Posts Tagged 'shakespeare & co'

The Pillow Project

David Barnes of Spoken Word Paris reading while a member of the Pillow Project riffs

Hello friends,

Here’s your helping of a random (art) happening around town.

This past Tuesday The Pillow Project paid a visit to Shakespeare & Co. The Pittsburgh-based troupe plays “freejazz,” an improvisational form they describe as “using the body as the instrument playing visual notes.”

The experimental group is starting to forge deeper ties to Paris. On hand for this week’s event were members of the city’s active spoken word scene.

For non-French speakers, there’s a lot of blood and torture in the text!

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Magic Moment: Glen Hansard at Shakespeare & Co

Last Tuesday Glen Hansard played an afternoon acoustic set in Shakespeare & Company bookshop. Hansard is perhaps best known  for his part in the movie “Once,” but he’s a veteran musician (with The Frames and more recently The Swell Season).

What a privilege to be in such an intimate space listening to gorgeous, unadorned music! One voice and a guitar. That’s it.

“Lots of traveling takes a toll on the flesh,” Hansard said, “but not the soul. Voice may sound broken but it’s singing its heart out.”

His voice sure didn’t sound broken to me. Strong, emotional, and yes, full of heart. In an age of cynicism I find Hansard’s earnestness – those life and love songs he belts out at the top of his lungs – so refreshing.

(Poor quality video, but to give you an idea):

Shakespeare & Co’s upstairs library doesn’t hold many people; we packed in as we could. Hansard recounted the first time he came to play in Paris in 1993 or ’94. He heard that Serge Gainsbourg and Samuel Beckett were buried in Montparnasse cemetery near the Irish bar where they were booked. He decided to pay his respects.

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Life Lessons in Pere Lachaise Cemetery (New Essay Published!)

Well the new year is starting off well. I’m thrilled to share my first publication of 2012 – and a fitting new year’s essay it is. Read on to find out why.

For the past three and a half years, I’ve lived a ten-minute walk from Père Lachaise, the famed Parisian cemetery that’s home to many historic luminaries – everyone from Abelard to Chopin, Edith Piaf to Marcel Proust.

In recent weeks, talk has centered on writer Oscar Wilde; his tomb now stands encircled by thick glass, a barrier aimed to protect the stone from endless admirers’ kisses. (Of course people have already started leaving their lipstick prints on the Plexiglas instead).

Despite my close proximity to Père Lachaise, picking up the Parisian affection for the place didn’t come naturally. Not only tourists in search of Jim Morrison’s grave frequent Père Lachaise, you see. Parisians adore their largest cemetery and a stroll along its cobblestone alleys is as popular a local pastime as any.

It took me some time to understand the appeal. Tracking down rock stars’ headstones seemed less bizarre than having dates amongst the dead.

Then one day….

Yes! A cliffhanger! To read the rest of the essay, head on over to Numero Cinq.


Strangers in Paris (Book + Launch Party!)

Well here’s the thing to get me back into Paris and the writing life.

I recently had a story published in a new anthology entitled “Strangers in Paris: New Writing from the City of Light.” The book features lots of great contributors (including John Berger and poet Alice Notley!).

I have no idea how the heck I ended up in such good company, but I’m thrilled!

The Paris launch of the book will be this coming Monday, July 25, at Shakespeare & Co. Ten or so contributors will be reading. I’m excited and nervous to be one of them.

Continue reading ‘Strangers in Paris (Book + Launch Party!)’

Travel by the Books

Before the Reading (Upstairs at Shakespeare & Co)

Hello all,

I’m pleased to report that my interview with writer Janet Skeslien Charles that first appeared on this blog was republished in a neat online literary journal called Travel by the Books.

Literature + travel. What could be better?

Feel free to check it out again if you’d like.

Speaking of travel and literature, it’s my last full week in Paris before flying off to the States for a full month. So I’m leaving my hermitude behind for a bit and getting out and about the city before I leave.

