Thursday, August 21, 2014

The beaches of Paris! Paris Plages!

In August the language you hear in Paris is...well...anything but French! August for the French = vacation time and the city empties as Parisians are on a plane, train or automobile leaving the city (including myself as I am writing this from abroad). However some Parisians enjoy this part of the year as the city is empty. And for those who can't get to the beach over the summer, Paris brings the beach to them!


Since 2007, starting from around the 20th of July and lasting for just over a month, the cityscape literally transforms. The Seine riverside thoroughfares become a car-free beach resorts! The Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) operation is a concept conceived and carried out by the office of the Mayor in Paris. A Seine-side holiday -- complete with sandy beaches, deckchairs, ubiquitous ice cream sellers, and concerts for French and foreign guests. Holiday makers at the Bassin de la Villette (Paris 19) can also borrow books free of charge, play beach volley, take an aqua-gym class in a mini pool, or kayak around the lake – or, of course just chill and enjoy. 

The Seine’s banks become pedestrian and the beaches are spread across three spots (Louvre/Pont de Sully, Port de la Gare and Bassin de la Villette). And I have to give it to them, the operation is completely streamlined and organized. Along the beach are also clean functioning restrooms, a first aid office and a police station!

Paris Plage is a great opportunity to catch some rays or build a sandcastle. It also makes for a great place to meet friends! Food and alcohol are allowed on the beach so you can find many people enjoying the beach with a glass of something in their hand. There are also several beach snack shacks, which serve up ice cream, beer and sandwiches!  

The Musee du Louvre is also taking part with Le Louvre à la plage. Visitors can participate in many free activities on the theme of swimming, from reproductions of Venus, Diana and other Naïades found in the collections of the museum. Afternoons tend to focus on families who can discover masterpieces of the Louvre, guided by mediators of the museum, or simply enjoy a moment of relaxation in the reading corner flipping through comic books, guides and catalogs exposure.

All Paris Plages beaches are open non-stop from 9.00 am to midnight.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A wonderland of books: Shakespeare and Company

One might recognize the Parisian bookstore from cameo film appearances in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia or Richard Linklater's, Before Sunset. But for me, the Shakespeare and Company is more than a backdrop of a film, it is a place of comfort and one of my favorite spots of refuge in Paris. The Shakespeare and Company, has sat on the left bank of the Seine river since 1951. Opened by an American writer and world adventurer George Whitman, the Shakespeare and Company is a twisting, winding labyrinth of books. As George Whitman once said-"a novel in three words". Whitman made his books available to everyone, opening his store at 37 Rue de La  Bûcherie at Kilometer Zero, the point from which all French raods begin. Constructed in the late 16th century, the building was originally a monestary, La Maison Mustier.

In the shadow of Notre-Dame, the bookstore was initially called Le Mistral. Whitman changed it to the present name in 1964, in celebration of William Shakespeare's 400th birthday and in honor of a bookseller he admired, Sylvia Beach who founded the original Shakespeare and Company in 1919. Her store at 12 Rue de L'Odean was a gathering place for the great expat writers of the time--Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound--as well as French writers. Whitman and Beach became friends in the 50's when she would come by his store for tea and author signings. 

Through his own bookstore, Whitman endeavored to carry on the spirit of Beach's shop, to create a welcoming home for writers and readers from around the world, with books to buy, borrow, and author readings. In the early days many writers frequented the shop including Whitman's life long friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (the publisher of Howl, poet and co-founder of my other favorite bookstore, City Lights bookstore in San Francisco). Anaïs Nin was another lifelong friend of the bookshop. Other writers who frequented the shop (often staying the night in one of the many beds that doubled as benches during the day) included Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller and Alan Sillitoe

Today there is every and any kind of book on offer at the bookstore. The bookstore also hosts literary festivals, music evenings, children educational events and continues to provide author readings and talks. Shakespeare and Company also has an Antiquarian Bookshop attached to the commercial bookstore, which specializes in rare and first edition books from the twentieth and late nineteenth centuries. Although the Antiquarian bookshop is located at the heart of Paris they send these special and rare books all over the world.

When the tourists haven't swarmed the bookstore, you can often find a nook to sit and read. The multi level bookstore even has a little room for artists to tickle the ivory s. 

One could spend hours getting lost in the works offered at the Shakespeare and Company however one of my favorite pastimes is to choose a book, walk across the street and pick a spot along the quais and get to know my new friend. Now run by Whitman's daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman, the Shakespeare and Company is open every day 10am - 11pm except for Sunday when the bookstore opens at 11am.


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