Tag Archives: Shakespeare Bookshop

P- A Different Perspective of Paris…A-Z Challenge.

“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

Ernest Hemingway

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for the 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Today, we’re off to Paris, a city with a big name and enormous reputation.  Indeed, if you were ever looking for inspiration, you’d head to Paris if you could.

Paris Rainy Street

Paris also has its rainy days. Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street;Rainy Day. Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

However, all that glitters isn’t gold. So, it’s hardly surprising that the realities of Paris could well be very different to the Paris of your dreams, especially if you linger beyond the tourist traps. After spending six weeks in Paris in the Summer of ’92, I felt it was no coincidence that Paris has spawned revolutions, along with philosophical, literary, artistic and fashion movements.Indeed, for me, it was both a city of incredibly dazzling bright lights, but also a city of equally dark shadows and despair. Potentially, it’s this juxtaposition which fuels her creative flow. Creates a gripping tension spawning ideas.

writing in Paris

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

Indeed, when I reflect on my time in Paris, I often wonder why so few connect the city of love with the city of heartbreak. After all, isn’t it inevitable? Well, at least, that’s how it seems to me, and I’m sure anyone else who’s ever been dumped in Paris would agree. Indeed, I used to follow a band called Paris Dumper, and if you’re still in any doubt, just watch Casablanca. Things didn’t work out for Humphrey Bogart in Paris either.

Rowena Paris motorbike

My quest for the meaning of life continued

Over the last few years, Paris has also been the scene of horrific and very tragic terrorist attacks, along with mass movements defending the freedom of speech and fighting to overcome such  racism and bigotry.

Meanwhile, the people of Paris live alongside all this storm and drang, and somehow they go about their business like rows of ants carefully circumnavigating all this drama. After all, the people of Paris are just like people anywhere else on the planet. They also need to eat, work, love and sleep.

View of Nore Dame

Johan-Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891). “Notre-Dame vue du quai de la Tournelle”. Huile sur toile, 1852. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

It has taken me quite a few days to get my head around Paris. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll already note that my travel series isn’t just a series of checklists of what to see in each place. After all, such travel information is only a click or two away, and there’s no need to replicate all of that.

Picasso Notre Dame de Paris

Pablo Picasso, Notre Dame de Paris 1954. 

Rather, I wanted to share with you was what it was like for a 22 year old Australian to spend six weeks in Paris, where I had some kind of finger on the pulse. After all, I wasn’t just there for a couple days frenetically speeding through my checklist like a crazed ant. Rather, we lingered over a continental breakfast at our hotel, the Henri IV on the Rue Saint Jacques, just across from Notre Dame.

Rowena Luxembourg Gardens

My Feet Hanging Out at the Luxembourg Gardens, which were absolutely delightful. We spent quite a lot of time there. 

Indeed, we met a couple of Americans over breakfast at the hotel one morning, and one of them had lived in Paris before and became our impromptu tour guide. I particularly remember him taking us to the Musee Rodin where we could not only see, but experience those incredibly sculptures, especially The Thinker and The Kiss. Wow! They truly electrified my soul, and moved me so much more than the famed Mona Lisa at the Louvre. They were absolutely incredible, and also became something of a photographic feast.

However, as a bunch of twenty somethings, we also had our daily pilgrimage over Pont Neuf into the Latin Quarter where we hung out at the Boulangerie St Michel. You could people watch for hours there, if that’s what you were inclined to do. Moreover, like the great French philosophers who exchanged ideas in the cafes in Paris, we also philosophised. After all, we were young travellers wandering through Europe with the wind. There was so much to think about and I’m pretty sure the absence of any kind of anchor or routine, wasn’t entirely good for the psyche either.

Jim Morrison Grave

Jimmy Morrison’s Grave. 

We were the only flotsam and jetsam wandering through Paris either. Aside from the cafes, we also gravitated towards Jimmy Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, in a never-ending vigil. “Tumbleweeds”  also hung out at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where proprietor George Whitman offered somewhere to crash out in exchange for working for a few hours in the shop. I think I also read something about having to read a book a day as well, although I couldn’t be entirely sure, because I didn’t stay there.