Notre Dame and Blue Holiday Tree

Tonight my friend Christine Buckley read at Shakespeare & Co, along with Michael Scott Moore, who wrote a book on the history of surfing. And guess who I sat next to? Janet Skeslien Charles! Paris is starting to seem very small – in a very good way!

The creative crew pointing to the chalkboard announcing Christine's reading. These are all fabulous women.

This was a really great evening that gave me warm fuzzies (wow, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually used that term before!) for just that reason: I feel more and more like there is a community of creative folks that I’m getting to know. I love showing up to events and knowing people, meeting friends of friends, and then we all become friends.


After those first few years of struggle, it’s so wonderful to feel that I have a place here. Paris can be a lonely city. Beautiful, but lonely. When you cross over though, and really start to find your people, everything changes.

The reading itself was interesting. I can’t say I’m much of a surfing aficionado, but the first author took us behind some of the cultural history of the movement in France, Germany, and Cuba. (Who knew? Apparently France has the biggest surf scene in Europe).

Christine then read part of her essay in the Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 anthology and an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress about her Vietnamese family. (She has also co-authored the book Slave Hunter: One Man’s Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking).

Christine is a hoot. Her essay about finding herself in the middle of Vietnam when she spoke barely any Vietnamese was hilarious. With an old dictionary in hand, she surmised that her Vietnamese name either meant “beautiful velvet” or “lovely young antler.” The misunderstandings continued from there.

Continue reading ‘Travel by the Books’

Serendipitous City Stuff

Happy little car on Rue Vieille du Temple

Every spring near the end of the semester, my college would throw a huge party for several days running. (Moderately) big bands played, fun games were set up on the lawn, and (let’s get real), huge beer kegs were tapped.

I especially loved the “inflatable Olympics” apparatus that took over the fields. You have by now probably placed me in my early 30s (you are correct), but have surmised that I am really just a big kid. Why running through plastic obstacle courses or donning sumo wrestling costumes was my year’s highlight, I’m not sure, but let’s just say people who are easily amused usually have a better time in life.

Besides enjoying the all-out let-loose feeling of the festivities, I found my favorite word: Serendipity. Yes, this was the name of the annual party. It means unlooked for good fortune, or “making desirable discoveries by accident.”

Sure, lots of these events were planned, but put a whole bunch of 18-22 year olds in a beautiful campus setting surrounded by a big forest and give them free-flowing alcohol, some unforeseen things are going to happen. (Actually, I wonder now if the college wasn’t looking for trouble more than luck. Wow.)

P1020037 (I have almost the exact same photo of me somewhere around here…)

Some people can’t stand city life. This September I especially sympathize as this is the most stressful rentree I have ever experienced. The crowds, the frenzy, the traffic, two strikes in two weeks. It is sometimes enough to make one go batty.

But then there is serendipity. Lucky accidents can happen anywhere, of course, but the higher density of people in cities just puts the odds at these lucky accidents just a tad higher, in my opinion.

Without even trying, I run into delightful little treats. (Or, do I just take the time to appreciate them? Hmm, discuss).

Like this, for instance: you might not be surprised when I say that I heard some lovely classical music at Bastille the other day. The Bastille Opera is there, of course. Only, the concert wasn’t located in the opera house, at all. Nope, I stayed underground and listened to this mini-orchestra for awhile. (Notice the older woman dancing near the end – I will be this older woman someday, I’m sure).

Or last night, I went to Shakespeare & Co to hear Nick Flynn and Adam Haslett read, followed by some jazz piano afterward. This was an event as part of the big Festival America that will be taking place at Vincennes this weekend. As I was walking back, I ran into some sort of spectacle at the Hotel de Ville. (I love how much goes on at the Hotel de Ville. True public programming. This week’s events are in support of “Coeur des Vies.” Stations are set up at the Hotel de Ville so you can give blood until September 25).

