold by Paris standards. 6°C, which is 43°F. Even though Paris is at the latitude of Labrador - putting it way north of Ann Arbor - it’s still warmer than what I left. "This is good," I think.
     And then I get to my apartment.
     The young man who was living here in my absence for the past five years has moved out. Good for him. He’s finally earning enough to cover his own rent. Now he can get himself off hiatus and back into the rush of Life.
     He has turned the heat off. Luckily it didn’t get cold enough to burst the pipes. But with one wall of windows in this ex-artist’s studio, it’s as cold inside as out (see above).
     Which means my first order of business is to get the thermometer moving upward. And fast! I light the hot water heater - which also supplies steam heat to the entire place - and with a resounding hoosh! it flames up. Yes! Sigh of relief.
     Then I find the note. "I forgot to let you know the heat isn’t working." Yes, that might have been a nice piece of information to have. As it is, that news is distressing, given that the furnace - which shall hereinafter be called by its French name of chaudière - has needed to be replaced for a few years but the repairman has kept it working until I’ve finished paying off the condo fees for resurfacing the entire building... and I’m not going to tell you how much that cost but let me just say I haven’t been eating out for nearly two years.
     So I find the number and call the chaudière people. The surly lady on the phone is no help. It’s clear I’ll have to take care of this in person. Plus, it’ll get me out of the house until it warms up a bit. Provided my chaudière keeps working.
     Regardless of the fact that I didn’t sleep all night on the plane, I grab my coat and head out the door. It’s almost raining. Typical for Paris in January. Just around the corner is the bus stop and I catch the mini-bus that takes me up and over the hill that is called Montmartre and down almost to the door of the HVAC people.
     Inside Little Miss Unhelpful is on the phone harassing someone else but a nice senior gentleman is shuffling papers at the front counter. For some reason he tells me he’s retired and I jokingly ask him why he’s here then. "I’m doing volunteer work," he quips and asks me what he can do for me. I tell him my tale of woe and he makes an appointment for me... for a week from today. Somewhere in there, the repairman pops up and says "Oh yeah, I remember that job" and promises to get there sooner if there’s a cancellation.
     One problem down. Now I just need to get to my bank before the HVAC people try to cash the down-payment check I just wrote. So I hop on the mini-bus back up and over the hill to my south slope of Montmartre.
     With the bank taken care of, and presuming the temperature must not have reached Comfortable yet, I decide to do some shopping. The only things in the refrigerator - which has been left spotless - were coffee (which I do not drink), a bottle of orange juice and a stick of butter. (Sounds like a skit I saw on Sesame Street many years ago: "A loaf of bread, a quart of milk and a stick of butter".) There are no paper towels left in the apartment, no kleenex, no napkins, no jam or jelly to go on tomorrow’s toasted baguette... At least there’s toilet paper, which hasn’t always been the case upon arrival! So down the street I head, and buy a lot of stuff because if you spend 70 euros or more, they deliver. And I live... uphill. Considerably. And I’m tired.
     A stop into the flower shop to replace two dead houseplants (I did mention my tenant had moved out unannounced, didn’t I?), then the little Italian shop on the main drag rue des Abbesses for some real Parmesan, and finally the bookshop for this week's Pariscope that lists everything going on in Paris and its suburbs... and I’m back at the apartment. The inside temperature is now in the low 60s but still nippy, especially underfoot. (The floor is tiled and still plenty cold.) So I turn on the oven and light all four burners on the gas stove.
     By the time the guy from the supermarket rolls his caddy into my garden, the place is pretty toasty and I’m tired but satisfied with all the business I’ve taken care of since touching down. Heater repaired and scheduled for replacement. Bank account back in the black. Larder restocked. Happy Plants on the windowsill.

As I write this, rain is pattering a lullaby on the skylight overhead and the temperature in the apartment has finally reached 21°C (70°F). After about 36 straight hours on my feet, bed is beckoning, so...

bonne nuit!

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 6th, Epiphany - La Fête des Rois

Traditional Epiphany pastries:
galettes des rois (left) and brioches des rois (right)

In France, Christmas is traditionally when family gets together around a table. Friends gather to ring in the new year with a meal on La Saint Sylvestre, the feast day of St. Sylvester. And what a feast it is! Oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras, whole poached fish, roast meat, salad, cheese, dessert... not to mention champagne and wine!
     After all that, you swear you’ll never eat again, but by the time Epiphany rolls around on January 6, the gluttony has started to wear off. What’s more, Epiphany means the tradition of les rois mages. And who’s going to argue with tradition?
     Epiphany is also called Twelfth Day - think "partridge in a pear tree" - because it comes twelve days after Christmas. The word is Greek for "appearance" and it marks the supposed date when les rois mages, the Magi - the Three Kings - appeared in Bethlehem.
     Legend says the white-bearded Melchior was from Persia and brought gold. The much younger Gaspard brought frankincense, which comes from southern Arabia, and especially Oman. Finally, the dark-complected Balthazar offered myrrh, which is native to Africa’s Somalia and Ethiopia. Combine that with Bethlehem in Palestine and you’ve pretty much covered the known world of Biblical times. If you look at it in that light, this Christian feast takes on a more global aspect.
     Whether wise men or kings, on January 6th, French bakeries blossom with galettes des rois, a thin pastry, often with almond paste filling and looking like a loaf of Middle Eastern unleavened bread. Or with brioches des rois, a crown-shaped specialty of southern France. In each you will find hidden a bean, or fève, to represent the Baby Jesus. Over the years the fève has become a little hard ceramic figurine. When the galette or brioche is sliced, the youngest person present (presumed to be the most innocent) hides under the table and dictates which slice is given to which person. The one who finds the figurine is declared the king/queen, given a shiny gold cardboard crown (which comes with the galette) and selects someone else to reign with them and wear a second crown. But chew daintily. I’ve always thought this festival should be called the Fête des Dentistes, with the gold crown going on your tooth if you crunch down and break a molar on the Baby Jesus.
     So as 2012 begins, let me wish you all amour et amitié, santé et prospérité - love and friendship, health and wealth - throughout the coming year.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Paris Landmark: Shakespeare & Co.

