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So after bidding a fond farewell to Shakespeare and Co., we wend our way back from whence we came. (I think I heard something like that in a travel documentary when I was a kid. Or maybe it was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Probably Bugs Bunny.) Past the two cafés we’ll re-cross the Rue du Petit Pont and hang a left on the other side. Don’t worry, it’s not far. Just enough time to light my pipe. After this big, ugly church – no, I don’t know its name. I don’t care. I just told you it’s ugly. Yeah, I know I’m your tour guide, but only for used bookstores and things I like. If you want to know the name of every ugly church in Paris you can go back to Shakespeare and buy their 1985 guidebook. This big, ugly church was already here then. Jeez! Well, I’ll admit that in the back there’s sort of a nice cloister, with a little park. Okay, so it’s Saint-Severin Church. It does have a redeeming quality
Anyway. After this big, ugly church, we’ll turn right on the Rue de la Parcheminerie. Number 29. Even from here you can see the boxes of books on the sidewalk. The Abbey Bookshop. And there’s a Canadian flag flying over the door. The guy who runs it is called Brian. He claims to be Canadian, but I’m not so sure. Several times, I’ve managed to manipulate conversations with him around so that I could hear him say: “about.” And what did he say? “About.” Not “aboot.” And he says he’s Canadian! You can try it yourself. If you don’t want to do a whole conversation, just say you’re looking for a comedy by Shakespeare. Not As You Like It and not Twelfth Night. And he’ll say “Much Ado About Nothing.” Of course, once he reads this, he’ll fix his cover. Now, you might wonder why he would lie about such a thing. Well, just as a couple of years ago it was frowned upon in the US to be French (remember Freedom Fries?) and in some circles in France Americans aren’t that beloved. But nobody doesn’t like Canadians. They’ve got maple syrup and Celine Dion. What’s not to like?
So let’s look at the books outside. One time I was out here, looking through the boxes, with my pipe, and Brian asked me to smoke my pipe inside. He said pipe smoke would add to the atmosphere. I never smoke inside, anywhere, but I did that one time. It was really neat.
One thing that’s not very practical here is that the books by the door are in stacks about five feet high. Don’t even think about buying a book from the bottom of the stack, much less pulling one out just to see how much it costs. There are some water-damaged books here on a rack. There wasn’t a fire at Abbey, but it rains a lot in Paris.
Now this is not a huge place; as a matter of fact, it’s rather narrow. So that when you’re looking at something, you may have to take a few steps to the end of the aisle to let that fat lady pass. Or if you’re trying to pass, you may have to wait while that guy with the beard gets done leafing through his find. “We’re a little crowded here. I’ve been looking around to find another place in the neighborhood to expand,” Brian explains. And explains. And explains. I’ve been hearing that for at least five years, Brian! But, hey, we’re not in any hurry. While we’re waiting to get through, we’ll look at what’s around us.
First of all, as you enter, on the right, they’ve got their fiction. Now there are new books here (have to take away points for that) but they’re not too mixed in with the used books. See, these shelves slide. Behind: used. In front: new. On the left, there’s a stairway to the basement. Watch your head. There must be a law that bookstores can’t have normal, easy-to- use stairs. You’ve got to see this. It’s neat. Look! There are “voutres!” You know, arches in the ceiling. This is a really old place. And books everywhere! A real mess! Great! You can see right away that this isn’t a bookstore for tourists. It’s the real thing. There’s history, philosophy, literary criticism. Yeah, there’s more stuff, too. But if I tell you everything, you won’t look around for yourself. In this little back room, it looks like there’s stuff that hasn’t been sorted yet. Philaster by Beaumont and Fletcher next to Dickens. And take a whiff. Smell that mold and mildew and old-book odor? Actually, it’s not very strong, especially for a medieval basement. Brian must spray something.
Back up the stairs. Watch your head again. Okay, moving into the shop, after the stairs, hiding behind stacks of books, there’s the desk, then there’s a – relatively – open area. In the center there’s a display table with new books. And a coffee pot. Brian offers free coffee here, with maple syrup to sweeten it. It’s good. Go ahead, take a cup. Maple syrup. Watch it, it’s hot. Ha! You burned your tongue! The only problem with taking the coffee is that it makes it hard to look at the books afterwards. Because there are no free spaces here to set the cup down on. The stacks of books all over the floor are too wobbly, and besides, you might get coffee stains on an old book. And how can you pull a book out of a tight shelf and leaf through it one-handed? There must be a way, but I haven’t found it yet.
Behind, on the right, there are Canadian books. But watch out. Some Canadians write in
French. These books are also mostly new, so I don’t spend much time there.
Then farther back, there’s what I like, in that narrow little hallway, lined with stacks of books on the floor. This is so neat! There are the classics and the medieval books. One time I needed to read Plato’s Apology, so I came here first, and they had it. Then plays, poetry. And facing them on the left are the mysteries. The problem is that the whole area is about the size of an airplane toilet – with people constantly trying to pass to get to the kids’ books or the biographies way in the back. But that’s what gives it atmosphere. Let me look at the plays. I like Elizabethan theater. The problem is that I already have almost everything. One time I found an 1831 edition of the complete plays of John Ford here for about $15.
And don’t forget to try to look at the stacks on the floor. But I have to bend down, and then I can’t get back up again. So I have to waddle from pile to pile. Then pull myself up. Slowly. That was my back cracking.
So, nothing today for me. What have you got there? A limited-vocabulary Sherlock Holmes? Oh, for your son. I thought maybe you had a limited vocabulary. “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway?” What’s that? Self help? Or a guide to bungee jumping? Okay, pay up and let’s go.