When there was a pause in the acrobatics, I went home, but I appreciated the small random pause in the day. There is SO MUCH I want to be doing in Paris right now, but I have too much on my plate right now to take advantage of everything. So it’s quite convenient to just run into fun things without trying. This bit of serendipity really brings a smile to my face.

I have to give a shout-out to fellow blogger Adam of Invisible Paris and Paris Weekends who really knows this city and all her off-beat corners. He puts together a stellar list of (often quirky) things going on for the weekend. This week I want to do absolutely everything he writes about.

I probably won’t get to any of it, but maybe I can hope for a little serendipity on my side and run into something else completely unexpected.

What have been some of your favorite serendipitous moments?

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James Frey, After the Fact

James Frey

Sex or violence?

This was the choice presented to us by author James Frey on Monday night at Shakespeare & Co. He would either read a passage of the sultry stuff or the gun stuff – the decision rested with us.

This being France, we went for the sex.

(Though wait! Immediately after, the audience then begged for the violence, too. I guess people always want it all).

For awhile, fact or fiction was the real question in regards to Frey. If you weren’t hiding under a rock around 2006, you probably remember him as the writer whose 2003 “memoir” A Million Little Pieces blew up into a big controversy. He was the man who duped Oprah. His memoir, you see, was partly “made up.”

I never read the book – I stayed above the fray (yes, pun intended) – but I can’t say I wasn’t curious to see the man behind the headlines, all these years later.

It’s a rare opportunity, really. Frey doesn’t do readings in the US anymore. Probably tired of answering the same questions.

But this is France, and Paris holds a special place in Frey’s heart. He came here as a 22 year-old, inspired by the “American writer in Paris myth,” he said. “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller had “lit him up,” and he wanted to come here to experience the literary fire himself. It was something of a dream for Frey to return nearly two decades later as a visiting author to the famed Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Co

Frey struck me as a bit macho, but I liked him, even against my better judgment. Bearded, broad-chested, he looked like he could have been coaching rugby – he even cracked his neck several times while reading as if it were physical exercise.

Because he did have a unique reading style, no doubt about it. He read really fast, in a voice an audience member later remarked sounded robotic. Not until he hit dialogue, did it sound natural.

When he talked later about his past as a screenwriter, that made sense. His dialogue sounded as it should – just how people talk. He explained that he speaks everything as he writes – he doesn’t put anything down on paper until it sounds right.

Besides these process questions, he didn’t shy away from addressing the controversy, either. He remained quite defiant. He’s an artist, and he believes it his right to use anything at his disposal to tell a good story. “I want to make you feel everything,” he said. Fear, sadness, joy, anxiety, loathing, euphoria – everything. Whatever tools it takes to do that, he’ll use.

I did feel something as he read (more in the violence section actually – his sex passage sounded more like what men might fantasize). I understand the power of a good story – my hope when I open any book is that it will touch me in some way. A good story is one of those things that keeps me grounded to the earth, that helps me make sense of this crazy life.

I just think maybe you should simply call it a story, though. It takes nothing away from the writing to name it fiction, rather than fact. A good story speaks emotional truth – what more could you want?

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Kristin Espinasse: Of Bribes and Wine

Kristin Espinasse at Shakespeare & Co

Kristin Espinasse writes the popular French Word a Day blog, is a published Simon & Schuster author, yet remains humble and gracious beyond measure.

To think, she thought she needed a “bribe” to get booked at Shakespeare & Co! We would have come out just for her (though there’s no denying the audience appreciated the bribe: large quantities of her husband’s organic wines).

Kristin talked about how when you put your heart into something, it becomes universal. Her example was writing, but really it can be anything.

She must have looked around – a packed house on two levels, people crammed in every nook and cranny (of a bookstore where every nook and cranny seems already to be filled) – and seen that belief manifested.

Let’s raise a toast to our passions; they are the most precious things we own.

Reading and Race: The End

We were a packed crowd seated on child-sized fold-up chairs. Whoever had set them out clearly had forgotten that people have legs, the rows too smushed together.

