Oh, Paris in the 20s! When Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald were around! What a life this must have been, sitting in the cafés, writing, drinking, writing, talking. Around 90 years later – or one month ago – Jen and I were in Paris and followed literary traces: We visited the cafés where authors used to meet and write. Café du Dôme, the meeting point of Henry Miller and Anais Nin. Café de Flore where Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Bauvoir liked to sit. Or Le Select, one of Samuel Beckett’s places. The cafés all felt a bit glamorous, not as shabby and comfortable as we had imagined. Time has passed, of course.
And still: there were not only tourists with maps of Paris on the tables, there were also older men talking to each other enthusiastically but also serious, and you could see the skill of story telling in their eyes while they were smoking their cigarre. Are they old enough? Could they have known – ?
Following the tourist route to Notre Dame, we took a turn right across the Seine just before and stood in front of another big literature place. In 1919, Sylvia Beach founded the great English bookshop Shakespeare & Company in Paris. She had travelled to London with a suitcase to buy books, and she did not only give a membership card to James Joyce, she also first published his Ulysses. A great woman, a great literature place. Unfortunately, it was packed. Not only with books but with people. We slowly walked around and – again – tried to imagine what it must have been like here, at the beginning of the last century, when authors came in to borrow books and to talk, when this was the meeting place of fantastic writers.
And while we were following literary traces, we wondered: what’s the Paris of today? Is there still a city where you can sit down with only one cup of coffee for hours and keep on writing, without the waitress distracting you? What is the city of today where writing is highly esteemed?