Shakespeare and Company: The Present
When perusing the streets of Paris as an outsider, it seems only right that you visit all of the authentic Parisian districts and tourist sites. If, however, you desire a bit of American flair in your Parisian experience, you can stop by 37 Rue de la Bûcherie—the residence of the famous Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, right across the Seine river from the famous Notre Dame cathedral. Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore started by and now dedicated to George Whitman. With its forest green doors and windows and faded mustard-yellow sign, this bookstore stands out against the off-white buildings surrounding it. Books collect in the windows, flyers are taped to the glass, strings of electric bulbs frame the sidewalk outside the door, and graffiti tags have left their marks on the white stone façade of the establishment: its historic bohemian look stands out among the urban front facades of the other buildings on the block, emphasizing Cresswell’s idea that groups “build their own places and communities in order to live differently from the mass of people” (Cresswell, 61). Shakespeare and Company is a product of expatriates’ desires to live differently from those native Parisians around them, separating themselves from that community in order to form their own.
The small, one-block Rue de la Bûcherie runs parallel to Quai de Montebello, which is adjacent to the Seine. Between Quai de Montebello and Rue de la Bûcherie is a median strip sectioned off into gated gardens and pathways between the two streets. Bicycles are chained to the garden fence like avant-garde decorations. Shakespeare and Co. sits between Le Petit Chatelet restaurant and Hotel Esmeralda on the small side street of Bûcherie. Across the cobblestone Rue Saint-Julien on the left there’s a small city park: Square René Viviani. Aside from the park, the bookstore is nearly surrounded by eateries; the triangular island of pavement it resides on is made up entirely of pubs, cocktail bars, clubs, and restaurants apart from one other store: a gun shop. Even when considering the businesses in neighboring blocks, Shakespeare and Co, is hopelessly outnumbered by food joints. However, the food choices in this area are large and diverse, ranging from typical French cuisine to ethnic food from all around the globe. The restaurants are built into the ancient existing structures, giving even the African and Asian cuisine stores a sense of “authenticity” amongst their French counterparts (Cresswell, 60).
This independent bookstore seems to be out-of-place in a sea of tasty (and probably not so tasty) meals, again emphasizing Cresswell’s notion of these expatriates separating and defining themselves from the French surroundings. However, Rue de la Bûcherie runs in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, the district known as the Latin Quarter for its history as the scholarly center. In the past, international students congregated in this district and spoke Latin as the common tongue, and sign of their intellectual prowess. While the dead language is no longer spoken in this area today, the 5th remains a strong educational center in Paris; it houses the Panthéon—the neoclassical tomb for many of France’s greatest minds; the Sobornne—a branch of the University of Paris declared as one of the greatest research universities in the world; and 15 different schools, from elementary to universities. Two of the top five universities in France–Université Pierre et Marie Curie and the aforementioned Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne—are housed in this district. However, the student population of the area has dwindled as housing prices have risen, changing the demographics of the neighborhood.
View 5th Arrondissement Schools in a larger map
Out of the 62,664 inhabitants of the 5th arrondissement, 30% are between 40-65 years old. With the middle-aged folks at the top of the population tower, the 24-39 age group is a close second, holding 24% of the population. While discussing statistics, 58% of the residents are single, and 20% are couples without children; the percentage of parents living in this district is under 10%. Lastly, on the economic scale, the average annual income of households in this area rests at approximately € 53,190, which, while not being the highest, is definitely in the top half of incomes within the 20 districts. When 45% of your district holds some sort of managerial or executive position, this isn’t a surprising statistic. Thus, the population of the Latin Quarter is dominated by single, middle-aged professionals who enjoy a high standard of living in this historic district. Students have become the minority.
Yi-Fu Taun, as Cresswell quotes, “likened space to movement and place to pauses” (Cresswell, 8). In many ways, Shakespeare and Company accentuates this place-pause relation; it is a place of pause along the bustling walkway of the tourist route, and is a store paused in time among its urban neighbors. While the student population is not as strong as it once was, the bookstore remains a space for scholars, expatriates, and tourists to come and soak up the authentic educational feel of the Latin Quarter.
Google Maps, 5th Arrondissement.
4International Colleges and Universities http://www.4icu.org/fr/
Le Traveling Fork http://letravelingfork.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/img_9712.jpg
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.