Hi Everyone!

I've been back from my summer studying in Paris for about two weeks now, & I'm finally getting caught up enough to sit long enough to write about how I spent the past three months.

Kilometer Zero, the very center of Paris--& my lime-splattered boots, courtesy of the Catacombs.

I went to Paris (officially) to study language at the Sorbonne--I study English literature up at WSU-Vancouver, but I was ready for a change of pace & a change of scenery; anyway, how could I miss an opportunity to spend a summer in Paris?

On the second floor of the Eiffel Tower

My course load was relatively light (2 hours of grammar & 1 hour of phonetics, 5 days a week), so I had lots of time for wandering, searching out the city's little nooks (St. Paul's was my favorite accidental-discovery), sipping tiny cups of coffee, & whatever else I might find myself doing. As it was, I often found myself wandering into the center of the city, walking along the Seine, watching the pigeons & gulls darting around the towers of Notre Dame, & eventually (inevitably) ducking into the English-speaking bookshop on  Rue de la BĂ»cherie, Shakespeare & Company. There, I could always find a cozy little spot where I could sit unbothered for hours, wrapped up in whatever my book-of-the-moment was. At least one evening a week, I would join the crowd gathered out front of the shop & overflowing into the little-used cobblestone street to listen to the various writers who came through & gave readings--some I was familiar with, & others this was the first time I'd heard of them, but they always had really interesting & often beautiful things to say about books, about poetry, about literature, & about writing in general. A few of my favorites were Eileen Myles, Lydia Davis, & Jennifer Egan. And, as if it couldn't get any better, the shop has a little black shopdog named Colette who likes to wander the crowd--I was really missing my dog most days, so I was always very happy to see her darting around all the people & visiting the cafe next door in hopes of scraps.

This is me reading on one of the beds in the shop
(photo by wilmacheryl)

Despite all my reading of books in English (I had amassed a mini-library by the end of the summer, which has since been absorbed into my home library), I did pick up quite a bit of French & I'm hoping to get back into language courses next semester. I hadn't expected it initially, but once I started studying French, I began finding it relevant to the English literature I've studied, & I was even finding bits and pieces of it in the English books I was reading in Paris. It really made me start to think about language in a different way--it's far more complex that I had ever imagined (& still more).

I finished my courses at the Sorbonne on the first of August, packed up my backpack, & met my sister at the train station. I showed her some of Paris & after a couple of days we got on a train to Calais, then a ferry to Dover, then a bus to London. Not only was it a tremendous relief for my brain to be able to work in English again, but I somehow felt really at home in London--I walked through city parks & saw people meditating & going on flower walks; we ventured through Chinatown; we hit some of the high-end shopping districts (which are worth it even if you're on a 'baguette budget', if only to observe all the super-chic street fashion). I also got to visit Shakespeare's Globe Theater, 2 bookshops (Waterstone's & Hatchards), the TATE modern (including the Damien Hirst exhibit), the London Natural History Museum (I lucked out & got to walk through the Animal Inside Out exhibit, which is like Body Worlds except with animals), & of course several spots in the city that were used for the filming of Harry Potter.

We also went through Brussels (I knew the chocolate would be good, but I didn't think it would be that good), Amsterdam (I'm now harboring a dream of living out the rest my years on a houseboat in the canals--also: more bookshops, the names of which I couldn't pronounce but which still had a selection of books in English), Venice (very hot & very busy, but architecture like I've never seen before--forget the tours & big empty landmarks--just wandering the streets was a really nice way to spend the day, and there was a bookshop tucked in amongst the restaurants and souvenir shops), & Milan (only on accident).

We ended up back in Paris to catch our flight--& so that I could say goodbye to the city, & the bookshop, where I'd spent so many evenings curled up reading or writing & listening to the summer rain against the windows or someone playing the piano in the library. I was very sad to leave, but was also looking forward to getting back to my friends & family, to a place to sleep for more than a night at a time, & of course to my dog & cat. My first brush with European city life & culture was really amazing, though, & I can't wait for my next opportunity to explore further (Scotland & Ireland are next on my list!). But for right now, I'm back in my lit classes, & doing what I can to retain the French I picked up until I can get back into language courses next semester.

Should you find yourself in Paris, I absolutely recommend a trip to Shakespeare & Company, or Waterstone's in London, or (of course!) Vintage Books here in Vancouver. And if you want to talk European bookshops, Paris, or just in general, I'm here at the shop every Sunday, 10-4.


ps Shakespeare & Company has a very rich & interesting history which has involved, at one point or another, the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, & lots more. You can learn more about the shop on their website, where you can also find some audio of their literary events:


& if you want to dig still deeper, I'd recommend Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company, & Jeremy Mercer's Time Was Soft There.