Salvatore Scibona was trying out his small repertoire of French – nearly nonexistent, but endearing. I hoped the French audience members weren’t cringing.

He had never been to France before, he said, quickly switching to English. No one in his family had, either. He couldn’t believe he was here. The French translation of his debut novel had come out. The End.

That’s the name of the book, but there seems to be no end to the accolades heaped upon it. The book has won numerous awards – The Young Lions Fiction Award, The Whiting Writer’s Award, finalist for the National Book Award.

At the reading at Shakespeare and Co. last night, Scibona jumped right in, his summation something like this:

“White flight.”

His hometown of Cleveland (the “flyover part of the country” he claimed New Yorkers call it – I have never heard that, but it’s pretty good), used to be a series of ethnic enclaves. Italian here, Polish there. Slovakian and all slices of Eastern European.

After the second world war a lot of blacks from down south moved up to Cleveland and other industrial areas. Just like that, people “stopped being Italian [or insert ethnicity] and started being white,” he said. And all of the privileges that came with that.

With a name like Salvatore, there’s no hiding his origins. But he’s never thought of himself as anything other than white. (A year spent in Italy probably confirmed he wasn’t Italian – he spent the entire year there crying, he said).

His book explores 1950s Cleveland, using a town carnival as the conceit. From the way he talked about it and the excerpts he read, it sounds as if he takes on tense racial dynamics all while grounding them in believable story. His characters are racist, he said, but they are real people. His primary role as the writer was to let his characters express who they were, not try to create a book to serve a political message. Though, of course, it does.

I haven’t read the book so I can only conjecture how he pulls it off. But it’s refreshing, an author diving into such meaty territory, not shying away from what others might be too scared to touch.

It made me think, the US has a mighty messed up record on race, but at least we talk about it. Not always well, not always as much as we should, but we do discuss it.

The French lag behind in this regard. You can’t even use the word “race” in a conversation. (I’ve tried it. It is obviously an offensive word.) No statistics are kept on ethnic background because everyone is “French.” Nice sentiment, sure, but not a reflection of reality.

I haven’t been following the debate on French “national identity” too closely, but there seem to be some pretty strong opinions about what French does and does not look like.

Remember the youths burning cars in the “suburbs” a few years back? They were disenfranchised youth, and yes, mostly of a certain color. But were the French able to say that? Not really. Frustrations build ever further when you’re not even allowed to name who you are, what seems abundantly apparent. There are a lot of French citizens who feel they are not French.

Every society has its own demons to contend with; there is no end in sight. More frank discussion might help, though. Liberté, egalité, fraternité, looks good as a motto, but would be even better as the truth.

‘P’ is for Pretentious

Day Two of what was to be a literary lovefest (a reading almost every night) and already I am rethinking. After last week’s amazing encounter with Nam Le – a writer brilliant, funny, and shockingly down to earth – this week’s offers have rubbed me slightly the wrong way.

The fault doesn’t lie entirely with the authors, though they haven’t been my favorites. The audience itself has also induced some dismay. Front row of Shakespeare and Co. and there’s a beautiful young woman sketching in red pencil. She glances up-down, up-down as she transfers the writer’s likeness to her drawing pad. I assume she’s quite earnest, but she seems to know she’s on display.

Right next to her is the real article, however, who won’t reveal himself until the final round. My eye already on him (his profuse profound nodding a clue), it wasn’t until he asked the last question that I truly knew.

In a meandering philosophical ramble, invoking too many ideas and names, he did (finally) ask a good question, but his way of doing it – totally lame.

Nevermind, it’s a new night, this time in the 7eme. Only, there he is again! And saving his worst for last! A digression from Fitzgerald to Byron, he recites whole passages of poetry, then challenges the author to do the same.

Smart, but show-offy. So not my style. I’ve managed a full week of blogging about Paris without once saying “pretentious.”

Looks like now I am forced to. Let the real games begin!

Skakespeare & Co.

paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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