Shakespeare Bookshop

The Shakespeare Bookshop

However, you won’t be surprised that I found my way into the Shakespeare Bookshop. By this stage, I’d spent three months on the continent and the Shakespeare was the only English-speaking bookshop in Paris. I was craving for the written word in my own tongue. Indeed, I clearly remember reading those words in my guidebook. However, what I suspect was missing from the guidebook, was the possibility of doing poetry readings at the Shakespeare and I might have heard about that from my American friend, Chris, who, as I said, had lived in Paris. Either way, a rather naive, young Australia who had self-published her anthology of poetry: Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth fronted up to George Whitman and asked to do a reading.

Poetry Reading

Me & My Notebook…taken during my solo reading upstairs at the Shakespeare Bookshop

To put you in the picture, from what I’ve subsequently researched, having an unknown, young poet from distant Sydney, Australia approach the great George Whitman about reading her own poetry at THE Shakespeare, was very much along the same vein as young Oliver Twist holding out his bowl and asking: “Please sir, can I have some more!”

Obviously, I was a complete and utter upstart. However, ignorance is bliss and I knew none of that at the time. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know terribly much about the Shakespeare’s incredible history and how it was a haven for literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin and Henry while they were in Paris. Somehow, Rowena Curtin of Sydney who’d performed at Sydney University’s International Women’s Day Festival, the Reasonably Good Cafe in Chippendale, Gleebooks and the Newtown Street Festival didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Degas Ballet at the paris opera

Degas: Ballet At the Paris Opera. The Art Institute of Chicago.  

However, for some reason, he gave me a go. Not only that, he gave me a solo reading, which also meant having to draw up my own advertising poster to go in the shop window. Talk about cringe-worthy. In hindsight, I’m telling my 22 year old self to put that notebook back in your backpack and drink some more coffee…you little upstart!!!

However, if I’d done that and stuck to the tried and tested, I wouldn’t have this incredible and very unique feather in my cap. Despite everything I’ve been through since, nothing and nobody can take this away from me.

From what I now understand, my experience was truly remarkable. Apparently, young poets didn’t get a look in at the Shakespeare, and were strictly audience only. George Whitman wasn’t a soft touch either. I still remember meeting him and he was quite gruff, which is quite understandable now I know just whose footsteps I was treading on and what an extraordinary opportunity I had. Indeed, it’s an experience well beyond the scope of this post, as I’ll need to dig up those travel diaries once again. However, I’ll have to write about it soon. Indeed, I can’t believe I’ve left it so long.

paris_pont_neuf_001

The City of Lights By Night. The light dancing across the inky waters was rather alluring in those early hours of the morn. 

However, Paris had quite a heaviness for me, and I clearly remember writing poetry at two o’clock in the morning beside the River Seine just near Pont Neuf . Clear as day, I remember looking across the river and there was a group of young men with their ghetto blaster and while I should have been afraid, I was locked inside something like a bubble of grief where either I didn’t care anymore. Or, believed I couldn’t be hurt anymore. Just let me say, there’s a reason why there are so many bridges in Paris and it isn’t just to get to the other side.

Arc de Triomphe by Night

Robert Ricart, Arc de Triomphe by Night.

“Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be

here…the French air clears up the brain and does one good.”

-Vincent van Gogh letter to Horace Mann Livens from Paris September

or October, 1886.

So, you can probably understand why it’s taken me quite some time to write about Paris, and why I couldn’t simply write some stereotypical tribute to all it’s sights and wonders. I have crossed known its dark side, wallowed in it and thanks to my very best friends and the grace of God, survived. Indeed, they got me on a train back to Heidelberg where my friends there picked up this crumpled bird and very slowly helped me regain my strength. The spirit of Paris ran me over and almost destroyed me completely. Indeed, for me, it is a city to be approached with a great deal of caution, particularly once you start carving a path beyond the roads most travelled.

Patisserie Paris

Paris could also be exquisite and incredibly delicious. 

I wonder if anyone else has had similar experiences in Paris? Or, perhaps in another time and place? I’ve also experienced a similar vibe in Byron Bay, which also attracts travellers, seekers and along with it’s incredibly natural beauty also has its darkness.

