One of the most famous bookshops in the world, Shakespeare & Company in Paris has a wonderful story behind it and has played host to many luminaries of the literary world.
On a nostalgic journey myself right now, I was intrigued to see that the two front sections of the bookshop are devoted to the ‘Lost Generation’ (Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Gerturde Stein) and the Beat Generation (Kerouac, Ginsberg etc).
The place is a magnet for young people, especially Americans, and these long dead writers seem to possess a romanticism that has never faded.
Writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald came to Europe at a time when it was cheap to live in Spain or the South of France. You could take a house for the summer or live in a quaint hotel overlooking the sea while tapping out a masterpiece on a typewriter. It seems as though, for all privileges and conveniences we have today, many young people yearn for this simpler time when it was possible to get away from the world. And who can blame them.
Paris is the most romanticised city in the world, although not so much by people in the rest of France who generally hold a dim view of Parisiennes.
It does have beautiful buildings and good food (then so do most places in France) but even in March it is bulging with tourists; legions of British, Americans, Eastern Europeans and young Asian women wearing French berets seemingly without embarrassment.
It’s a wonderful city to walk and observe, although it’s wise to look out for dog doo and also for motorbikes and speeding Segways on the pavement and great clouds of smoke from people vaping.
But all the people I’ve come into contact with have been lovely. For some odd reason, my French often seems to elicit a bemused smile and people sometimes add a little helpful correction here and there – very sweet.
I’m anything but a hoarder and have given away hundreds of books over the years. But, by some miracle, have managed to hold on to the book I was reading in 1978 when I was in France – Colette’s The Rainy Moon and Other Stories which made a huge impression on me at the time. Interesting to delve into it again after forty years!
Cosy isn’t it? It was a very strange experience to visit the building in Battersea where I lived from 1977 to 1979, and to stand in the foyer outside the old flat and feel the memories flooding back.
I lived here on the 17th floor with my then partner and my best friend from NZ, as well as a series of visitors from home who slept on camp stretchers (before the days of inflatable mattresses). One thing that hadn’t changed was the lift still smelt of stale pee!
Even then, finding a flat in London was incredibly difficult and expensive and the thrilling part about this place, which belonged to my employer, was the rent was less than half what we had previously been paying – which made life sooo much better.
We had a million quid view of seven bridges down the length of the Thames and could walk across the Battersea Bridge and up the Kings Road in Chelsea where everything was happening. Punk was in full swing especially around the BOY store which had taken over from another boutique called SEX established by Malcolm McLaren and Vinnie Westwood.
It was a grotty little place but, standing outside that flat, I had very vivid memories of my time there; the funny old black typewriter I used to bash out short stories on and my dreams of becoming a writer. How strange to be here 40 years later to complete the circle.
What better way to recapture the cultural vibe of my experience in London in the late 70s than to see an Ingmar Bergman film? As it happened the British Film Institute were running a retrospective season of the Swedish director’s work and I went to see The Touch this week.
When I first started going to BFI on London’s Southbank, it was a revelation to me. In these cinematically diverse days, it’s easy to forget that back then many of us (myself included) had never seen a foreign film. We had to adapt to sub-titles and to concepts that were quite different from our diet of Hollywood and British films, with a few local offerings thrown in. It was an education and opened up whole new worlds.
Bergman, considered one of the world’s greatest directors, stands the test of time, if you feel like a little nostalgia then dive in. I loved it just as much as I did forty years ago!
My journey starts in London. I chose this time of year to avoid the tourist season and because March 1st is the first day of spring. Not this year!
I’ve been back to London a few times since I lived here in the late seventies but my plan was to revisit some old haunts and dig up some memories, unfortunately the snowy weather means it’s a major expedition to go anywhere!
I swapped my Sydney flat for a wonderful basement flat in this grand Regency building located right in Bayswater, so I’m very central but walking down the street is hard going with freezing winds and heavy snow.
I’m here for a few more days, then to Paris where the weather is just as challenging.
Sixty Summers – Synopsis:
When Maggie, Fran and Rose backpacked Europe together in 1978, they had dreams and ambitions. Now, forty years later, they are all at turning points in their lives. In an attempt to recapture the sense of freedom and purpose they once possessed, they set off on an odyssey that will test their friendship, challenge their beliefs and redefine the third age of their lives.
So, here I go – setting off to retrace part of my own youthful journey during the seventies. The only items that have survived from my trip, are a couple of photographs and this little notebook in which I recorded the daily costs. These are pretty funny by today’s pricing!
My characters are completely fictional, my quest is now to find the settings and develop the story as I travel – so come along for the ride!