In July I Facebooked this article about Paris – the ultimate cure for writers’ block, not knowing I would find myself in Paris in August. No excuses then, I had to put the cure to the test. My first trip was to the Shakespeare and Co Bookshop mentioned in the article. It was a hot and steamy Saturday afternoon; I had been sightseeing all morning and knew the location, on the banks of The Seine, would be busy. I just went for a look-see, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
The cramped bookshop downstairs was packed with browsers and tourists. I felt uncomfortable in the jostling crowd and made my way upstairs. Here I found a scattering of earnest young things in different poses of curled ownership, either reading, writing (Macs on laps) or gazing at some far off spot, no doubt waiting for some inspiration. I found the whole scene hilarious and couldn’t wait to get out. This was a shame because it felt like the type of bookshop I could love and had also been given five stars by some friends.
On Monday I had the day to myself. The weather was cooler in the morning but the air told me heat was on its way. I spent the morning in Montparnasse Cemetery in the company of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, and Odette. I also enjoyed the presence of some ordinary (live) people who were tending loved ones’ graves. I noticed the grave of a couple who died in Air France flight 447 had fresh flowers. The hum of a leaf blower buzzed in the distance and the slight breeze shook the trees overhead enough to dislodge more autumn foliage. I sat on a bench and wrote a long letter to my friend.
From there I walked towards the river, crunching through the leave filled gutters. The Jardin du Luxembourg is where philosophy students Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir would rendezvous, but I did not discover this until after my visit. This, to me, was a green space where I could sit on one of the park’s many metal chairs and watch. I watched Parisians eating packed lunches, joggers, women with pushchairs and the parkies, in tractors, scoop up loads of leaves and deposit them in a large metal cage. These leaves would eventually turn to mulch to feed the plants. And it was here, at that moment, I took my notebook from my bag and I wrote my first piece of fiction in three months. I was inspired by a pile of leaves. I felt relieved and happy, I could still write – this was the beginning of the end of my block.
From here I wove through the streets, still aiming for the river, and noting the location of all the bookshops on the way. This time Shakespeare and Co was quiet. I made my way upstairs where a solitary girl sat, legs crossed (Mac on lap) and typing furiously while she gazed wistfully through the window at Notre Dame. I found as comfortable a seat as I could in a place where all the seats are ill sprung. Upstairs is exclusively a library of old books so I chose a tattered copy of Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford and read two chapters, undisturbed. It was tranquil and special and I could see how some writers find inspiration in these conditions. For me, it wasn’t the physical space that allowed me to write although being away from home helped, it was giving myself the space to be alone in a foreign land and to relax for the first time in a long while.