Paris: The Latin Quarter

Solution to Arti’s Cryptic Challenge #3: Paris

It was pure serendipity that I’d picked a hotel right in The Latin Quarter.  At the time of my booking I wasn’t aware of so culturally rich a Parisian sector I’d be staying, and with many attractions on my list within walking distance.   The Latin Quarter derived its name from the fact that Latin was widely spoken in the area during Medieval time.  This has been the academic and literary part of Paris, and remains so today. Bookstores are everywhere, almost all in French though, many specializing in philosophy.

Our hotel is situated right across from the Sorbonne, Universite de Paris.  Unfortunately it was closed during the summer months, the guard at the gate making sure people stay out, so I did not get a chance to go inside or browse in their bookstore.

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The Panthéon is also located in The Latin Quarter, about a 15 minutes walk from where we stayed.  It is the burial site of several renowned intellectual and literary figures of France, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola, Pierre and Marie Curie:

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Not just as a memorial ground, the Latin Quarter is a vibrant sector where writers, intellectuals and academics congregate, meet each other to engage in discourses over coffee or a glass of wine. Here is a restaurant where Camus and Sartre were among its prominent patrons, now a tourist point of interest on the map, Le Brasserie Balzar:

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Heading down rue St. Jacques from Balzar, I walked towards the River Seine.  I could see from afar the Notre Dame:

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But I wasn’t going to make my way across just yet, for I’ve found the number one item on my must-see list situated on this side of the Seine, the Left Bank, and that was the legendary bookstore-library, Shakespeare and Company:

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On November 17, 1919, American expatriate Sylvia Beach opened the English language bookstore-library in Paris, and turned the page in literary history.  Beach was not merely a bookseller, but a multi-faceted literary personality, a writer and a subject for other writers, the publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922, the proprietor of a literary hub that welcomed expatriate writers to mingle, read, write and stay.  In one of her many literary parties she introduced F. Scott Fitzgerald to James Joyce, the former was too intimidated to approach Joyce himself.   Many icons of the ‘Lost Generation’ had been affiliated with the literary hang-out, including Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, to name a few.  Click here for a historic photo of Beach and Joyce in front of Shakespeare and Company.

Hemingway and some of the ‘Lost Generation’ found on the walls of the bookstore:

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Closed down during WWII, the new owner George Whitman, another American expat and a friend of Beach’s,  re-opened its doors in 1951 in the present location on the Left Bank of the Seine.   Now in his 90’s, Whitman has stood by his commitment not to sell his little bookstore to developers, and kept the tradition alive: a sanctuary for writers.  For almost 60 years now, Whitman, himself a writer and a poet, has offered lodging and writing opportunities to countless aspiring souls.  The bookstore is now run by daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman.  According to its website, Shakespeare and Company has served more than 50,000 heads on the pillows of its 13 bed facilities for free, accommodating such literary figures as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell, and Alan Ginsberg.  Click here for a personal account of what it’s like staying at Shakespeare and Company, and some house rules.

A mementos from Lawrence Durrell:

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Upholding the spirit of hospitality:

Typewriter for use, tradition alive and well:

Some impromptu music-making:

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Just last week, even the editor of the New York Times has declared the inevitable, that the print version of the New York Times will end some time in the future. Under the sweeping torrents of eBooks and ePublishing, seems like independent bookstores are fighting an uphill, if not a losing, battle.  I wish the Whitman family well in standing strong against the tide.  From a little bookshop-library, it has stayed true to its tradition, and by so doing, gained a spot on the historic map of Paris.  In 2006, Whitman was honoured by the French Minister of Culture with the Order of Arts and Letters. More than just a point of interest for tourists, Shakespeare and Company has now become a cultural institution that just, hopefully, might not be so easily demolished to make way for new development along the Seine.

Click here to read an interesting article and personal interview with George Whitman from Bloomberg, yes, Bloomberg.

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All Photos Taken By Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

6 thoughts on “Paris: The Latin Quarter”

  1. What a wonderful post! We also stayed near the Sorbonne but the medical faculty, I think. Shakespeare & Co. is such a wonderful bookshop isn’t it? And I particularly love it’s location.

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    chasing bawa,

    The whole Latin Quarter is just memorable. Posting this makes me want to go back now… particularly when classes have started so I can really immerse in the academic and intellectual atmosphere. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment!

    Arti

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  2. It’s been five years since I was in Paris, and like you, I felt lucky to have landed such good accommodations — we ended up in The Marais rather than The Latin Quarter — but from there, we walked everywhere. And that’s what I remember most about Paris — walking, walking, walking — and when not walking, watching others walk as I sat outside a brasserie.

    Paris makes such lovely memories. Thanks for sharing yours.

