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George Whitman's famous bookshop, on the Left Bank. Today, we remember this incorrigable angel. Read on, and prepare to share your own tributes and stories. 

ange (ahnzh)
   
    : angel

Some expressions: 
mon ange = darling 
beau/belle comme un(e) ange = beautiful as an angel
être aux anges = to be in seventh heaven
un ange passe = an angel is passing
être le bon ange (or ange guardien) de quelqu'un = to be someone's guardian angel

Reverse Dictionary
angel cake = le gâteau de Savoie
to go where angels fear to tread = s'aventurer en terrain dangereux

Audio File: Listen to the following scripture (and to all of the expressions listed above) by clicking here: Download MP3 or Wave File
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N'oubliez pas l'hospitalité; car, en l'exerçant, quelques-uns ont logé des anges, sans le savoir. 
Be not inhospitable to strangers, for, in practicing it, some have entertained angels in disguise.
                                                                    —Hebrews 13:2

 
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Adieu, George

As many of you know by now, George Whitman passed away on Wednesday, at the age of 98. For those who didn't know him, or who are not familiar with this literary legend, I will try my best to introduce you to him. Perhaps I could begin by telling you how it was I came to meet him?
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Sometime in the early 1990s, I had wandered into George's famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. I must have just finished touring Notre Dame cathedral, then happened across the Seine to the lighted bookshop, a beacon to writers, poets, drifters and, oh yes, to customers looking for a good book.
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Walking into Shakespeare and Company is like walking into a book: the scene is as dramatic as the characters that live there... I immediately noticed George! How could you miss him? He sat behind a messy desk, looking as worn as his cherished editions. His clothes were tattered too; a psychedelic ensemble of layers covered him from head to toe: a colorful shirt clashed with a colorful vest which clashed with a colorful coat and so on...

His hair fought for distinction above the rest: unruly white locks, seared at the ends (did you ever see the video of George "cutting" his own hair: no scissors necessary; a pocket lighter sufficed!).

Seeing George was sensory and emotional overload for this aspiring writer: for here was the greatest character of all! Only, instead of pulling out my notebook and sketching George, via words—it was all I could do to hurry past him, and hide among stacks. There, I could better process what I had just seen: evidence of the ultimate hero.
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Hidden there, in the cooking section I heard his voice.
"What have you found?" George inquired. A little startled, my eyes shot down to the books in my hands. I was struck by the irony of the subject matter: there was a book on home cooking... and another on women's lib (it was, I believe, a book on women writers who had emblazoned a path to publication—in a time when only men were allowed to publish).
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"Bah!" George grunted, "get rid of that one," he said, of the women's lib book. "Follow me...." Chance was mine, when next I was treated to a tour of the bookshop.... 

On the way upstairs George literally bumped into one of his "tumbleweeds" (one of the 40,000 lost souls/writers he would host in his shop) and screamed, "What are you doing here? There's work to be done!" I witnessed, for the first time, the bookseller's duo personality: part angel par "incorrigible" (he certainly had a temper, perhaps to temper his overgenerosity?).
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"Good for nothing bums!" he grumbled as we made our way up the stairs (I would later learn that George referred to himself as nothing but a bum). In one of the many rooms, there were people my age, early 20s, sitting around a table with a typewriter on it. "How are you getting along?" George asked the group of bed heads (these particular bums had messy hair to rival—or honor—their host's.).

"They're writing their memoirs," George explained. I watched, in awe, wishing for anything to trade places with one of the young, down-and-out writers who got to live in this house of books and dine with its cranky host.

A sign above the door read: 
Be Not Inhospitable To Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise
Our tour continued and it was du pareil au même, or more of the same: all of the rooms were packed floor to ceiling with books. There were beds pushed up against the teetering bookshelves (this, it appeared, was where the bum-writers slept). In a little closet I thought I spied a toilet, or was that the edge of a stove? The furniture was as eclectic as the books on the shelves (and beneath and around them).

A door off one of the rooms led to a stairwell, where an old spiral staircase joined the various levels of the bookshop. George pointed up to the third floor, it seemed he lived up there....

I was grateful for the generous tour, an impromptu look-see that many before me (and many after...) had enjoyed as well. It all depended on George's mood, if he felt like it, he might show you around and even invite you to stay. 

"You'll have to come back for soup sometime," he offered, telling me about the irish stew he is known to make. I couldn't believe he was offering this to me, as he had to the writers in the upstairs study.
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I did return to his shop, years later. I regret that I was too nervous to reintroduce myself. I figured he would have forgotten me, after so many comings-and-goings.

And then, a dream came true and I had the honor of speaking at the bookstore... I asked his daughter, Sylvia, if by chance George would be around for the talk. "He's upstairs resting," she said, "but he will hear you," she assured me...
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Saying a nervous "bonjour" to the audience... wondering if George might, by chance, be listening from his room just above...
 
 
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George's daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman

Back at home while processing the photos from my talk, I saw this beautiful image, of Sylvia, listening in on the talk. That is when I remembered her assuring words, "He will hear you..."
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I like to think that Sylvia was the conduit to that end, that by her ears her bed-ridden father did hear so many of the goings-on downstairs—and that, by her sweet spirit, his own now lives on.

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Post note: I am so glad I took George's advice and, instead of reading about women writers (in the women's libbish book, I opted for the cook book... went home, had babies, took care of my husband... and wrote about it all in one of those autobiographies that he encouraged his "drifters" to undertake! George, you are the man! Thank you for creating this eclectic, warm, bookstore that continues to create and welcome writers and readers. We love you dearly.)

I wrote about my talk at Shakespeare and Co. (and overcoming public speaking jitters) here. Don't miss it.
 
Respond to this story, here in the comments box. Have you ever heard about Shakespeare and Company bookshop? Ever been there? Did you meet George? Please share your memories and thoughts here.
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You must watch Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man. Savor the documentary this weekend, or when you have the chance. It is a touching video and will tell you most everything you need to know about Shakespeare and Company and the incorrigable angel behind it. RIP, dear George!


Some news articles:

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Across the street from Shakespeare and Company: Notre Dame Cathedral

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Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi 
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