Thursday's Child: Literary France

Thursday, September 23, 2010



On our first morning in Paris, we visited Notre Dame cathedral, where one of us had a slight brush with vertigo after a warm-weather climb up the tower.  Although the views were spectacular and I fell in love with the gargoyles, not everyone was having fun.  Throughout the climb and descent, unhappiness ensued.  When we reached the ground, I knew I had to come up with something to brighten her spirits, and revive all of us.

Shakespeare and Company

Fortunately for my book-loving family, we were only a few steps from the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookstore.  The girls immediately fell in love with the book-lined walls and narrow aisles, and each quickly found a book and a little cubbyhole to browse in.  Andrew discovered the piano upstairs and entertained customers with a sprightly Bach.  And I relaxed in that way that mothers can when we know everyone in our family is happy.

The best madeleines in France

Full disclosure:  I did not eat every madeleine in France.

When I found out we’d be staying half an hour from the summer home of Marcel Proust, my first thought was “I should read his collected works.”  After counting the number of pages in his collected works, my second thought was, “I should visit his hometown and eat a madeleine.”  Even non-Proustian scholars like me know about the madeleines that Proust so lovingly depicted in Swann’s Way.  Showing remarkable restraint, we stopped at just two patisseries in Illiers-Combray, including the one pictured above.  Fresh out of the oven, these delicately-flavoured little cakes melted in our mouths.  Surely the best madeleines in all of France!

The toast of Illiers-Combray

To my disappointment, after searching at shops and the home of Proust’s Tante Leonie (now a museum), I wasn’t able to find an English copy of Swann’s Way.  But the next day in Chartres I found a fantastic graphic novel version that I had to buy.  My first Proust!

Reading Proust in French!  Are you impressed?


The famous madeleine scene

Next week: The best of Normandy

15 comments:

Joanne said...

I love bookstores and they, along with supermarkets, are always my first stops when in a foreign place. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

Velva said...

This is beautiful. Paris is a fabulous city. I hope that you enjoyed your time there. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Barbara said...

About those madeleine's in Paris? Were there any left? I thought I ate them all!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I'm amused to hear they have a Shakespeare bookstore in Paris... I hope you made it to the UK, Stratford on Avon, his birthplace is lovely.

Valerie said...

Shakespeare and Company was one of my favourite places in Paris to decompress! I'm glad you and your family found it to be rejuvenating as well. There is nothing as comforting as a cozy book store, especially when it comes with it's own cat.
You look adorable sitting there with your book. :D

Julie said...

I love madeleines! I just made them for the first time a few weeks ago. Hoping to find a pan at the thift store, I used a mini muffin tin. Not quite the same but it worked.

Heather said...

You are doing so many interesting things on your vacation - Shakespeare, then Proust, how rich in tradition!

HanaĆ¢ said...

I love reading your travel stories! And congrats on your first Proust book. Aaahhhh... "the search of lost times"... That's a long search, I think I'd rather eat a madeleine :o) Btw, I have a cousin who lives in Chartres :o)

Beth said...

Barbara, there were a few left, and my family finished them up!
So glad you're enjoying my travel stories. I always think bookstores reveal so much about the places we visit.

Mimi said...

The book store is the perfect place to go.
Mimi

Sophie said...

What a lovely post this is!! I love Paris so much too!

I also love Shakespeare! That bookstore calls my name!

shaz said...

Lovely post, very impressed that you're reading Proust in French ;). And I'll definitely take your word about those madeleines.

Kayte said...

I am a tad behind in blog reading/commenting, so just want you to know, I came, I saw, I read! The dog server cracked me up. I am not commenting on them all, but I wanted to comment on the Proust thing...read Proust beginning to end and have always been a fan. In college I had a poster that covered all of one wall, seriously large, of a perfectly diagrammed sentence of the longest one in his Remembrances of Things Past...it was AMAZING!! Sadly, I took it down and tossed it after college, but so many times I wish I still had it...it has to be one of my favorite things ever. Proust, as you may or may not know, had a tendency to be very verbose, and his sentences could go on and on and on. LOL

Grapefruit said...

I so enjoyed this post.
When I visited the Notre Dame, I went really early in the morning and then loitered around outside Shakespeare & Company waiting for it to open, but for some reason it wasn't opening till hours later so I left without ever entering the store.
Thanks for the visit!

Janet Johnson said...

Proust as a graphic novel? That is hilarious!

Post a Comment