    Janell

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    Janell,

    You’re right about that, walking, walking, and more of the same. And sometimes it’s easier to just walk to your destination than trying to figure out the intricacy of the Metro or the RER in Paris… and you have to walk to the station too. I was so fortunate to have lived right across from the Sorbonne, and from there, I walked all the way to the Louvre. And you can imagine, the Louvre is another huge place I needed to walk some more. It was exhausting really. I sure love to hear more about your experiences there.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Arti

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  3. Don’t ask me why I’ve never stayed in the Latin Quarter! I always end up near the Louvre or in the Marais. But always with in close walking, walking, walking distance to the Seine, so the Latin Quarter isn’t far. I have had dreams about the Latin Quarter, as if I lived a previous life there. It was so convincing, that I almost believe in reincarnation. 😐 I kid you not.

    I loved the Panthéon, mainly because of Marie Curie. I felt so very proud. Have you read Is Paris Burning?? It’s a quick read, and I recommend it for a wonderful piece of Paris history, when a certain German general was ordered by Hitler to blow up Paris bridges and monuments. There is much there about Pierre Curie, Marie’s son, who fought in the Resistance.

    I love that you shared so many pictures of Shakespeare & Co. It seems that you enjoyed it as much as I hoped you would. I hope you bought a book or two and got the little Kilometer Zero stamp. George Whitman once asked if I had a bed in Paris. I regretted my answer, because he would have offered me a bed! Imagine. It would have been worth forgoing a night at the hotel for that, but I guess I was not as brave as I should have been.

    I breathe out a big sigh. I know this was a quick trip for you, and it sounds as though you are happy with where you stayed, which is wonderful.

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    Ruth,

    You know, I went back to Paris Deconstructed and read through many of your posts, in particular, about your encounter with Mr. Whitman, after I’ve posted this. What a wonderful moment, with him opening his window welcoming you to stay in S & Co. I don’t think I’ve prepared enough for this visit because I didn’t know about his daughter SBW taking over now and maybe I talked to her while purchasing my book. Yes, I bought a book on film, and a multi-fold picture card written by GW himself about the history of S & Co. with memorable photos, and yes, got the k0 stamp.

    And since I just stayed in the LQ, and mainly walked, I never had the chance of visiting other areas like Marais. I must go back and spend more time in that beautiful city… I feel like I’ve only looked at a few side streets! Of course, I did do the tourist thing of that open deck bus, which is very convenient in dropping us off key tourist spots, but there are much, much more to see and explore. Thanks for your inspiration at PD, that has certainly aroused my interest and helped prep me for the trip. We all need to head back there some day!

    Arti

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  4. What lovely pictures of Shakespeare and Co.! Especially loving the illustrated wallpaper down there. What a sad world when these independent bookstores are no more. I’m glad it got that place on the historic map!

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    Claire,

    Yes, I think S & C has achieved a cultural status that hopefully can protect it from going into oblivion like many other indie bookstores. Whitman is one amazing man… and the tradition of offering lodging to writers free is just wonderful. Just hope it will continue to prosper as a literary hub even in our time.

    Arti

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  5. I’ve been reading and reading and not being a good girl and commenting – but this post especially had me completely befuddled. I’ve never been to stay in Paris, and I’ve certainly never been in Shakespeare and Company, yet it seemed so familiar I thought I surely must have been.

    It took a while, but I figured out the mystery. The second hand book store I frequented while I was in Berkeley was named – Shakespeare and Co!
    And yes, it was named after the one in Paris. It was just on the edge of the UCB campus. It wasn’t nearly so interesting, but it had aspirations 😉

    I never had heard of the one in Paris until I read your blog entry. What a fabulous place. And wouldn’t it be something to stay there? It wouldn’t be bad just to be there!

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    Linda,

    Yes, I’m glad you remember your past visits to S & Co. in the U.S. I have read somewhere that there are S & C stores in the States, but maybe just using the name though. Now this one in Paris is the original, which has earned a mark on the Paris cityscape. I hope it will stand there on that spot for years to come, and keep its tradition of being a hub and shelter for writers. They have an online newsletter you can subscribe, announcing literary events there, you might like to check that out on their website.

    I learned today that they have a travel warning for us N. Americans going there, and even made some arrests down in Avignon … guess I came back in time. 😉

    Arti

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  6. Oh, Arti! I’m so glad you sent me the link to this post! Now I must look and see if there are other Parisian ones as well! What a wonderful city — and this is such an illuminating post — lots of info there for the initiated and uninitiated alike!

    Gorgeous photos and good links, too. Thank you!

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    Jeanie,

    Glad you’ve enjoyed it. You might like to continue with the next two posts, especially the one on Arles, the highlight of my trip.

    Arti

    Like

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