Is it a cliche to love this place so much? (Do I care?) I’d like to move in; I’ll pay my rent in baked goods and alphabetization services. The padded bench I’m sitting on is quite comfortable: it’s almost like a bed. I could happily sleep here across from the piano (a Schindler) and the typewriter (of unknown make and time period). Perhaps this anonymous man, who is so unselfconsciously and passionately playing the piano, whose back is to me and whose face I have not yet seen, only his hands and red tshirt and leather jacket hanging over the back of the chair like it has been here before – perhaps he could wake me up in the mornings with emphatic chords on this charmingly out of tune piano. He’d be encouraged to stick around for music and ambiance purposes.
But anyways, regardless of my skillful and unkempt friend, I’d happily live in this tiny second floor library, a chess board and its mismatching pieces serving as my nightstand. And hundreds (thousands?) of old, torn books – whose earth tones reflect a time before glossy covers in fifty shades of anything – could serve as my roommates.
There’s a feeling that I live when I enter an old bookstore, a place that so earnestly (Earnestly?) and endearingly expresses a love of books. Seconds after entering I decide I don’t want to leave, and my mind begins to race: not with anxiety but rather with inspiration, with a desire to consume all of the knowledge and feeling that awaits on old, towering wooden shelves. It’s like sitting down to a feast when you’re starving, not sure what to eat first, overcome by appetite and excitement and gratitude.
I first came here ten years ago with my family. A family of nerds, I think I can safely and proudly say. I’m not sure I appreciated the place the way I do now, but I remember the rafters – I remember how tall the shelves and ladders seemed – and the cramped rooms and the dim lighting and the store’s ability to convey a sense of nostalgia even to first time visitors. I remember my father speaking fondly of his memories of the place, of visiting when he briefly lived in Paris over 30 years ago. Lucky man. I wonder if I bought anything? Maybe a book I never touched again, or something that entertained me throughout the rest of our trip, finished in the middle of a transatlantic flight. I wonder if I browsed the children’s section upstairs or searched for a more mature read on the first floor. Regardless of any of that, I’m back now. And my own memories and nostalgia amplifying the impression these walls and shelves and pages leave on my heart.
It is in a place like this where I feel comfortable in my questions and uncertainties. There is a feeling of promise, of potential, that one feels when surrounded by millions of words, thousands of ideas already on paper, ready for the taking, ready to inspire and influence. I am in the company of countless others who have searched for answers here, or used this space as a refuge from that search (it can be tiring). I am comforted by the intellect they leave behind, like layers of paint amassed over time, growing thicker with the passing of decades. It makes me want to write and read and breathe all of these books.
It’s a place like this that makes any ambitious plans for sightseeing melt away. The knowledge that sitting here for three house will be more gratifying than taking forty pictures of the Seine or the Eiffel Tower or the masses on the Champs Elysses. And it’s always a comfort to be so enamored with an experience or a place, for it serves as a set of clues, a way to understand what inspires me in hopes that the result my in some way serve as a clue to my future. I still don’t want to leave.
So I sit and the notes of the piano echo the excitement in my heart, providing an appropriately dramatic soundtrack for this moment — a gift on this last full day of travel, an unexpected burst of joy and culture and gratitude. As I’ve done too many times over the past seven months, I promise myself that I’ll come back here, if only to repress the sad fact that I’m just a visitor. Like a promise to a sick person: someday we’ll take that trip we’ve always planned. Someday we’ll go back. We’ll get our chance to see it again. Can’t you picture it? And the patient, bedridden, just closes their eyes, and smiles, and finds joy in the satisfaction that comes with those promises, empty but full of love.