Whenever I’m in Paris, I always think of Paul Verlaine, one of my favourite poets, who wrote the following lines:
“Quais de Paris! Beaux souvenirs! J’étais agile,
J’étais, sinon bien riche, à mon aise, en ces temps…
J’étais jeune et j’avais des goûts très militants,
Tel, un bon iconographobibliophile.”
“Paris down by the Seine–memories! I was
Agile then, not rich, but enough for my needs…
Young and in excessive militant mode,
Like a good iconographobibliophile.”
I was in Paris for the day with a good friend. We had plans to catch an exclusive show by burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese in the legendary Parisian club Le Crazy Horse. We arrived by bus in the afternoon, spent some time trying to figure out the metro system (as you do in a foreign city), and made our way towards the Notre Dame for an obligatory “Yay, we’re in Paris” selfie. I really wanted to check out the legendary Shakespeare and Company, a pokey English bookshop close to the Notre Dame on the bank of the Seine. It was founded in 1951 by George Whitman, who was an admirer of Sylvia Beach, the owner of the original Shakespeare and Company bookshop, which opened in 1919 and was a gathering place for some of the greatest expats and writers of all time: Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, to name a few. In 1922, Sylvia Beach also published Joyce’s Ulysses since no one else wanted to. Whitman changed the name of his shop to Shakespeare and Company in 1964, wanting to carry on Sylvia Beach’s spirit, and his shop too became a hub of Paris’s literary life: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Anaïs Nin, among many others, frequented it. Whitman passed the ownership of the store on to his daughter. Word of mouth spread, I suppose, because it is a place of pilgrimage for literature buffs all over the world! It’s very small and crammed to the ceiling with books. There were so many people that browsing at leisure was impossible, but that couldn’t be helped. It’s wonderful to see how the romantic image of a bookshop as a house of knowledge and a place for minds and souls to meet can still exist in this digital era. I bought a book of Paul Verlaine’s poetry.
Next, we had crêpes and coffee and made our way to the Champs Elysées to see if we could bag our tickets for Dita yet. We could and we did. Le Crazy Horse is a properly fancy place; mirrors and red velvet everywhere. The room where the show was to take place was not that big, but very intimate indeed. We got a free bottle of champagne with our standing tickets (the price of which had been calculated into the ticket price, naturally) and we felt very fancy, if a bit under-dressed; the rest of the audience, most of whom had seats, gave a new meaning to the phrase “dressed to the nines.” The show was absolutely wonderful. It was more performance art than burlesque sometimes; beautiful visuals projected onto the stage made the dancers’ bodies into canvasses. Comic relief between the acts was provided by two tap dancers who got more applause than any other performer that night. It was such a pleasure to watch all those talented performers, sipping champagne, feeling like we had been transported to the 1930s. A once-in-a-lifetime experience that I treasure very much.
After the show we wandered about and took the metro near the Eiffel Tower, which was beautifully lit up. A beautiful coda to the day was provided by a snapshot moment as we sat waiting for the metro to arrive; somebody was playing a very melancholy song on the clarinet (I believe) which echoed around the station, which he turned into “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions, one of my favourite songs.
I had the chance to snap a couple of photos, too.