Writing Portfolio


'Through Paris lay my readiest path...'

When in Paris, there are a couple of places that I try to visit whenever I'm there. Or perhaps that should be 'here', as I am writing this while sipping from a glass of wine in an apartment in the 11th arrondissement.

The wine element is important here as it was purchased in our favourite Parisian wine bar, Le Baron Rouge which can be found close to the Marche d'Aligre, just south of the Rue de Faubourg Sainte-Antoine in the 12th. Aligre is a must-visit market whenever Allison and I go to Paris, and after browsing the flea-market and buying food which we will cook later, we make our way to Le Baron Rouge for a glass or two of wine.

Le Baron is truly our favourite wine-bar in Paris. It's packed with good quality wines that can be had by the glass for (usually) 3 or 4 euros a pop, and these include a few that you'd have to work hard to find in London, but it's a decidedly working-class bar (a lot of the market traders like to frequent it after a day's work) in which the pretensions that can be associated with wine-tasting are left outside.

As well as great wine, you can get platters of cheese and charcuterie (and, on Saturdays, oysters) so it's good for lunch. You can even buy wine to take away - and not just by the bottle, but by the litre (or even the five-litre plastic carton) which is drawn straight from the barrel.

Later in the day, I went to the Left Bank - specifically, the Rue de la Bucherie (within sight of Notre Dame) - to visit one of my favourite shops, Shakespeare & Company. This is a true Paris institution, an English-language bookshop that is actually three places in one - a bookshop, a second-hand bookshop (not usually located within the same establishment) and a reference library!

The place was opened in the Fifties although the founder, a visionary of sorts called George Whitman, did not originally call it Shakespeare & Company, choosing later to name it after a bookshop of that name that had existed at a different location on the Left Bank between the Wars (patrons then had included Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce).

I try and visit Shakespeare & Company every time I'm in Paris, As I usually do, I browsed the second-hand stalls outside and had a look inside (where all the new books are) before going upstairs to the reference section which doubles a sleeping-area for writers who earn their board by working on the counter during the daylight hours.

Up there, there's a piano - someone was having a go on that, and a good job she was doing - and in the front room part of the tan leather armchair was occupied by a white cat having a snooze; I presumed that this was the same cat who had been responsible for tearing up part of said leather armchair. Elsewhere in the room was a window-facing desk bearing a typewriter (anyone can have a go, apparently) and at any given time at least two would-be writers can be seen jotting something down in a notebook that is either Moleskine or a close imitation of that brand.

You can just choose a book - any book - and sit and read. I browsed, obviously; after discounting old favourites like Boswell's Life of Johnson and Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean (on the grounds that I own those, back home), I picked up a 1930s edition of Wordsworth's The  Prelude, and on flicking though it I came across the bit (in Book IX) describing  a visit he made to Paris:

Through Paris lay my readiest path, and there
I sojourn'd a few days, and visited
In haste each spot of old and recent fame
The latter chiefly...

Wordsworth was in Paris in the early 1790s, so he took in not just the sights - then as now, 'Mont Martyr' was evidently a must-visit - but also the places where key events of the French Revolution had taken place; he even describes going to the site of the Bastille - right next to what he called 'the suburbs of St. Anthony' (ie. the Rue du Faubourg Sainte-Antoine), which is of course not far from a certain present-day wine bar of my acquaintance...

And from the rubbish gather'd up a stone
And pocketed the relick...

Very interesting. In c. 1792, William Wordsworth was picking up a piece of the Bastille to take home. For me, the parallel between that and tourists visiting Berlin two hundred years later and taking a piece of the Wall as a souvenir was very striking.

Thus enlightened, I made my way back to 'our' apartment. Where I had some wine - purchased from (where else?) Le Baron Rouge.    

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