Sharon Pelletier eloquently expressed in this blog last week how books can give us great solace in times of trouble—as in the recent events in Paris. The shock waves that weekend were felt worldwide, and for some of us with strong connections to Paris, they reverberated with particular force. I spent my senior college year at the Sorbonne, a confirmed Francophile since childhood. And every time I return to Paris, be it for work, pleasure, or both, I fall in love with the city all over again.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris’s famous English-language bookstore, is a Left Bank haven many of us have frequently visited to browse and to attend readings by Anglophone authors and poets. On the night of November 13, it suddenly became a place of refuge. Approximately 20 customers were in the shop when the violence erupted. They barricaded themselves inside, pulled the shades, blacked out the lights. All night long they remained together in the relative safety of Shakespeare and Company, keeping track of the real-time events on their smartphones and texting loved ones to let them know they were okay. And some were undoubtedly passing those frightening hours trying to calm themselves by reading books off the shelves.
All night long, it was as if all those books were standing guard. Art, as often happens, was watching over humanity through one of its darkest hours. That night, the bookshop truly lived up to the Bible quotation which hangs over its door: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” Rose Alana Frith, a bookseller at the store, said that its role on November 13, 2015 as “a refuge from atrocities” was something “many will be unable to forget.”
You can read a fuller account, with links to first-hand reports, at this Shelf Awareness page: http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=2635#m30518
These days, the final line of Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” keeps running through my mind:
“No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.”