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Book Recommendation: A Letter to the Author of The Paris Bookseller, Kerri Maher.




A travel companion to pair with my travel-trail: A day Around Shakespeare and Company.



Dear Kerri,


I read your book, buddy. Let me rephrase that. Why the hell don't I live in Paris in the twenties. I know. I know. That's a line from Midnight in Paris. I know that, Kerri. I know that Gil from Midnight in Paris gave a beautiful soliloquy about Paris in the twenties on a bridge in the gardens of Giverny where Monet painted the insides of entire halls in the world's greatest museums and doctors' offices. I know that. I know how Gil raved about Paris in the twenties in the rain and the artists and writers and then the end of the movie was like don't be so golden-era thinking and live in the moment and for all the beautiful things that modern Paris has to offer but Kerri for heaven's sake can you imagine it? Paris. In the twenties.


Of course you can. You wrote a book about it. You spent years of your life imagining it. That's why I like you, Kerri.


Because if you had been Owen Wilson's love interest in Midnight and Paris and not that snooty valley girl then the conversation in the movie would not have gone like this:



GIL

I mean look at this. This is unbelievable. There's no city like this in the world. There never was.


INEZ

You act like you've never been here before.


GIL

I don’t get here often enough. that's the problem. Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain. Imagine this town in the twenties. Paris in the twenties. In the rain. The artists. The writers.


INEZ

Why does every city have to be in the rain? What's wonderful about getting wet?


GIL

I mean could you ever picture us maybe moving here after we're married?


INEZ

Oh, God no. I could never live out of the United States.


GIL

You know if I had stayed here and written novels and not gotten you know just caught up in the grinding out movie scripts. I tell you something i would drop the house in Beverly Hills and the pool and everything in a second.


INEZ

You're in love with a fantasy.


GIL

I'm in love with you.



Instead, Kerri, it would have gone like this if it had been you with Gil and not Inez.



GIL

I mean look at this. This is unbelievable. There's no city like this in the world. There never was.


KERRI

Fu*&kin a.


GIL

I don’t get here often enough. That's the problem. Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the twenties. Paris in the twenties. In the rain. The artists. The writers.


KERRI

I am. I am imagining it. Like it's my job. I actually, um, wrote a novel about it. So I guess you could say that yeah I mean it is my job. That's literally my job to imagine that. All of that what you just said.


GIL

I mean could you ever picture us maybe moving here after we're married?


KERRI

I'll text the realtor. We'll FaceTime that s*&t.


GIL

You know if I had stayed here and written novels and not gotten you know just caught up in the grinding out movie scripts. I tell you something I would drop the house in Beverly Hills and the pool and everything in a second.


KERRI

You're in love with the truest form of what's real right in front of our faces right now. You nailed it. You nailed it square on the head and made it flush with the wood. That's why we got one way tickets here.



Though Midnight in Paris is one of my all time favorite movies, I must admit, though I'll never admit it, that the movie did leave out one essential piece of the pie, which is Gertrude Stein's rival for the hearts of Americans in Paris, Sylvia beach.


But you didn't.


The truth is that Sylvia Beach's legacy means more to me in terms of my trips to Paris than Gertrude Stein's salon, because Shakespeare and Company is still there. And I've never yet been to Paris without it. Technically, there's a new owner. But the new one pays tribute I think fair enough. It's still in Sylvia’s honor. I mean the new owner did name his daughter after Sylvia for bloody sake. No I mean who cares if Sylvia beach doesn't own it per se her legacy still lives. J' adore Shakespeare and Company. That's French for I adore Shakespeare and Company, Kerri.


I have this whole ritual around Shakespeare and Co. I pick up a book from the staff-selection table, then take the book to Luxembourg gardens, then to eat and drink with me at an outdoor table of one of my favorite little bistros in Paris called Lou Pescadou or maybe if it's hot I sit with the book at the fountain in front of Saint-Sulpice with my feet in the cool water.


I also like to think that if after the war Sylvia and I could have had this little day in Paris together it would have inspired her to reopen Shakespeare and Company. I understand why she never did after like so many who danced and wrote and lived in the dazzling Paris of the 1920's but then who had to suffer as they watched winter come to Europe just a decade later when instead of Coco Chanel strolling down Boulevard Saint-Germain it was a nazi tank and Americans in Paris had to close shop and flee. I hope it would have reminded Sylvia why a young American girl moved to Paris before the American tourists found Paris and opened up an English speaking bookstore in a country that spoke French because she "believed with all her heart that this was the purpose of art—to be new, to make change, to alter minds."


But of course, it wouldn't have worked, and it's not because she didn't believe in the same return to an exchange of ideas between nations after World War 2 like after World War 1 when she toasted at her shop warming party she threw when she opened Shakespeare and Company that "One year ago almost to the day, America, Britain, and France signed a treaty ending a war the likes of which our nations have never seen. But liberate, egalitarian, et fraternity triumphed, and here, a place of exchange between English and French thinking, we get to enjoy the spoils of peace: literature, friendship, conversation, debate. Long may we enjoy them and may they—instead of guns and grenades—become the weapons of the new rebellions."


And it's not because she said it wouldn't be the same as when Hemingway was young and hunting pigeons and roasting walnuts while he wrote in apartments in the single digit arrondissements of Paris because it was cheap (Can you imagine? F*&k).


But I think perhaps the real reason Sylvia never reopened Shakespeare and Company is because when she returned to Paris after nazi liberation she was wandering the streets of Paris at midnight around the steps of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont church next to the Pantheon and a 1928 Peugeot pulled up with Parisians from the twenties drinking Champaign and she time-traveled back to Paris in the 20's just like in the movie. She didn't have to reopen anything or recreate a moment or the people who meant so much to her in the twenties because she just went back to them and sat again with Hemingway and her old rival Gertrude Stein and James Joyce wasn’t an internationally famous writer but writing in candlelight until his eyes were too swollen. She just decided to stay and be selfish for once in her life instead of promoting the livelihoods of others. And they picked up right where they left off, and Adrienne's shop was on Rue de l'Odeon and then so was Shakespeare and Company and they coined it all Odeonna and she got up and she stalked the streets of Paris studying shop windows and waited for boulangeries to open so she could wake Adrienne with hot fresh loafs and Sylvia slept on a small bed in the back room of her bookstore and received invitations to Gertrude Stein's salon on 27 rue de Fleurus like being called to tea by Marie Antoinette, and she talked with Gertrude Stein about how the sentence was undergoing great changes and she set Ernest Hemingway up with a lending card even though he didn't have enough money to pay for it and in the quiet of the mornings she studied her Blake drawings and original Whitman poems which were hung and framed on the walls of her store.


Kerri, in your lovely afterward of your book, you talk about how the new owner realized Sylvia's dream of a cafe adjacent of Shakespeare and company, and if you sit there and sip your tea, you can look across the river seine and enjoy a spectacular view of Notre-Dame which you had the pleasure of doing while researching this book. That's one wonderful way of keeping Sylvia's dreams alive. Myself, I prefer to keep her dream alive by reading James Joyce and jumping into the backseat of every classic car I see in Paris, regardless of who's driving. Because maybe, just maybe.


To 1928 Peugeots.


Steve


Sent from my typewriter


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