The round stamp of Shakespeare & Company on the inside cover of my journal is one of a dozen things that remind me of our trip each day. I got that stamp during the first week, on the history-soaked streets of Paris’ left bank. “That guy’s either nuts or famous,” I whispered in Tay’s ear as we entered one the world’s most renowned bookstores. The man had a white explosion of unkempt hair, and he walked barefoot in front of the store in striped linen pajamas, greeting people and talking earnestly. It was, I realized, George Whitman, the legendary nonagenarian owner of a “little Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.” I’d just copied his hand-scrawled words into my journal: “I may disappear,” was George’s note to all who passed, “leaving no forwarding address, but for all you know I may still be walking among you on my vagabond journey around the world.”
“I have let my imagination run wild,” he continues, “with the result that a stranger walking the streets of Paris can believe he is entering just another of the bookstores along the left bank of the Seine but if he finds his way through a labyrinth of alcoves and cubbyholes and climbs a stairway leading to my private residence then he can linger there and enjoy reading the books in my library and looking at the pictures on the walls of my bedroom.”
Tay and I had done just that, climbing and crawling through the store, where starving writers still slept at night among overflowing (but neatly organized) shelves. I was sitting on a bench outside the shop, scrawling away and soaking it all in, when Tay snatched my open Moleskine and presented it to this white-haired man of the sidewalk. He handed it back to her with his seal, which I look at now, the journal heavy with ink and travel in my hands, so far from Kilometer Zero.
*Click here for a virtual tour of Shakespeare & Co.
*Ernest Hemingway at Shakespeare & Co.Â