Shakespeare & Co. did not have the same feeling as it did in 2014 – many more tourists taking photos instead of shopping for books in this peak travel season, and the newly attached cafe next door is overpriced. I miss quiet nooks, unexplored and overlooked, books that smell of sweet mildew from years left closed. I walked around with my head down, looking at my phone for side streets to wander down. It was only wen two bums drinking beer sitting on the sidewalk said something in french like, "she has the iphone 10" that I put it away, afraid to draw a thieve's attention, aware of how little I was paying attention. I used my feet to guide me down alleys and backends, and finally found the type of bookstore I desired – The Abbey Bookstore – a tiny hole in the wall with aisles so narrow you have to squeeze past. A Canadian native named Bryan owns and operates this space full of used, rare, and newly found treasures. I scoured through the vintage classics, a new trend of mine when I travel, hoping to score an addition to my collection waiting at home full of little known A. A. Milne and R.L. Stevenson stories. I contemplated getting something I know, such as Rudyard Kipling's Travel Journals or The Jungle Book, both editions dating back to the early 1920s, fragile, held on by a rubber band. Upon further consideration, mostly having to do with the amount of money I was willing to spend, I decided to go with Washington Irving's, "The Sketch Book," or Libre D'Esquises. This man is unknown to me, but within a few sentences, I fell for his voice. I bought this based on the preface alone, loving the familiarity of an american who travels to europe for a different pace of life. It begins: "I was always fond of visiting new scenes, and observing strange characters and manners. Even when a mere child I began my travels, and made many tours of discovery into foreign parts and unknown regions of my native city, to the frequent alarm of my parents, and the emolument of the town-crier." I said a quick Bonjour to Brian, and after explaining my recent travels to canada, his home country, he offered me some coffee and a place to sit out front.
I sipped espresso out of a paper cup, balancing on a rickety white stool while I read a few faded lines from this new old book, turning the delicate pages carefully between nose dives toward the spine. It was quiet, secluded. An external nook haven in a busy Parisian district. Other travelers came by, wanderers, discovering a bit of magic you can only find if you turn your brain off. I finished the espresso, fingers and toes ringing with caffeine, thanked the Canadian, and started towards the park. I laid on the damp grass of Luxembourg gardens with honey beer on a wednesday afternoon, melting away under a setting sun, watching a man drink milk out of a carton and a toddler running up to me saying bonjour. Barefoot feet in the air, I felt the wind pick up, tickling my soles and marking the end of summer. Leaves tinged the earth red, teens adorned sweaters, but the sun still brought out a gathering of strangers for a sweet stroll through the gardens.