In his comment on yesterday’s post, Jim reported that George Whitman, owner of the legendary
My wanderjahr, as I have recounted in Volume One of my Autobiography, started in the summer of 1954, shortly after I completed my preliminary work for the doctorate, and lasted until well into the summer of 1955, at which point I returned home to write my dissertation. After time in
In those days, the bookshop, which had been opened four years earlier, was called Le Mistral. It was only some years later that it took over the name “Shakespeare and Company” from Sylvia Beach, who had been running a bookshop of that name in a different location. That year the shop was being managed by a young couple from Harvard – Ted Cumming, my classmate, and his wife, Patsy Arens. [I hope I am remembering the names correctly – it was a long time ago.] Ted later died tragically at a young age, I think in a boating accident.
The quartier around the bookstore is now ground zero for tourists. The tiny ancient streets running from rue St. Jacques to Boulevard St. Michel are jammed with cheap fast food joints and shops selling schlock trinkets, but in 1955 it was the Algerian section of town, with a handful of inexpensive restaurants featuring North African food. My most vivid memory of those little restaurants is that when you wanted the check, you called out “plashta ici.” I have no idea what language “plashta” is.
I was much too poor actually to buy books, but Le Mistral was a place where one could be sure of finding some English language conversation, and inasmuch as my French then was no better than it is now, that was quite an attraction for me. Mike Jorrin did show up, and for the better part of a month, we hung out at Le Mistral. I had found a very cheap room in the Algerian House of the cite universitaire, a big dormitory complex in the 14th at the very southern most edge of
Generally speaking, not much happened as the days passed, but on one occasion, I stumbled into a quite extraordinary little adventure, which has curious filiations with Woody Allen’s charming film, Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson. Among the folks frequenting Le Mistral were two very attractive young English women with whom Mike and I had struck up a casual friendship. One evening, we were sitting in the chairs set out in front of the bookshop, idly looking over at Notre Dame and watching the world go by, when a fancy car pulled up and stopped. A young Frenchman hopped out, very nicely dressed, and asked the two English women if they would like to go to a party. The liked the idea, but were apprehensive about going off with a man they did not know, so the agreed on condition that Mike and I came too. [I should explain that no one looking at me would imagine I was much protection from white slavers or the like, but Mike is a tall, muscular guy – even now – and I imagine they thought he could protect them.]
Off we went, all together in the car, to a very up market apartment building, and into an elegant flat where there was indeed a party under way. For the next several hours, we danced, drank wine, and rubbed shoulders with some of
Shakespeare and Co. is one of two major English language bookstores in