Shakespeare and Co. – Where Willy Wonka meets Shakespeare

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I became fascinated with Shakespeare and Co. when I watched the movie Before Sunset in which Julie Delpy got a glimpse of Ethan Hawke at his own book signing at the bookstore. The second day I was in Paris, I went straight to the Rue de Bucherie on the Left Bank, opposite Notre Dame Cathedral, and almost weeped at the sight of Kesey and Ginsberg’s works on the shelves.

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Shakespeare & Company has been a literary institution in Paris since 1951, although its roots lie with bookseller Sylvia Beach in 1919. You might recognize her name; she was close friends with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein during the riotously fun “Roaring Twenties,” or as the French put it, Les Années Folles. If you’ve seen Midnight in Paris, you know exactly what I’m talking about!

The place is inconspicuous on the outside yet has a unique charm that attracts tens of thousands visitors per year. When you walk in, it feels like a literary utopia where Willy Wonka meets Shakespeare. The walls are decorated with signed title pages and tens of thousands of books are causally piled up on the weather-beaten shelves. It’s like entering a time machine which brings you back to the lost generation.

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Soon after George Whitman opened the bookstore, he started housing several writers at a time, either published or aspiring, and these literary vagabonds came to be known as the Tumbleweeds. “Several million persons have walked in our door like tumbleweeds drifting in the wind,” George wrote in his letter from the editor in the second edition of The Paris Magazine, published by the bookshop in 1984, “and then walked out, their innocence lost, as free citizens of the cosmos.” He believed “we’re all homeless wanderers in a way,” and over the years, Shakespeare & Co. has welcomed wandering writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin, James Baldwin, Julio Cortázar, Darren Aronofsky, and Dave Eggers.

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This is me in one of my favorite sections – music and film holding a book about one of my favorite directors and screenwriters, Woody;). Photographs are generally prohibited but it was a relatively hidden part of the bookstore.

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Paperbacks line red wooden steps leading upstairs to a “non-commercial” floor: a library in which you could lose yourself, with one rule: books mustn’t leave the premises. Here, as on the ground floor, single mattresses lurk between the shelves, and, in the children’s section, a bunk bed. It’s on these that young authors sleep each night.

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I read one blog post about the bookstore and I am going to end the post with the last paragraph. “As I leave, the western facade of Notre Dame is noisy with tourists. I cross the square, haunted by one of the messages tacked to the mirror. Hand-written by the mother of a 21-year-old bipolar man who killed himself by jumping off Brooklyn Bridge, it read: “I’ve spent the last hour trying to decide if I should end my life. If he could have discovered your bookshop, perhaps he would have survived. I want to thank you for this place and the hope it gives.” Not only does that seem to underline the redemptive power of literature, but also something less tangible: the balm of environment.”

Shakespeare & Company Bookstore

37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris
Metro Saint Michel Notre Dame (line 4, RER C and B)
Bus 24 (Stops Notre Dame or Maubert Mutualité) and 47 (Stops Notre Dame or Petit Pont)

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Love and Passion @ Rodin Musuem

“I am beautiful, O mortals! Like a dream carved in stone,
And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
As eternal and silent as matter.” 

– Charles Baudelaire

 

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This delightful gem of a museum felt like a quiet oasis where I could get away from the usual crowds in Paris. I loved wandering in the gardens and discovering statues around each turn. The installation at Rodin Museum is the largest collection focusing on the work of French sculpture Auguste Rodin, as this year marks the hundredth anniversary of his death. Participating museums include the Met and another Philadelphia institution, the Barnes Foundation, among others.

There is a reason why so many museums are working to commemorate Rodin. He’s an unparalleled figure and one of few sculptors whose works are readily recognizable. Rodin’s work is known for its realistic modeling of the human form. He captured truth, depth, and the fluid motion of life in the most unlikely of mediums.