Best wishes,

Rowena

P.S> I would like to add that I didn’t experience all darkness and gloom in Paris, and that experiencing the heaviness of life isn’t all bad. That it’s often during times of struggle that we actually grow the most. Have our eyes opened to the enormous realms of possibilities which are always just out there waiting for us to stick our necks out, take a risk and have a go.

 

Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge 2018.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Welcome to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Every day except for Sunday during April, I’ll be writing a letter to a dead artist who has inspired me at some point throughout my life. There will also be a few “newbies” added to comply with the requirements of the challenge. I’ve also had to cut many artists out, because this year I decided there would only be one artist for each letter. So, choosing my 26 artists has been quite a process…a quest in itself.

The original inspiration for this theme came when I dug up a letter a friend sent me from Paris in August, 1992. Only a week or so before, a group of us had walked through Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery, where we had a particular interest in Jimmy Morrison’s grave. She’d returned a few weeks later and found a handwritten letter addressed to Oscar Wilde near his grave and transcribed it. It quoted excerpts from the preface of A Portrait of Dorien Gray:

The Preface

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde.

Poetry Reading

Poetry Reading Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris.

In August 1992, I’d given my own solo reading at the famed Shakespeare Bookshop, where the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin used to hang out. In hindsight, being granted my own solo performance at the Shakespeare as a 23 year old Australian, was a miracle. However, I didn’t know that at the time. George Whitman simply asked me if I’d been published (yes- self-published 90’s style on a photocopier) and told me to draw up a poster, which was displayed in the front window of the bookshop. That was “publicity”. George Whitman might’ve put me through the wringer, but he did give me a chance.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathan Swift

Revisiting these experiences in Paris, Letters to Dead Poets was my theme for the 2016 A-Z Challenge. I’d clearly bitten off too much for what’s intended to be a quick walk through the park, not a series of books. However, I loved researching and writing the series, which ended up taking on a creative force all of its own, and I was very pleased with the end result. Hence, I decided to follow it up with Letters to Dead Artists, which will be very much along much the same lines.

To maintain the suspense, I’ve decided not to provide an index of all the featured artists I’ll be covering. The plan is to focus on one particular work from each artist and to discuss how it’s touched me personally. Then, via the letter, I’ll ask each artist a question. There will be some bio information for each artist, but as I’m neither an artist nor a critic, there’ll be scant technical detail. Rather, this series will be about emotion, psychology, philosophy and history instead.

“The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

Pablo Picasso

Degas Letters

Naturally, I’m well into researching and preparing these letters. From the outset, I’ve been struck by how little I knew about each artist and their respective works. That I have known the painting well as an image, but often not the inspiration behind it, which in some instances has given the work an entirely different meaning. In a sense that doesn’t matter. However, for me, once you start seeing that painting as a reflection of your soul, it does. So, now I’m a bit unsure about all this deconstruction and analysis has been a good thing. Or, whether ignorance is bliss. After all, once you pull something apart, it’s very hard to get it back together again. Indeed, with all these intellectual twists and turns, I started to feel like I’d flown into a spider’s web. Hopefully, as the research settles, I’ll be able to clear a path. Find my way out. Yet, I have no doubt that I’ll be a very different me at the end of the month.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Henry David Thoreau

I hope you’ll join me for the journey. So please fire up the engine as we head to A…Alexandros of Antioch who reputedly created the Venus de Milo.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

In the City of Love…Friday Fictioneers.

Kate was tumbleweeding at the Shakespeare Bookshop in Paris. Yet, while she craved the smell of old books and inhaling the very air Hemingway breathed, she had to make love in Paris.

Or, at least be wined and dined by a real Frenchman.

The trouble was that it was July and all the Parisians had fled.

All except Anton, the IT Network Manager, at the Louvre.

“Worst blind date EVER. So, much for Mona Lisa watching! All his showed me was a bunch of cables. Bet he makes love to his laptop.”

That night, Anton added Kate to his database.

….

Back in 1992 as a 22 year old backpacker, I spent 6 weeks in Paris, which included doing a reading at the Shakespeare & Company Bookshop. I recently found out that travellers can sleep on the floors of the bookshop in exchange for working in the shop for an hour a day and on the proviso that they read a book a day. These people were called tumbleweeds. You can read more about Shakespeare & Company Here.

This weeks featured image is © Sandra Crook.

xx Rowena