Paris in Clichés excerpt

Shakespeare & Company  

Alanna had imagined that spending a week in Paris—sleeping in one of the cots snuggled among the bookshelves at Shakespeare and Company, and writing in one of the little cafes that dotted the boulevards—would make her feel like a real writer. Now she knew that wasn’t true. No one was guaranteed a bed at Shakespeare and Company, and no one was guaranteed to become a famous writer just because they visited Paris. 

She stood on the cobblestones of Rue de la Bûcherie, flinching away from the fixed stare of the book-store windows. Shakespeare and Company, the legendary Parisian bookstore, with its green and yellow façade nestled in the row across the Seine from the Notre Dame—how she’d dreamed of standing on this spot. And yet, she hadn’t even dared to browse the shelves or buy a book. After hesitantly asking the young girl at the front counter if any of the cots were available that night, she had been told they were all full. It was as if the girl had sneered in her face that the bunks were for “real writers” and that she clearly wasn’t one. The girl had said no such thing to her, but Alanna felt as crushed as if the girl had. 

She supposed that deep down, all through the long plane ride here, she’d been counting on circumstances to align, for her to arrive at just the right time to replace a writer who no longer needed to stay at the bookshop. Then, when it all worked out for her, she would take it as a sign that she was meant to be among the writers. Now that it hadn’t worked out, she couldn’t help but read it as a sign she didn’t belong. 

On the narrow patio in front of the store, some guy stood on a stool and recited awful poetry to a scattered crowd. His voice flowed over her, and she felt as if she was as delusional as he clearly was. She wasn’t a writer. She’d thought coming to Paris would make her feel like one, but she was a fraud. Every wannabe creative flocked here. 

What had she imagined? That just standing on the same stones as so many other writers had would melt all her doubts about her ability to write? During all those hours on the plane, she had never thought about how many writers must’ve come here and never written their masterpiece. She hadn’t thought about all the writers who’d failed to create anything as lasting as the city they wrote in, and who huddled in their writer’s garrets and either starved or gave up. But now that she was actually here, she was so, so aware. 

She felt as ashamed, as if she was the one standing on a stool in front of Shakespeare and Company reciting terrible poetry. 

“I’m a cliché,” she murmured. 

Paris itself didn’t disappoint her. Its stone facades stood rooted in riverbanks so built up with walls and roads and bridges that the banks’ natural outlines were long forgotten. Paris felt like everyone had always said Paris should feel—and if Paris could maintain that atmosphere, no matter how much its appearance and circumstances shifted over the years, it wouldn’t care about her own insecurities and fears. There was nothing in her or any of the modern crowd that flowed through it to stir the city’s interest. That was both lonely and heartening. Whether she succeeded or failed would never change the charm of the beautiful city around her. It was above petty human problems. 

She loved it. She loved every inch of it, even the garbage just now floating into view on the gust of wind rushing between the buildings. She loved it, and yet she wished her existence mattered just a little to it. 

It had been her dream to sleep at Shakespeare and Company and use her days to write. She hadn’t realized how much she’d counted on her dream coming true. 

“I’m a walking cliché!” she groaned, aloud this time, as if the city would respond to the wannabe writer and trying-to-find-herself tourist. 

“That’s not as bad as it sounds."


Paris in Clichés