Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They be Angels in Disguise

A mere three blog posts is a sorry story for someone who has spent the last four months traveling (I actually have to stop to count them) 1-2-3-4-5-6-7….8. Ah oui, 8 countries. Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Belgium, Hungary, Slovenia, Czech Republic.

My dear, I am fortunate. And it actually just dawned on me after looking at my favorite Semester at Sea group on Facebook (a SASF09 reunion page with 357 of my closest family) that exactly two years ago today, I returned from my 110 day voyage around the world. And as I currently sit packing up my apartment in Paris, life hasn’t stopped since then. And it won’t stop. I’m home for a quick couple weeks before I take my fly (as my new Italian dad calls it) to Italy. But as a flappable little pixie in a flannel shirt, this fly sounds totally suiting.

Tomorrow is my last day in Paris, and I should be packing. I don’t want to. After a day of Christmas marketing, vintage shopping, drinking tea with friends, and then ordering doubles of the most delicious, vanilla-flaked, croissant pastry cake thing- packing is the last thing on my mind. Tonight I took one of my last strolls around the city, looking for a café to get (another) good meal and a café crème. I never really found one. Picking out a café isn’t as easy as one would think. There are too many of them. And if you are going to fork out the money to actually go, you want the ambiance to be flawless, and the cost to be on the lower side. The one I walked 20 minutes to get to was closed..and so I was left wandering, cold, and slightly frustrated that I couldn’t find a nice spot to spoil myself with more food and write. Should I just get a nutella crepe for dinner? Should I stop and get soup? Or I could just go to the grocery store and cook for myself? Maybe I should walk back to Ile St. Louis and eat there? My mind wouldn’t shut up with how I should go about spoiling myself, and I was actually getting angry.

I decided to take a break and go to the bookstore. (I’ll explain more about this bookstore later..however, I can’t believe I even have to write that considering this magic bookshop feels more like home than my studio apartment) Anyways, I turn the street to walk in my favorite shop and then I see it. Nothing. Darkness. Shutters closed. Lights out. Letters all over the door. Flowers everywhere. And candles lit on the outside. My bright and sunny bookshop was quiet and sad. I knew something bad had happened. George Whitman died today. The man who opened this magical place- Shakespeare and Company.

Suddenly my “should I get a panini or a nutella crepe” frustration disappeared. And I stood there for a moment, watching people huddle around the happiest little shop- sad. I said a prayer for him and his loved ones, and then walked away, unsure of what emotion to feel. I didn’t personally know him. But Shakespeare and Company is my second home in Paris, and feels more like home than my studio apartment on Boulevard Brune. This bookshop is more magical than Harry Potter’s petronum. It’s a safe haven. It’s Christmas morning. It’s a reminder of everything wonderful in the world- because it is everything wonderful in the world. And George Whitman started it. I could try to describe this place, but it would be like trying to describe Hogwarts to someone who doesn’t know who Harry Potter is.

I’m about to go for a run along the Seine and then sit outside my favorite little bookshop- sad that it is no longer the same, but happy to know such a magical place.

“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise” was Whitman’s motto, and is written across the upstairs doorway of Shakespeare and Co. Everyone is welcome in this store. Writers live there. I take naps there. Upstairs is a library and a piano for people to sit and play and read all day. There’s no security cameras. There’s comfy couches, room for all, a sink and a type writer. It’s a literary cottage. And it is filled with magic. I am thankful Whitman created it.

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