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The exhibition brings out Rodin’s love for “exploring what it means to be human. The figures in the gallery are posed and intertwined:  some spiraling, others flailing and still more arching outward. They show a multiplicity of emotions, such as shame, guilt, adoration, lust, fear and caring, that are possible only through Rodin’s obsession with the human form. The museum’s central gallery has been completely reconfigured with embracing and struggling lovers in marble, plaster, and bronze. The stark nudity, made all the more compelling by the anonymous, suggests unfettered ardor of the female.

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In 1912, Rodin said, “People have often accused me of having made erotic sculptures. I have never made any erotic works. I have never made a sculpture for the sake of the erotic element. Most of the people cannot conceive this because they are unable to conceive what sculpture is because they are forever looking in sculpture for literary and philosophical ideas. Sculpture is the art of forms.” The whole collection tells a hot-blooded story of lust and power and even tenderness. That Rodin was in love with passionate energy becomes abundantly clear. Rodin is sharing with us a catalog of passion. It’s a theme he comes back to again and again and again…

What is it like to be A Freelance “Model” in Paris?

I have been one of those people who look at the photographs taken by someone else and recoil in horror, and I still am, sometimes. I can point out a million things I hate: my hair is sometimes flat, my forehead is greasy, and I have nowhere to hide my chubby Asian cheeks.

By no stretch of the imagination could I become a model. A model is someone you gaze admiringly at in fashion magazines, on billboards, and in boutique windows. They always have beautiful  bouncy hair, a flawless complexion, and perfectly airbrushed bums. However, not long after I moved to Paris, a city that places beauty and art above anything else, I started taking photographs for a number of talented photographers and have found the experience surprisingly pleasant and rewarding.

I was lucky. My photoshoot was smooth-sailing and easy. It was a kind and skilled French photographer Yann who reached out to me on Instagram. I arrived at his apartment/photo studio near Republique in my winter clothes and minimal makeup. We had a brief exchange on Whatsapp and found out that he has been working in the music industry and now as a professional photographer who looks for “models” to enrich his diverse portfolio.

I am not going to lie. I was beyond nervous but Yann made the entire process seem so simple. We took some portraits and had one change of outfits that I brought. During the session, his girlfriend Mathilde arrived home who turned out to be a Chinese graphic designer, which made it even easier for us to communicate and carry out a more pleasant shoot. The next week, we did another photoshoot at my studio in Le Marais which was slightly more “risque”. Yann and Mathilde never failed to provide great creative ideas and the shoot lasted nearly four hours. Here is Yann’s website. http://rithbanney.com. Feel free to check it out!

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After the first shoot with a great photographer, it only gets easier and easier. I am fortunate because so far the photographers I have worked with are very kind and professional. Despite my broken French, I never encountered any communication problem or have managed to remain friends with the photographers.

Tips

I am a “modele debutante” but I do have some valuable tips for those who are interested in starting modeling on a freelance basis.

Be professional. Have clear communication before each shoot and show up prepared when you say you will. Stand your ground and do it with grace and professionalism. Always arrive on time, reply all email in a timely manner, and answer every phone call.

Set your limits but do not limit yourself. What are you willing to do or not do? Are you okay with nudes? Lingerie? Video? Fetish? Stick to what you have agreed to for the shoot and say no if you feel uncomfortable as most would understand. However, be open to new ideas. When you submit your portfolio to freelance gigs, do not limit yourself to one category; rather, expand your horizon and actively converse with photographers about new interesting ideas.

Build a portfolio. This one is not necessarily mandatory but if you’re more serious, a portfolio will help you reach out to more photographers and potentially build your own network. Having a website of your own would give you the best platform to list details of your experience & background and promote yourself to potential clients. Having your profile in social networks will boost your online credentials Also think about what genres and styles you prefer and perhaps state your preferences in your portfolio.

Stay optimistic. Your positive and fun attitude would be welcome by clients and photographers that choose to work with you. At the same time, be prepared for the worst. Stay cool even in a negative environment, never badmouth anyone, or do not exchange heated words with a client when things are getting out of control.