Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bohème amongst books

George Whitmann 1913-2011 


"On Wednesday 14th December, 2011, George Whitman died peacefully at home in the apartment above his bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris. George suffered a stroke two months ago, but showed incredible strength and determination up to the end, continuing to read every day in the company of his daughter, Sylvia, his friends and his cat and dog. He died two days after his 98th birthday. "

I remember the documentary 'Portrait of a bookstore as an old man' about George Whitman and his tradition of hosting young writers who would live in the library for a while on mattresses in exchange for a few hours work  and only if they promised to try to read one book every day, as he claimed he did his entire life.

I remember in the movie some travellers were children or grand-children of people who visited him in the hippy era and had cherished the experience. I remember in one scene, the then already old man showed off to young girls by giving them a course on how to cut your hair using a burning candle. Head on fire amidst books.

I remember visiting the bookshop 6 years ago hoping to see him, I guess I expected to see a little old guy in a wheelchair when I saw him outside walking in front of the shop along the Seine with his dog, Notre-Dame in the background. Quite tall, dressed in black, reading while walking, he looked old but timeless.
I remember how the staff was concerned every time someone approached him on the street and were relieved every time to see it was one of his many friends.

I cannot imagine a better life.

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