As this was my fourth time in the Ville Lumière, and since Anne is studying abroad there this semester, we bypassed the main attractions and went off in pursuit of Paris littéraire.
Anne’s and my relationship began when I was employed as her French writing tutor back in 2011. Over the years we’ve bonded over our mutual francophilia. We enjoy excitedly (and nerdily) discussing the nuances of French poetry, philosophy, feminism, etc. We often exchange newly-learned words and expressions. And I take much credit in her decision to become a French major.
She’s also one of my closest friends.
In short, there is no one with whom I would have rather embarked on this literary pilgrimage.
Our first stop was the Panthéon—home to some of France’s “grands hommes” (and femmes). Highlights include: Voltaire, Rousseau, Marie Curie and Victor Hugo.
From there, we trudged through the drizzle to Shakespeare and Company. In its heyday, Paris’s infamous English-language bookstore was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce (to name a few). The space is cozy, cramped and stuffed to burst with books, upon books, upon books. Since Shakespeare and Co. was known as the cradle of cutting-edge literature back in the day, I decided to go PoMo and invest in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (which I would read cover-to-cover on my train ride back to Auch—post to come).
Next up was the Cimetière Montparnasse, a.k.a. the resting place of many of our favorite late-19th- and early-to-mid-20th-century authors. We checked in on Marguerite Duras, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Eugène Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett.
Oh and BAUDELAIRE. Charles and I may have shared a kiss…
Escaping the damp, we headed to the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits to take in some first-edition copies of our favorite books and tons of paper touched and scribbled on by France’s literary geniuses. I also got to continue on my poète maudit kick with a temporary exhibit on Verlaine (and thus, by extension, Rimbaud), which brought me back to my IES Nantes poetry days.
Recharged by an evening of sangria and leftover tartiflette (and eventually a good night’s sleep), Anne and I woke up ready to take on day two. We started with Victor Hugo’s house (more accurately, apartment), which happens to be located in the Place des Voges or ancient Place Royale, which in turn happens to be the setting and title of one of Corneille’s comedies. Double whammy!
After a historical interlude at the Musée Carnavalet so I could finally visit the French Revolution wing, we made it to our last stop, Père Lachaise: arguably Paris’s most celebrated repository of human remains. We saw Abelard and Héloïse, La Fontaine and Molière, Eluard, Apollinaire, Edith Piaf, and—drumroll—BEAUMARCHAIS.*
The weekend was nearly perfect, but as with any trip to Paris, this one still ended far before I hit everything on my wish-list.
That’s what I love about Paris. It will always keep me coming back for more.
For Anne’s version of our literary extravaganza, click here.
*Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais took over my life for more than a year thanks to an end-of-semester class project, a subsequent summer research grant and finally my senior honors thesis. I’ve studied his plays, their reception and his response; I’ve annotated his letters; and I’ve read his life story (Thanks for your help in the American Revolution!). Suffice it to say, we’re bros.
Click here for more photos from Paris.