If you are looking for a writing distraction there is no finer place than Paris. Furnished with fresh information from my three week research trip in Asia, I travelled beyond the Silk Road to roads lined with French silk scarves, champagne and macarons for what was to be a dedicated, lockdown, finish-the-novel, write-a-thon. I settled into my Parisian apartment with its exposed timber beams, high ceilings, and most importantly a little desk just poised for my penmanship. I felt every bit the Parisian wordsmith. That was until the dim light (providing great ambiance) proved an extremely poor work space. Undeterred, I made it my mission to be inspired. I would seek out suitable faces and spaces in the nooks and crannies of St Germain, the undeniable beating heart of this literary city.
Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore I searched for my muse in Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, rival cafes that were once frequented by Hemingway, Joyce, Picasso, Sartre, and de Beauvoir. As I covered myself in the croissant crumbs of my overpriced petit déjeuner, I awaited illumination from surrealists, existentialists, and ink slingers. Amid tourists and wealthy Parisians eating expensive omelettes, I did not find myself inspired by the ghosts of poets past.
Like a true French flâneur, I sauntered through Parisian streets contemplating human existence, before stopping for a spot of shopping. But it was in this that I found my first reliable writing space.
Shakespeare and Company On the Left Bank of the Seine, Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop and literary institution for anglophones, welcomes writers and readers from around the world. Like the original Shakespeare and Company that was a favourite haunt of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Joyce, and Pound, this iteration became a haven for Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin and their contemporaries.
At Shakespeare & Co, tumbleweeds blow through their doors. These are writers, artists and intellectuals who are offered short term lodging in exchange for a couple of hours working in the shop, a one-page autobiography, and a promise to read a book a day. This open door approach to creatives and the 1951 store motto "be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise" meant I did not feel in the least concerned about losing myself to words in a pocket of the store. I scribbled away upstairs for two hours with a view of Notre Dame and the smell of old books.
Feeling creatively renewed by the experience, I returned in the evening for the Tea Party – a strange assortment of tourists, book buyers, a couple of tumbleweeds and the occasional poet, all joined together for two hours of poetry over tea and biscuits. I shared a poem of my own, purely for the novelty of reading my work in a place of such literary renown.
SpokenWord Paris For the remainder of my time in Paris, my creative experience was delightfully dominated by events hosted by SpokenWord Paris, a community of writers sharing their work through open mic nights. I’d already had the very great pleasure of stumbling upon them on a previous Parisian sojourn.
Monday – Au Chat Noir I ventured out of St Germain to Au Chat Noir for the flagship open mic night of SpokenWord Paris. But alas, it was the one Monday night of the year that the event was not scheduled. In that bustling beatnik bar with a large Kronenbourg in hand I found a small table by the window and bent back the pages of my notebook, ready to test the writing atmosphere of Au Chat Noir. Beside me a Frenchman and an Englishman swapped stories and edited translations of each other’s work. It was not long before the pen in my hand had given me away and I was pulled, willingly, into their conversation. They were poets of maturing years looking for an audience, and I was an audience without an event. The Englishman shared poems of love, sex, and disappointment (what else), and the Frenchman, dear Luc, shared his narrative inspired by the November Paris attacks, before pressing a copy of the prose into my hand as a keepsake.
Wednesday – Open Secret Below ground at Le Bistrot des Artistes, 50 or so wordsmiths jammed into a hidden and humid room and performances of poetry, music, prose and personal disclosures began as part of Open Secret’s open mic night. This is the younger sister of SpokenWord Paris and is just as bursting with bohemians as its big sister. These crazy poets were to become my Parisian creative community for the next few days.
Thursday – New Year’s Eve At Le Onze in the Latin Quarter, a small horde of Spoken Worders spilled in and filled an otherwise empty bar. From there the night was a blur of words, impromptu poetry, and ringing in the New Year by the Seine with the bells of Notre Dame.
Sunday - The Other Writers’ Group On the eve of my return to reality (also known as Sydney) I headed back to Shakespeare & Co where writers from SpokenWord Paris get together to workshop their creative pieces at The Other Writers’ Group. Works were diverse, the standard was high, and the insights shared were valuable. It was then onward to the bar and a final night of talking, music and dance.
I’m not sure if I found my muse in Paris, but it certainly was amusing. I still have a whole lot of words to string together to turn this manuscript into a novel but I’m feeling rejuvenated and ready for the hard work that awaits.