I’ve mentioned the elephant notebook before and how it is a collection of our travel hopes and dreams for the future. As we go into a second lockdown, it feels like the to do list is likely to expand from a single elephant to a whole herd. When we last visited Paris, I got to tick off one of the earliest items added to the notebook.
Shakespeare and Co bookshop is a place I have long dreamt of visiting, it is a English bookshop established in Paris in 1951 and has been the haunt of many great writers. Most exciting was its concept of ‘Tumbleweeds’: writers, artists, travellers could stay overnight in the shop in exchange for a day’s work and a short bio. Over the years, I have thought about visiting this shop, meeting the cat, browsing the shelves and losing myself in its history.
When I finally reached my destination, it was surrounded by crowds of people and every room was filled with tourists and cameras. It was a shock as I had imagined a dusty, quiet sanctuary not a stock exchange full of noisy people. I did met the cat who was unbothered by all the visitors, it had its own chair and could decide whether to be friendly or indifferent to customers.
I didn’t spend a day there, I browsed, bought a book and a coffee, then escaped the crowds. Feeling a little chastened, we carried on to the next destination on my list. Worn down, tired and jaded I was nearly ready to give up and return to the hotel when we finally found what we were looking for.
A little restaurant called Le Bougnat, which we had seen on one of our favourite French programmes (Paname) which sent its presenter all over Paris on a bicycle to find the most interesting places in a different part of the city each week.
And in contrast to my bookshop experience, this was perfect, a local’s restaurant with a simple menu beautifully executed. My steak and frites was the best I have ever eaten, while my husband had an indescribably good plate of sausage and aligot, which set the standard for aligot. (If you haven’t had aligot, it is a sort of creamy cheesy mashed potato; this sounds dull and heavy, but when made well it is delicious, unctuous and totally transcends its simple ingredients.)
Sadly the restaurant has now shut, but I will return to Shakespeare and Company, I just need to make sure I pick a quiet time to visit.