The French are known for the ways literature shapes their city and in turn their city shapes literature. Be it Gothic cathedrals and hunchbacks, cobblestone streets and musketeers, colorful cockades and revolutionaries, the streets of Paris are home for and inspiration to countless stories. Inspired by the French wordsmiths, here’s a perfect page for your own Parisian story.
Our page begins at the soul of the city itself. The Notre-Dame de Paris is a medieval cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary nestled on a small island right in the middle of Paris. Gothic and gigantic, the large building has grown to be synonymous with the soul of the city itself. It seems the novelist Victor Hugo’s love for the Notre Dame has done more than just preserve its presence; it has spoken into its continued existence. For instance, the notorious gargoyles of Notre Dame were actually added by the restoration architect, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, modeled directly after Hugo’s description in the famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. While the cathedral itself is inaccessible due to reconstruction efforts in the wake of a tragic fire in 2019, one can witness its beauty from outside, learn its history, and even witness more ancient ruins below by visiting the Archaeological Crypt of the Île de la Cité just before the cathedral. Thanks to Millennium Tours specializing in international trips, our admission was free by way of the Paris Museum Pass. This travel tool allows you to access dozens of Paris’ museums, historic landmarks, and major sites for a one-time fee. We ended up stumbling upon new favorite places simply by the suggestions listed on the pass!
This day’s story continues nearby at the perfect Parisian pit stop. Nestled in a quaint corner just beside the Notre Dame lies Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop that for decades has served as a community for traveling writers, readers, and bibliophiles alike. We stopped first in their café to a delectable lunch of quiche and quinoa, but their pastry and coffee menu looked sublime. Sitting in its window, you can view the previous literary landmark while diving into your own novel of choice. Once you’ve had a good snack, some good conversation, and a great view, the bookshop awaits.
Shakespeare and Company can be quite popular, so you may see a line to get in. Do not fret! It moves quickly, and it serves to keep their small paths between books navigable and friendly to all. After a short wait, we were inside. The books are mapped out by genre, but most everything is in English. You can find your favorite book, the newest literary hit, or even a book for your niece inside. Their special collections include a section for titles by French novelists, in-house printed publication, and a whole area for Shakespeare himself. Find your next read (and maybe a new tote to carry it in), and make sure to ask for them to stamp your selection at the counter! I opted for Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and a selection of poems published in-house to support the reconstruction of the Notre Dame.
Outside the store lies something all readers need but often forget when engrossed in the pages of a fantastic adventure: l’eau. All across France are free water filling stations, often themed to fit the historic city’s aesthetics. Just outside the bookshop lies one of these sculptures of ornately designed green metal housing every person’s necessity. Make sure you fill up for your next adventure!
We finished out our day just across the Rue de Petit Pont at the Theatre de la Huchette, home to a legendary repertory run of French theatre. Since 1957, the theatre has played a double-bill of Eugène Ionesco’s The Lesson and The Bald Soprano, which is quite a long run for a work of theatre. Plays like Ionesco’s are implemented in American literature and theatre classes, known for their absurdist style. On Wednesday night performances, the theatre now features English subtitles, which gift English-speaking audiences with the ability to not only understand the play but to appreciate just how well it works in its native French. We saw The Bald Soprano, which had us in stitches with just how well the French language can pack a comedic punch.
While today wrote only a few pages in our Baylor Theatre travel abroad story, I hope you’ll include it in your next chapter abroad.