As a reminder: This “Not-Book-Review” is a type of article specific to this blog that the first one of which was my talk about the book of another musician, Neil Young – and his “Waging Heavy Peace”. The idea behind the column is that because it is a blog, and because I believe in Ernest Hemingway’s dictum about writers not criticizing other writers in print as reviewers – “You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” he said – but because I love to read good books and talk about them, the idea is that I am not going to place myself on a critical pedestal and dictate what is righteous or not about a book I read. I am not going to recommend it as a piece of literature or a consumer product. I am not going to fulfill the role of the book reviewer whatsoever. This blog is my space, Brad’s world. So what I will do when I feel compelled, will be to write about books I am reading or have read or feel compelled to write about for any other reason – my “Not-Book-Review.” Something people can read, and should read, only as a reflection of how I felt about the book – not a recommendation that they should or should not read it.
I was thinking of driving off to Deauville for the day, as there was sun and heat and it really isn’t that far. In then end, I decided to go to the Musée d’Orsay and profit by the sun and heat of Paris. But on the way there, I decided to go to the amazing crime writing library, the Bilipo that is behind the fire station on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th Arrondissement that I wrote about on the blog the other day. I wanted to check out the mystery magazines and maybe see if there were any of the people I knew there.
So I went to the Bilipo, thumbed the pages of the mystery magazines from England, France and the U.S. and then I spoke to Catherine Chauchard, the longtime director of the library. It turned out that we shared a passion for the band Moriarty, and ended up talking as much about music as crime literature.
From there I went off towards the Seine and ended up stopping for a salad in the park of the St. Julien le Pauvre church next to the oldest tree in Paris, planted in 1602. This, of course, was right next to Shakespeare and Company, and I decided I must buy a copy of the New York Review of Books. So I went there and started entering this great bookshop only to find a hand and a voice preventing our passage: “Sorry, there is a line up of people here and you’ll have to wait in line before entering.” I turned to see this lineup of around 10 or so people, and I looked in the store to try to see what people were lining up for, and I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked.
“There are currently too many people in the shop, so you have to wait in line until your turn,” was the response.
Huh? I looked in the shop and found that it had fewer people in it than many times I had visited, and fewer than many stores. Clearly, though, the guy at the door did not seem to be wanting to get into a discussion of what this new policy was all about, and the last thing on earth I wanted to do was to wait in line as if I was visiting one of the seven wonders of the world, when in fact I had freely entered the bookshop for 30 years…. So I told the guy I wasn’t going to wait and I went off to the Abbey Bookshop, even if they don’t carry the New York Review of Books. Despite the even more cramped quarters of the Abbey, I’d never been told to wait in line….
So I went to the Abbey, which of course, I spoke about in two recent posts here. The place was buzzing along with business, and rather than being told to wait in a lineup to get into the mausoleum, Brian Spence, the owner, greeted us by saying immediately, “Oh, just in time for a cup of coffee with maple sirup!” So I had a cup of coffee with maple sirup and I explored the bookshop, descending into the cave which Brian referred to as the scene of the crime – in reference to my short story. And while I did not buy an NYRB at Shakespeare and Company, I did decide to ask Brian for some book recommendations, and I left with three (A Steinbeck, a Patrick Leigh Fermor and Paul Auster)…. Now does this not show how effective good customer treatment is in business?!
I moved on to eat a meal at a Thailand restaurant, the Lao Lane Xang. The food was great. Oh, and on the way to the restaurant, I don’t want to forget to mention, I explored some wonderful parts of Paris, including the Chateau de la Reine Blanche, just off the Avenue des Gobelins…. What a city!!
I decided to make a very brief visit to The Quiet Man pub since it reminded me of a similar kind of jam in Montreal that I had attended, the one at Grumpy’s. Whereas Grumpy’s is all about bluegrass, the Quiet Man is all about Irish music…played by French people. They all sit around a table in the basement room every Saturday evening and play jigs and reels, with violins, concertinas, guitars, flutes, etc.
I stayed there for a half a pint of beer and then headed off to call it a night, oh, and perhaps catch some fireworks for a Bastille Day display, if there were to be any the night before the 14th…. On the walk away from there, however, I suddenly heard someone playing an acoustic guitar and singing, and I heard an accompanying violin, and I turned my head and looked right, into a pub called The Green Linnet. It was another Irish pub, and the man singing finished his song and saw me looking in and invited us in… I asked if it was an open mic, and he said, “No,” but the violinist indicated that maybe I wanted to play, and he asked, and as I was trying to figure out what to do, I noticed a man at the bar waving to me.
I suddenly realized that I had recognized the guy without it really clicking in my head: It was Chris Kenna, an amazing musician from Australia who lives in Paris and performs regularly in bars mostly in around the 11th Arrondissement. I had met him first when he was hosting an open mic in that area. Now he performs quite a bit with a violinist named Melissa Cox, as “Kenna and Cox,” and I suddenly realized this was the woman playing behind the mic with the other singer man (as I had in fact met her before too).
So I stopped for a beer here, and they invited me to go up and play some songs after their break. So I played three songs: “Mad World,” “Borderline” and in order to suit the place, I sang “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” which I rarely do anywhere. I was fantastically fun to have this impromptu, unexpected moment, and I had a nice conversation with Chris and Melissa. Then Chris and Melissa took to the stage and played a few songs, Chris with his deep, raspy voice that seems tailor-made for the blues, and a few other styles too…. They sounded great together.
I left, and never did see any fireworks, but all in all, I realized, it was the ultimate day in the streets of Paris. How could it have been any better and with more unexpected moments and adventures!!! It felt like the greatest decision to wander about Paris rather than drive three hours to Deauville and three hours back, but I’d still have loved to stick my feet in the sea….
Oh, yes, and if you read this far, you might have also realized that I never did make it to the Musée d’Orsay, and in the end, that matters little. Perhaps all of life’s journey is kind of like this???
PARIS – I had the Abbey Bookshop in mind yesterday when I posted that short story of mine on my new fiction area of my blog. I was readying myself to attend an event at the Abbey for the launch of the latest edition of an online literary magazine called Five Dials, which I have written about in the past, as well as of a book that is published in – at least – English and French and has been nominated for several of the top French literary prizes. But what I least expected to make the whole evening worthwhile for me was the meeting of an optimist.
The Five Dials, to recap on an earlier blog item, is edited by a Canadian named Craig Taylor, who lives in London, and who has done a book about Londoners. Five Dials has been running since 2008, and it is one of the top online only literary reviews. To quote directly from the Five Dials entry in Wikipedia, the review’s “notable contributors include famous authors living and deceased such as Raymond Chandler, Noam Chomsky, Alain De Botton, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, Hari Kunzru, J. M. G. Le Clézio and Susan Sontag.” It is published by the respected publisher Hamish Hamilton.
As to the book that was being presented by its author, Eric Reinhardt, it was “The Victoria System,” which the Nouvel Observateur called: “Dark, twisted and devastating. A big novel of amorous adventures in the era of the blackberry. Eric Reinhardt is the new Alexandre Dumas.”
But it was my unexpected meeting with a curious optimist that actually made the evening for me. This was the flower child-looking Marie Deschamps with flowers in her hair whom Brian Spence, the bookshop owner introduced me to. It was not long in our conversation before we realized that we had a point in common. The point was our basic belief in an optimistic approach to life – even when it’s trying to sink you. In fact, Marie told me that she had started a kind of association called “the curious optimists” and they get together once a month in Paris to meet and eat and talk and celebrate about how great life is. She said her Facebook page for the Curious Optimists had just exploded, so much did people want to be optimistic….She also said she was about to leave Paris on a world tour that she will film, trying to meet other optimists and to spread the word. Marie told me her road to this philosophy really came after she did her degrees at Science Po in Paris and the London School of Economics, and she came back to Paris and found a little too much of the opposite of optimism…. I told her that her world tour was a little bit like my world tour and the film I’m working on about it in the world of the open mics and open jams. And, I also told her that she ought to read my interview book called: Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism, as everything she was saying was part of the philosophy of that book.
Could I have asked for a better or more curious or optimistic evening than that at the Abbey Bookshop????
It did not win the prize, and I did not read any of the other entries, so I don’t know what it was up against. I can say that while I really like this short story, it is about as old-fashioned a mystery short story as you can get – but that makes it kind of fun. It is a real mystery puzzle, almost a locked-room style story, and could have been written at the same time as Edgar Allen Poe’s or Conan Doyle’s pieces, as it introduces nothing new to the genre. But so what? Simple good fun is fine by me. Hope you read it and like it.
So here again, is a link to my story, “Murder in the Abbey,” – oh, yes, and by the way, I DID draw on the title by the famous play by T.S. Eliot called, “Murder in the Cathedral.” But also, I should add, the story takes place in an actual bookstore in Paris called the Abbey Bookshop, which still exists today….
I had a feeling of beginnings and endings last night as I walked down the Rue Princess past the closed up shop of the Village Voice bookstore, which had been on that street for 30 years, and where I went regularly – if much less in recent years than in the early years – during most of that time. I had expected to see a sushi shop in its place, but I was surprised to see the eerie storefront of the bookstore still there, but with the windows whitewashed. In fact, before I arrived on the street, I had suddenly thought that, “Oh hell, maybe the bar I am heading to play at is in what used to be the Village Voice!”
As it turned out, the Little Temple bar was NOT in the place of the Voice, as I mentioned, but slightly up the street and on the same side of the road. I had been invited by Jake Weinsoff, my friendly violin player with whom I played a couple of times in recent weeks. Jake has been hosting a musical evening at the Little Temple bar for a few months (it seems), and while it is not an open mic, Jake opens the mic and invites friends to play occasionally.
So for me, it WAS an open mic. It was also something new! I have not been doing enough new things in Paris lately, so I was keen to try this. It was also “new” because Jake injects new life into the musical evening, and just about everything he plays. I came a little too late to see his singing set in the beginning, and by the time I left to go to an old open mic, he was about to go up again – but I had to move on.
The Little Temple, by the way, is a very cozy Irish pub kind of place, with typical wooden walls, and all sorts of cubby holes and table and tall chairs all over. Very comfortable, and a fun night.
But I had heard that the MC team is changing at the once-per-month Lizard Lounge open mic near the City Hall, and so I did not want to miss it yesterday just in case the thing no longer exists in another month. I was told I need not worry about that, as it turns out the bar owner really wants to keep the open mic running, and there may even be a chance it will run more often than just the first Sunday of the month.
The same team of MCs has been running this open mic for five years, and it actually existed even before that. So this is a real long-running Paris institution of an open mic. I love it too because it takes place in the same basement – cave – room where I did my first ever open mic in Paris, on the Monday night in 2008, when it was run by Earle Holmes. (That one ran simultaneous to the Sunday night event – ie, two open mics on certain weeks.)
I got there a bit late, of course, last night, and so I only saw two or three acts. And I did my own songs. But I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and was glad I didn’t miss it, and glad to get the news of what the future may hold….
Having recently discovered that the Shakespeare and Company bookstore has recently moved to a new address around the corner from its old one facing Notre Dame Cathedral, I also began thinking about that, of course, on this theme of new and old and changing of the guard, and in the context of the Village Voice. Life changes.