ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy

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Paris – always a good idea

Said Audrey Hepburn. And who am I to argue with one so dainty and sophisticated?

So when I spotted a flight Madrid to Paris for 40 euro, at approximately holiday time, I snapped it up without a moments thought. Never mind the official dates of my Christmas break, they could be negotiated (or recuperated) later. Never mind that I already spent a good chunk of time in Paris last year, and it’s an expensive place to revisit just to ‘hang out and kill time’. Never mind that the only people I knew who lived in Paris weren’t going to be there…

Because plan or no plan, I knew it would be a great idea, and either way, it was en route to the rest of my Christmas vacation.

As it turned out, both of my ‘Parisian’ friends (well, Australian/French/Spanish semi nomads who’ve been there for some time) did end up being there, just. We managed to catch up, by the skin of my (their? our?) teeth. One left Paris (for Oz) the same day as me, and the other set off the day after. Lucky.

And how wonderful it was to properly talk, face to face, with old (and semi old) friends. To see each other after a period of time has elapsed, and then fill in all the gaps. Or at least attempt to. Inevitably conversation digressed with the pressure to cover so much in such a limited time. I’m still  a little hazy about some ‘essential’ details of which crucial things are happening in whose lives. But the important part was the laughs.

The only other vague plan I had in mind for Paris was to revisit what is possibly* my favourite bookstore in the world (*I’m still in the process of conducting research…it’s quite a task). Last year, the hunt for an English edition of Les Miserables led me on a wild and fantastic goose chase in search of English language bookstores all over Paris. It was a great way to explore the city, and I came across some real gems. Tea and Tattered Pages definitely scored points for it’s fantastic name (and salon de Té), but it was Shakespeare & Co. that ultimately won my heart.

This time I just couldn’t wait to spend more time there. The bookstore is an institution in Paris, and has been a popular hangout for writers, intellectuals, bohemians, and artists since the 1950s. Of course these days it’s swarming with hipsters and tourists. Call me either, I was more than happy to squeeze in and add one more to the crowd. (Compared to this thriving little joint, the Louvre is a haven of serenity).

Shakespeare & Co. is a quintessential antiquarian bookstore, with a maze of rooms and winding passages. Every square centimeter of wall (and sometime floor and ceiling) space is overflowing with books and eccentric decor. The ambiance is haphazard and cosy, and the windows are decked year-round with fairy lights. I’ve no idea how long I was in there for, probably a good couple of hours, as Paris drizzled away outside, another world away.  Inside the bookstore, there was a guy singing and playing the piano upstairs, whilst amateur theater took place in an adjacent room. And all the corners, couches, old rocking chairs, and cubby house were filled with people curled up reading.

Not long ago my friend and fellow blogger Bronwyn lamented on Facebook that ever time she enters a bookstore she’s “forced to confront the fact that as a mere mortal [she] will never be able to read ALL THE BOOKS.” Which perfectly sums up my own sentiments. Never have I so keenly been aware of the sheer, frightening volume of literature that is waiting me, than this past Sunday in Shakespeare & Co. It’s as if they’d had a sneak peak of my (barely dinted) 2012 reading wish list, and then artfully laid each of these books out for me in a row, in a cruel visual reminder that not this year, not any year, will I ever, ever have the time… and that’s just for the books that I’m aware of wanting to read. My list virtually doubled with curious new possibilities whilst I was in the shop… My 2013 diary is definitely going to need more pages.

And speaking of diaries. (what a convenient link). To check out the beautiful Christmas markets, I wandered into Bon Marché, one of Paris’ luxury departments stores. Like Shakespeare & Co., it had a similarly overwhelming effect on me. So many exquisitely beautiful, cleverly designed, clearly high-quality, frighteningly expensive things. I picked up one very nice leather bound agenda, thinking “well, I am in the market for something like this…”, and actually dropped it in fright when I saw the 200euro price tag. Lucky I wasn’t holding one of the gold dipped ceramic birds that had also taken my eye…..

Then, after a little more roaming, some beautiful Christmas lights and markets, randomly finding myself part of a peaceful upbeat pro-gay marriage rally,stumbling into (and staying to listen to) a concert rehearsal in an ancient church in St. Germain, eating delicious crepes from steert vendors and even better hearty home cooked food (thanks Sylvie), and taking a second squiz at Notre Dame (she’s still beautiful)… just like that,  my time in Paris was up.

That was a week ago… I wrote in Luxembourg and am posting from Antwerp. I think I might wait until I’m off the road to write about the rest of my trip, these crazy keyboards are driving me insane! (but at least the Dutch have exclamation marks…those Luxembourgers were way too serious folk).

In other news? Well I didn’t win El Gordo. But am still travelling happy, with Christmas markets and Glühwein galore.

Felices Fiestas

until the new year xxxx