Tuesday, June 30, 2015

why i love paris (9)

Shortly after 9am on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, I joined fellow Paris Sketchers in front of Shakespeare and Company, the famed English bookstore on the left bank of the Seine river, in Paris.  Brigitte had organized an exclusive sketching session there, to start an hour before the bookstore was open to the public and notably to the tourists.  It was an event that I could not miss, especially since I had personally attempted almost a year before to obtain permission for a group of us sketchers to draw there.  I had not gone very far in this initiative, due to complications of having about a dozen people drawing in a commercial venue that was also iconic, somewhat confined, and often crowded, with visitors outnumbering shoppers.  Luckily, Brigitte, who had recently become a Paris Sketcher, decided to take up the challenge all on her own, as if it was a natural thing to do and without knowledge of my previous efforts.  And it was a challenge that she pulled off with gusto.

It was so cool just walking to the bookstore that morning, from the Cité metro station, past Notre-Dame, and across the Seine.  Surely, the half-day off from work was a big reason for that.  Also, there was the old yet pleasant feeling of being in the heart of Paris.  I may have lived in Paris for more than eight years, but I can still be delighted at the idea of rediscovering a popular part of the city.  Like a tourist.

It was even cooler joining the ten or so sketchers who had showed up on time in front of the bookstore.  Brigitte, Sophie, Martine, Marion, Blandine, Béatrice, Gu, Claire, Joelle, and Constance, who I met for the first time.  The moment felt special, as if we were about to set out together on a secret mission.  Soon enough, the bookstore was open and we filed in.  Eriko arrived just in time, before the door was closed.  I wondered if latecomers would be allowed in.  Then my attention shifted to what was happening inside the room.

We were given a warm welcome by Camille, a store representative and our contact person for the day (who would in the next hour come around to offer us coffee ‒ nice!!!), before we set off scouring the different rooms and hallways across the two floors in search of something worth sketching.

I started things off in a room on the top floor whose walls were bordered for the most part by shelves filled with books, books, and more books.  A door leading to a somewhat hidden room and a window providing a view of Notre-Dame completed the wall decor.  Several sketchers, notably Blandine, Martine, and Constance, had already taken up their spots and were indulging in a chatter as they drew.  I saw some space on a long bench and settled myself there.

It was only when I had finished ‒ around 10am ‒ that I realized that I should have spent the visitor-free hour on the ground floor, which tended to be more crowded because everyone passed by there.  Besides, that was where the cash registers were.  Trying to make up for the missed opportunity, I rushed downstairs.  Even though the store was already open to the public, even though groups of passers-by had become a constant occurrence, I was dead set on making my second sketch there.  Giving me hope was Brigitte, who I found seated on the ground in a room near the entrance, with her large sketchbook wide open and its pages adorned with a variety of colors.  I told her about the situation that I was in and, to my astonishment, she managed to find me something to sit on!  She ended up pulling out a stool that was underneath a nearby table, but in a way that let one think that she had not known it was hidden there.  It was like magic.  Enthralled, I tried to show my gratitude by sketching some of the view that she was already giving the watercolor treatment.

2 hours, 2 sketches.  I was quite satisfied with my pace.  Lunch was scheduled for 12:30pm in La Bûcherie, a restaurant very close to the bookstore, which meant that I could easily embark on a third sketch.  There was a small room on the top floor with a piano that everyone (or so it seemed) had sketched in.  I had dropped by earlier for a quick tour and it did look interesting indeed.  So I went back upstairs to try my luck.  Once inside, I was lucky enough to find a spot facing the piano, on the other end of the room.  I was not without company.  Eriko, Lionel, Gu, and Blandine were also present.  Some non-sketchers came by or were already there, to look around, to browse through books, or to read more comfortably seated next to us.  A curious few engaged in conversations in English with a sketcher or two.  All the while, I drew on, amused.

Around 12:30pm, I thanked the staff members that I saw and stepped out of the bookstore.  The (relative) calm that was present outside in the morning had long disappeared, which was hardly surprising.  Most of the sketchers were already there and I accompanied them to the restaurant.  There were about 15 of us to accommodate, including Camille, but the waiters made it work.  At the table, we passed sketchbooks around, commenting here and complimenting there.  It was a nice way to wrap up a fantastic experience ‒ at least for me, who had to leave the restaurant before the others, saying goodbye to touristic Paris and good afternoon to working Paris.  Alas.

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