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Amber Paulen

Paris Literary Checklist

The last time I went to Paris, ten years ago, I dragged my dad and his wife to all the literary references that came to my head. We had a look at the Sorbonne (where Simone de Beauvoir studied, and Simone Weil and Jean Paul Sartre, etc.), we stood in Place Clichy (where Henry Miller passed through on his way home), and we wandered the gravestones in Montparnasse. I was drunk on the brilliance that had passed through those streets, streets named after the brilliant. For anyone interested in words set lovingly to the page, Paris is where the literary heart beats (at least, where it once beat).

Paris gives me the feeling that Rome must give to Catholics, of pilgrimage, of origin. And so this time, thanks to the wealth of information on the internet (much more than ten years ago), I will go in a few days to Paris slightly more prepared for all literary adulations. (Jump1 to the bottom for A Paris, a song to read this by.)

Anaïs Nin at Louveciennes: To see the house where Anaïs Nin met Henry Miller and where she lived for many years requires a train trip out of the city. But anyone who has read Nin’s journals or her and Miller’s letters to each other knows how important the house and the journey were, which alone makes the trip worth it. Granted, like many of the places on this list there’s only a plaque stating that Nin lived here and when, but in many ways that’s best as the observer must fill the spaces with imagining.

Everyone at Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots: Last time in Paris I searched out Le Dôme Café and Café de la Rotonde based on references in Simone de Beauvoir and Henry Miller. Those two cafes are set on a large road across from each other and weren’t the kinds of places I would sit in for a drink—not that I could afford one then. But my current research has unearthed the Café de Flore and next door Les Deux Magots where just as many writers and artists drank coffee and soliloquized. And the bonus is that they are still good cafes for a reading or writing session.

Henry Miller at Anatole France: Lucky me, I’m not staying far from Henry Miller’s apartment in Clichy on Avenue Anatole France, 4. I went looking for this apartment last time, armed with only dug-out references from Black Spring and the like. But thanks to the Miller Walks website, I got the address easily—along with loads of other Miller spots throughout Paris. Near his old apartment, the French have built a shiny cultural center called Espace Henry Miller. Voila!

Luxembourg Gardens: This is a place I’ve already been to in my imagination. From Marcel Proust to Simone de Beauvoir and Henry Miller, so many books set in Paris wander in and out of the Luxembourg Gardens. It is a place to eat bread and cheese, to read a book while sprawled out under some Parisian spring. Or at least, that’s what I’ve read!

Proust and Zola at the Carnavalet Museum: If I make it to a museum—I don’t think the Louvre is calling my name—I would like it to be this one. In addition to a replica of the room where Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time, the museum gives a history of Paris, which would make a good warm up for my explorations of the city.

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore: An literary expat gathering spot on the Left Bank, this bright bookstore is the center of Paris for English readers. The history of the bookstore is long and has moved through several location. Now, every book comes with a stamp, and I doubt I will restrain myself from getting one too many. On the same note: during my search for English bookshops in Paris, it has become obvious that many have closed lately. I hope that Shakespeare and Company stocks some contemporary French writers, so I’m not only lingering in Paris’s past.

Simone de Beauvoir at Cimetière du Montparnasse: Though I made it to the cemetery on my last time in Paris, I didn’t find Simone de Beauvoir’s grave. (I did find others, like Balzac’s). I will give it another shot this time, perhaps with a map.

The Lost Generation at Rue Fleurus, 27: This is where Gertrude Stein had her famous literary saloon back in the 1930s. Though I didn’t choose the book I’m reading because of this Paris trip, Stein’s saloon has surfaced in its pages—proof of the gathering’s omnipresence in the literary world at that time. (The book is Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, and admittedly it’s not a stretch that it mentions the saloon as Perkins was the editor of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.) So many writers have walked through the door here that I want to go and stand in the doorway hoping some of their words will rub off on mine.

1 A Paris by Riff Cohen. As if I needed more to get me excited about Paris (Thanks Olivia!):


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