Shakespeare and Company bookstore Paris (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo taken in March 2010. The window at Shakespeare and Company bookshop... and one of the most exciting days of my life. I brought my book and Chief Grape brought his wine, which was a hit! I learned a little about public speaking—in preparing for the talk—and even more during the talk!


Today, read a story by French Word-A-Day reader Johanna DeMay

Following the Ange, or Angel story—about the passing of one of Paris's most unforgettable characters, I received several letters by readers who shared their experiences in the beloved Shakespeare and Company bookshop. Today, read Johanna DeMay's story. Feel free to share your own stories, here in the comments box.

troquer (troh-kay)

    : to barter; to exchange, swap

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wave file
Quand il n'avait plus d'argent pour acheter des livres, il troquait "ses moins favoris" pour obtenir un nouveau roman. When he had no more money to buy books, he bartered his "least favorite" in order to obtain a new novel.

The Genius of Shakespeare and Company
by Johanna DeMay
After hours of wandering around St. Germain-des-Prés on a chilly April morning, I finally caught my first glimpse of the famous bookstore.  None of the photos I had seen could convey the cattywhumpus quality of the place.  It looked like an illustration from a childrenʼs book.  It drew me in with the relentless tug of an outgoing tide.

The place was packed with people and books, and the people were as fascinating as the books.  A young man arrived to take over behind the desk, relieving the young woman who was off to lunch. The people in line waited while the two exchanged a few words in Franglish.  Then she breezed past me and the young man turned to his customers.

First in line was a short, barrel-chested old man in a well-worn motorcycle jacket. He had a mane of unruly salt-and-pepper hair, a jutting chin and brooding black eyes.  He plunked down a stack of books and 25 Euros.  The bookseller shook his head sadly.

“You know that these books will add up to more than 25 Euros, nʼest-ce pas?” the young man said.

Ecoute, 25 Euros is all I have.”

They looked at each other for a moment.  

“OK, which ones can you live without?”

“NONE of them.”

“OK, which ones can you NOT live without?”

“Your family has always been très gentille with me.  Youʼre not going to change that now, are you?”

Pas du tout.  So help me to choose.”  

The young man picked up the first book, eyebrows raised in question. The customer shook his head firmly and grabbed it. Another book, same result.  Third book.  The customer nodded and the bookseller set it aside.  When he had set aside 2 books he took the rest from the old manʼs hands, wrapped them up and handed over the package.  He picked up the 25 Euros from the counter and the two shook hands.  

I watched as the old man hurried out of the shop with his treasures.  When I looked back, business as usual had resumed, and all the people in line were smiling.

Le Coin Commentaires
Please help me to thank Johanna for her lovely story! Click here to leave a message in the comments box. 
Johanna is a studio potter in New Mexico and a lifelong lover of language.  She is also an avid cyclist and recently toured Provence on two wheels. Check out Johanna's pottery site, here:

 And Talk About A Wonderful Book Cover!...

TimewassoftthereReaders have recommended this book by Jeremy Mercer: Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare and Co.

Wandering through Paris's Left Bank one day, poor and unemployed, Canadian reporter Jeremy Mercer ducked into a little bookstore called Shakespeare & Co. Mercer bought a book, and the staff invited him up for tea. Within weeks, he was living above the store, working for the proprietor, George Whitman, patron saint of the city's down-and-out writers, and immersing himself in the love affairs and low-down watering holes of the shop's makeshift staff. Time Was Soft There is the story of a journey down a literary rabbit hole in the shadow of Notre Dame, to a place where a hidden bohemia still thrives. 

 Click here to buy a copy of Time Was Soft There.


French Vocabulary

n'est-ce pas? = isn't that right?

écoute (écouter: imperative form écoute! (toi)) = listen

très gentille = very kind, very nice

pas du tout = not at all



Johanna DeMay, who wrote today's story, is seen here. She and her husband, Will, pictured, visited me a few years ago.



 Riding past our vineyard, Will signals "au revoir".


Buy "Blossoming" at your local bookstore?
If you have bought a copy of Blossoming in Provence from a local bookseller, please leave me a message here in the comments box. It will be so helpful to know about your experience (was it easy to order? How long did it take to get the book?)

Capture plein écran 21122011 083440Here's a note from Jan:

We have a very charming little bookstore here in Monument called Covered Treasures that I just love. So, taking your advice from one of your emails advising of the availability of Blossoming in Provence, I printed off the information from Amazon and took it to my bookstore for two reasons. First, I prefer to support local businesses when I can. Second, I suggested that the owner might want to take a look at it when the copy I ordered arrives. Her comment when I showed her the book info was "What a beautiful cover!". I told her a little of your history to pique her interest. Who knows what might happen! At the very least, I'll get my book.  Jan in Monument, Colorado

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Adieu George Whitman, owner of Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris

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
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?
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.
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.
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).
"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?).
"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.
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...
Saying a nervous "bonjour" to the audience... wondering if George might, by chance, be listening from his room just above...
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..."
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.

                                    *    *    *

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.

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:

Across the street from Shakespeare and Company: Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety