The Abbey Bookshop: Solitude in Paris

City life demands a lot of someone.  You need to be “on” all the time, more vigilant, and desensitized to the human life around you.  I haven’t decided if it’s more difficult to find company or solitude in a place so outrageously populated.  I suppose solitude because thousands of people pass you without making eye contact, yet it’s not the enjoyable, healthy solitude where you can breathe in your own space.

Granted, I love Paris.  I love this city and everything it has to offer, from the meandering Seine to the street artists, the cafés, and the ridiculous assumption that it’s just fine to close everything on Sunday, never mind the fact that I’m starving.

For all its quirks and challenges, Paris delivers this beautiful enchanted world full of life and history.  It charms you from the moment you accidentally stumble into a musical performance on a narrow, curved street.  And you become a loyal lover with that first taste of a macaroon, that first sip of “le vin du mois,” or the wine of the month, at your local brasserie.

However, finding solitude, the healthy kind, requires a herculean effort in almost any city.  Right now my city is Paris and yesterday, more than anything, I needed that healthy solitude.

As grateful as I am to be a TAPIF teacher, I need to learn how to ignore the distractions and all the noise here if I hope to maintain my sanity.

For instance, the people in my building have really loud obnoxious sex about 20 hours of the day.  I met one culprit in the elevator–damn honeymooners.  At a certain point, headphones don’t cut it, yet to ignore the city noise without losing awareness of my surroundings requires a near impossible balance.  How do I decompress with my headphones and a walk around the city while paying close attention to everything that passes me by?

Fortunately, I live in the seventh arrondissement, or district, of Paris, which many consider one of the safest.  Unfortunately, that’s no excuse to daydream with my eyes blind to everything but what I choose to see.  Like, ooh, pretty building.  Lalalalala.

My solution?

Find a bookstore.

In search of Shakespeare and Company, the famous literary haven of Paris, known to feature workshops, readings, and anything else my little heart desires, I got lost.

I know.  Shocker.

Unfazed and entirely unsurprised, I just wandered through the bustling, narrow streets of the Latin Quarter, letting the conversations of tourists and locals alike wash over me.  The wafting smells of Greek, Thai, French, Italian, Chinese, and more French delicacies lured me in different directions, keeping my feet moving.  I had just made the decision to stop by a small Crêperie when there, out of nowhere: my bookstore.

Not Shakespeare and Company.  Smaller and more artfully hidden, The Abbey Bookshop beckoned me in.  How could I say no to books?  That would be rude.

And this, my friends, has just soared to the top of my list of “Most Charming Bookstores in the World.”

Someone who turned out to be a visiting neuroscience professor invited me into the store, guided me towards various genres, and even offered a mug of coffee.  Not until an awkward exchange an hour later when I tried to give him money for a book did he admit he doesn’t actually work there.  Whatever, I like semi-crazy people who think they own a place when really they’re just overly friendly visitors.  But actually, what if that coffee wasn’t free for me to drink?

Not that I would ever complain about free coffee.

Aged stone walls and a sloping ceiling foretold of an earlier time.  Located on rue de la Parcheminerie, formally rue des Escrivains, the store sits on a street famed for its former scribes and scriveners in the heart of the book trade, then beginning in the late Middle Ages, the parchment-makers.

Happy in my own little literary corner
Happy in my own little literary corner

In 1989, Brian Spence reintroduced rue de la Parcheminerie to the book trade, and for all you interested travelers (and nerds), The Abbey Bookshop will most likely remain here for a long time, considering the building has now earned “monument” status in France for its historical significance.

With books stacked to the ceiling, barely any floor space, and more nooks and crannies than I could have ever dreamed, I found my little haven.  The best part?  Everyone else seemed oblivious to its presence.  Besides the owner and the neuroscience professor, I had the bookshop entirely to myself.  My own little solitude in the city.

Have you ever been to the Abbey Bookshop?  What’s your favorite place in Paris?

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  1. I share this sense of ultimate refuge in bookstores! I hope that you have found a spot that will be satisfying for your entire stay.
    Love you! VK


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