Paris: Day One

I apologize for not writing for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been suffering from a nasty head cold and have had a lot of schoolwork to complete before the break. I’m hoping I can make up for it now.

This past weekend, I went to Paris to meet up with my friend Lauren, who’s living in Düsseldorf as an au pair. We went to KU together and worked on the Kansan. Lauren had never been to Paris before; I hadn’t been since March 2007. The planning and navigation fell largely to me because I was more familiar with the city. I also had the honor of knowing more French vocabulary with which to butcher the language by attempting to speak it. It was quite an adventure and we had a lot of fun. Rather than write a novel describing it all at once, I’ve decided to devote one entry and one photo gallery to each day we were there. This is day one.

I left Canterbury very early in the morning, taking a commuter train to Ashford and its Eurostar terminal. I enjoyed a much-needed cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant at the station before boarding a train to Paris’ Gare du Nord terminal. Lauren arrived a couple of hours after I did, so I killed time by going across the street to a McDonald’s, where I used the restroom, got something to eat (don’t judge me; the cafes around the station are all terribly overpriced) and made use of the free WiFi to tell my friends and parents that I’d arrived safely.

I’d bought a Metro ticket in Ashford (a wise move, in hindsight), so, after stashing my duffel in a locker at the station, I hopped on and rode down the line to Cité, the stop on the main island in the middle of the Seine. This island has several shops and cafes, as well as the Palace of Justice, the city’s police headquarters and Notre Dame cathedral. I strolled through the gardens on the side of the cathedral and walked across the river. I bought batteries for my camera and located Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which I’d read about in The Independent. We had decided to try to find it.

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Shakespeare and Company is a Beatnik-era bookstore packed with used books of all genres. Burroughs visited it to research Naked Lunch. The owner, George Whitman, lets writers stay and work if they want, free of charge, as long as they give him a photo and personal biography when they leave. Through the ages, these traveling writers became known as Tumbleweeds. According to the article, Whitman is 96 now, but still reads and still collects stories from traveling writers. The bookstore and its former owners/staff have connections to Ernest Hemingway, Allen Ginsberg, T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, among others.

After I located the bookstore, I went back to Gare du Nord to meet Lauren. By this time it was mid-afternoon, so we went back down to the island and went inside Notre Dame. After that we headed over to the bookstore.

Shakespeare and Company looks like someone’s bookshelf exploded in it. Books everywhere. The philosophy shelf has Hobbes, Locke, Sartre and Plato. The Beat writers and their contemporaries have a table in their honor — Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” Sylvia Plath’s “Ariel” and “The Bell Jar” and an anthology of Shakespeare’s poems, edited by Ted Hughes (aka Mr. Sylvia Plath). The wishing well in the middle of the floor (which used to be a heater, I believe) has coins strewn in it. Upstairs is a little cubby with a typewriter, a cot and a piano, along with more books and a children’s section. By the time we eventually left, I had selected a book — “The Maltese Falcon,” by Dashiell Hammett — to buy to commemorate the visit.

After that we headed down to the Denfert-Rocherau Metro stop, made use of McDonald’s WiFi again and then headed to the flat where we were staying. In summation, it was a lovely yet busy morning getting to Paris, and a lovely afternoon getting a feel for the city.

I’ll keep updating the blog with photos and stories about the other three days. Keep checking back!

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