That's George out front of the shop
In Paris, there is a place that two different types of people know. The first type is the tourist, who stumbles on it en route from Notre-Dame to the Luxembourg Gardens. The second is anyone interested in literature and the literary history of Paris. The latter spends hours poking through its two floors of disparate books; the former takes a photo and walks on.
     That place is Shakespeare & Co.

In case you’re not familiar with it, Shakespeare & Co. is a bookshop. Not a book store, a shop. Like something out of Dickens, from its wooden facade to its shelves - everywhere - to its steep and narrow staircase to its labyrinth of tiny rooms, all bulging with books of all sorts. A librarian’s nightmare but a book lover’s dream.
     If you’re short on time, don’t come here for a quick fix. This is true Browser Territory. The books are arranged by sections, but for anything more specific than that, you’re on your own. And as the shop is staffed largely by non-professionals, they may not be of much help. But if there’s something you’re looking for and you can’t find it here... well, let me rephrase that - and it isn’t here somewhere, then you are truly exceptional.

George's credo
      All that may change shortly. And for a very sad reason. Just before Christmas, Shakespeare mourned the death of its founder, George Whitman, after a stroke two months earlier. He had just turned 98.
     George was a legend and people argue over whether he was a benevolent father figure or a temperamental despot. The answer is both, depending on his mood. As Marlise Simons put it in her obit in the New York Times, "For decades Mr. Whitman provided food and makeshift beds to young aspiring novelists or writing nomads, often letting them spend a night, a week, or even months living among the crowded shelves and alcoves." His motto, emblazoned on a wall, was a Biblical passage that George chose rather to attribute to Yeats, one of his favorite poets: "Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise."
     George was once one of those angels in disguise himself. After a year in China as a child when his father was on a teaching sabbatical, after trekking through North America and down to the swamps of Panama, after the Army during World War II stuck in a corner of Greenland, after backpacking across Europe, he finally set down his backpack in Paris in 1948, where he proceeded to create a lending library out of his hotel room. From there, he graduated to a kiosk and finally to this place on the quai of the Seine, just across from Notre-Dame, which must have been a hovel then... and still is now, to some extent, although the current occupants have yuppified the rest of the building into six-digit nosebleed rental property. They were much chagrined, although secretly bemused, by George’s shop and his late-night feasts in which his door was open and people spilled in and out and poetry and prose were read aloud... very aloud sometimes.
One of the beds
among the bookshelves
The narrow, steep stairs
     If you were passing through Paris and you needed a place to crash, George would accommodate you, especially if you were "a writer", a vague description that encompassed just about everything and anything from a term paper to the Great American Novel. You would get a bed, but no bathroom, although there was a toilet somewhere in the labyrinth of rooms, and an occasional sink with cold water. Baths and meals were procured elsewhere; they weren’t part of the deal. But if you needed to capture your ideas, there was (and I believe still is, judging by the BBC’s obit) an old typewriter of the Dashiell Hammett variety that you could hammer on. (There was also a piano to hammer on in one nook or cranny.) And the coins tossed into the wishing well on the ground floor were marked with the sign "Give what you can, take what you need" and signed, simply, "George". In exchange for this, George asked for a few hours of sweeping what floor was still visible and shelving books... which may account for the pandemonium in that area. A good friend’s brother was one such recipient of George’s largesse during his week in Paris. He spoke of it with both a smile and a grimace, which probably aptly sums up George’s effect on people in general.
     The shop itself is the offspring of a previous shop of that name, which was created by Sylvia Beach a few days after the end of World War I. Located off of the Place de l’Odéon, it was in the heart of the literary district and became a hangout for Hemingway and Fitzgerald during their Paris days, as well as for James Joyce and Ezra Pound. It remained open after Paris fell in World War II but was forced to close in 1941, with Beach interned for six months and keeping her books hidden in an apartment. George’s reincarnation of the shop was initially called Le Mistral but renamed in 1964 in honor of Beach’s shop. In fact, George thought so highly of Beach that he named his only child Sylvia. And now it’s this Sylvia who is in charge.
     It’s my understanding that father and daughter had been estranged for most of her lifetime, which is not surprising, given George’s character and the short duration of his marriage to her mother. But they must have patched up their differences and Sylvia has been at the helm for the last decade, more or less, as George’s health declined. This has led to a computerization of the business and a less amateur manning of the counters. She’s even taken on the daunting task of inventorying the titles of every book in the place, which is no mean feat! I wonder if that includes the ones for sale on the sidewalk tables and built-in outdoor shelves that are your first hint of what awaits you inside.
     With this change in skippers, I also wonder if Shakespeare & Co. will change. Will it continue to house passing angels? Will its kindness to aspiring local writers - including myself - continue with their books remaining on the shelves on consignment? Time will tell.
     But I’ll miss George and his capharnaüm chaos. Stepping inside his shop was like literary time travel. I know of no other place like it.

The view from
Shakespeare & Co.
Shakespeare & Co.
37, rue de la Bûcherie
75005 - Paris

e-mail: news@shakespeareandcompany

"We are open every day 10 am - 11 pm
except for Saturday and Sunday when we open at 11 am"