Literary Hot Spots: Paris

Literary Paris


Paris abounds with literary figures past and present. When you visit, take some time to share the places made famous in works ranging from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series to Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast." Many cafes and establishments that have literary events are closed from July to September, so be sure to call for program information.

Nicolas Flamel's Home
In "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" the character Albus Dumbledore is described as Head master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Fashioning him after real-life alchemist Nicolas Flamel, J.K. Rowling writes: "Considered by many to be the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of Dragon's blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel." Although Flamel, a successful scrivener noted for his multiple interpretations on modern day alchemy, is reported to have died in 1418, it is speculated that he is still alive. Flamel designed his own tombstone which is now preserved at the Musee de Cluny. Visit Flamel's home which, according to the story, may have been Flamel and Dumbledore's meeting place. It still stands and is the oldest stone house in the city.
51, rue de Montmorency 75003 Paris

Francois-Mitterand Library
Felix Feneon's "Novels in Three Lines," translated with introduction by Luc Sante, is a gruesome but brilliant collection of Haiku-type blurbs inspired by hard facts from the French newspaper "Le Petit Journal." Some of the illustrations that served as covers for this daily paper are housed in the collection at The Bibliotheque Nationale's Francois-Mitterrand Library. Feneon, 1861-1944, was responsible for publishing the first French translation of James Joyce ("Dedale," 1924) and he edited Rimbaud's "Illuminations." Along with Feneon's ephemera, you will find cultural events at the Francois-Mitterrand Library including virtual exhibitions about Jean-Paul Sartre, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Marcel Proust
10, Quai Francois-Mauriac 75706 Paris

Paris Metro Station
"In a Station of the Metro" is a poem by the controversial expatriate poet and critic Ezra Pound. It is reprinted in several of his books including "The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound" and was written in Haiku style. It's an early Modernist poem because it attempts to break from the pentameter, uses visual spacing as poetic device and contains no verbs. It consists of only fourteen words. "The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough." Pound was intensely emotional after seeing the distinctive décor in the tunnel of the Metro, which has tiles spelling the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a fundamental document of the French Revolution, and he was inspired to write this poem.
Metro Station Place de la Concorde, Line 12, 1st Arrondissement

In Honore de Balzac's most important novel "Old Goriot," Balzac describes the situation of a naive law student named Eugene de Rastignac, one of his three main characters in this book: "At this stage in his career a student is on fire with enthusiasm for moonshine which appears magnificent to him.... He adjusts his cravat and poses for the benefit of the women in the first galleries at the Opera-Comique." Visit the legendary comic opera which offers many entertaining spectacles such as "Cinderella to Vaudevilles" which will be performed at the Cendrillon festival in March 2011 and is good fare for a young audience.
5, rue Favart 75002 Paris

Café de la Mairie
Several notable Beatnik writers of the 1950s resided at The Beat Hotel (9 rue Git-le-Coer), including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and all frequented the cafés near Notre Dame. One bistro mentioned in Ferlinghetti's poem "Café Notre Dame," from his book "European Poems and Transitions," was a real place that most likely hosted all these luminaries who met for conversation and solitary scribbling. Directly across the street from St. Sulpice Church, and the only small café on the square, it is a good place to hang out and enjoy the reasonably priced but limited menu that includes a delicious café crème and tasty pastries.
8, Place Saint-Sulpice 75006 Paris

Palais du Louvre
Marcel Proust, the most perceptive fashion writer of all time, said "I shall build my book, I dare not say audaciously, like a cathedral, but simply like a dress..." and his descriptions of what his characters wore are an integral part of his stories. Paris, of course, has been the international capital of style for the past 300 years. Visit The Louvre to see their exhibition of clothing of La Belle Epoque. In Proust's novel "Swann's Way," when speaking about the character Odette de Crecy (Swann's love who appears in others works as his wife), he writes: "...and in spite of her being one of the best-dressed women in Paris) so much did the corsage, jutting out as though over an imaginary stomach and ending in a sharp point, beneath which bulged out the balloon of her double skirts, give a woman the appearance of being composed of different sections badly fitted together;..."
107-111, rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris

Shakespeare and Company
In "A Moveable Feast," a set of memoirs of Ernest Hemingway's days in Paris during the 1920s, he says of Sylvia Beach, owner of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore: "No one that I ever knew was nicer to me." The original shop, located at 2, rue de l'Odeon in 1921, became a meeting place for American writers living in Paris between the wars and was often a place to crash. Sylvia published James Joyce's "Ulysses" when no other publisher would, even though it almost bankrupted her. The shop closed in 1941 with the Nazi occupation, but a plaque remains on the wall at that address. In 1951, American George Whitman opened another Shakespeare and Company that now holds Sunday teas, poetry readings and writers' meetings. If you are writing a book he might invite you to stay in his little "Tumbleweed Hotel" in exchange for daily chores.
37, rue de la Bucherie 75005 Paris

Café de Flore
The most famous café in the world, Café de Flore, was said to host Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir where they would meet and discuss their philosophy of existentialism over a drink. Kate Muir, a New York Times columnist and one-time Paris resident, scooped this famous couple out of their legendary place in the 6th Arrondissement to appear in her novel "Left Bank" at the PlayWorld theme park, USA, in miniature replica form. Muir writes: "And indeed there, in the window of the pint-size Café Flore, are Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir dolls, with notebooks, drinking coffee from toy cups, again and again."
172, Boulevard St-Germaine 75006 Paris

Hotel de Ville (City Hall)
"Panic seized him. He returned to the boulevards and slumped on a bench. Some policemen woke him up, thinking he had 'been on the spree'... After that, imagining that it was still too early to go home, he wandered about in the vicinity of the Hotel de Ville until a quarter past eight." This passage is from Gustave Flaubert's last and most influential novel "Sentimental Education." He is referencing the neo-Renaissance-style City Hall, which is decorated in the pompous Ille Empire style with ballrooms and stained glass windows, works of art, sculpture and furniture. The building houses events and outdoor activities that include a skating rink in winter.
29, rue de Rivoli 75004 Paris

The Eiffel Tower
Jean Cocteau's "Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel" (The Newlyweds of Eiffel Tower), which played in 1921 at the theatre des Champs Elysees, was a surrealist manifesto. In poet Apollinaire's "Calligrammes" (1918), he arranged words on the page to form patterns resembling objects: "a drunken man, a watch, the Eiffel Tower." Such eccentric use of typography was thought to be unusual. Many artists and writers of the time decried the Eiffel Tower as a gigantic structure not fitting the Paris "low" architectural vision. Among these critics was Paul Verlaine who called the Tower "this belfy skeleton." The Eiffel Tower, now considered synonymous with ingenuity, progress, and beauty, was built as an attraction without practical function for the Paris World's Fair. In 1889 it received 2 million visitors. Today it receives twice as many visitors as The Louvre, and considerably more than Paris's largest movie house.
5 avenue Anatole France, Champ de Mars 75007 Paris

A native New Yorker and friend of Paris, Alice Shapiro's poems have appeared in various online and print journals. Her first book of poetry, "Cracked: Timeless Topics of Nature, Courage, and Endurance," was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Read her blog on Red Room.
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