Paris has been a destination for writers ever since, well, ever since writing narrative fiction became an activity. This city is both subject and object of the books that are written about it. Take the two best-selling books at Shakespeare & Company – The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and A Moveable Feast – in each, the city is both setting and character.
I’ve entitled this talk “When You’re Strange” because what I would like to discuss is how the experience of living outside one’s language, and of being immersed in another tongue, can and inevitably does change one’s mother tongue or in the very least one’s relationship to it.
When I found out that George Whitman had died (peacefully, in his bed above the bookshop he founded in 1951) I started writing a list of all the people I met at or through Shakespeare & Company who have changed my life in some way. I stopped when I reached thirty, but could have continued.
In 1960, Louis Malle directed a film called “Zazie in the Metro,” telling the story of a young girl who is sent to Paris for two days while her mother spends the weekend with her lover. All the child wants is to ride the Metro, but as is often the case in Paris, the trains are on strike.