Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tumbleweed Hotel, Shakespeare and Company


 It's very hard to express what an amazing miracle it is to sleep overnight at Shakespeare and Company. To live here (for free), you have to show up at the store and ask Sylvia, the owner, George Whitman's daughter (you can't reserve a place or anything). The winter's less crowded than the summer, but you can't ever be sure of a spot. How long can you stay as a tumbleweed? Most people stay a week to a month, but one guy stayed seven years. The only requirements, other than tidiness, are that you have to work 2 hours a day in the shop, read a book a day, and write a one-page biography of your life. Upstairs in George's old room are thousands and thousands of these one-page biographies, going back five decades.


many more posts about tumbleweeding and shakespeare and company are listed here.
and here are my best ideas for travel on the cheap, if you'd like to see!








George Whitman used to say that it's a "socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore." I can't describe the feeling when the staff, with an otherworldly sense of trust, all leaves, and you're alone (with your fellow tumbleweeds) in this ancient monastery, with all the words in the books, all the spirits of the past tumbleweeds whom you feel you practically know, with Notre Dame right out the front window, and you spread out your sheets and comforters on the benches hidden away in the books.


  
Colette, the resident dog, doesn't like sleeping alone.





Sylvia said tumbleweeds used to sleep up there in the loft above the childrens' section, which is blocked by a curtain, so they would actually keep sleeping long after the store had opened for the day, until a big hairy leg would drop down and all the kids would be scared.





This is the creed
of the hotel Tumbleweed:
Give what you can
and take what you need 

 



ps: here's an interview i did that has more stories from the shop, and a photo essay in rookie mag!

31 comments:

  1. is just perfect, ¡like a dream!, I just hope that someday go.

    your blog is amazing, greetings from mexico :)

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  2. I'll be going in a week. I wonder the people who live here long term...how do they eat? Where do they shower? They have a place to stay but I'm assuming this doesn't cover everything does it? Lol I really want to see if I can stay.

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    1. It's France, no need to shower, lol...jk, naturally

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  3. Hi Anonymous! For eating, tumbleweeds have to provide for themselves (occasionally there are special events where you can eat). But it's pretty easy to make 3 good meals a day for 10 euros or so, if you're frugal and make food from supermarkets. (There is a kitchen available for tumbleweed use.) There are also two showers "behind the scenes" in the shop, though up to about 5 years ago all tumbleweeds had to go use the Paris public showers! It might be difficult to stay at the shop right now, since the summers are usually very full. But you can always try volunteering for a while until a tumbleweed bed clears up, or try coming in late fall or winter.

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    1. This year I became aware of Shakespeare and COmpany and have been obsessed with the idea of being a tumble weed since. I am 15 years old and go to an international school in germany. I have always loved reading and writing and am pretty sure i want to study comparative literature when I am older. In autumn this year i am visiting paris and I would love to stay in shakespeare and company if i could. If I am too young to stay or no places are free I would love top come next year in the summer holidays with 16 and stay for longer my parents would allow both options. Pls contact me if I can or cannot stay

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  4. Hi! To be honest I was going to ask much the same as Anonymous, but in any case, I thought I'd ask if I would really have no chance of staying in the next few weeks or so? Just finished my first year at university, and am now stranded with my parents, in the middle of nowhere! I need to get out of England, and I've wanted to stay in Shakespeare and Co. since I was about 15... Anyway, is it worth just turning up?
    Oh, and your blog is awesome :)

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  5. Amazing article! do you know how many people can actually stay there at one time? and the book a day requirement- is it really one whole book every day? Thanks!

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    1. 5-6 people is the maximum (apparently George used to take everyone who asked, and would allow even 25, which is hard to imagine because the shop is so small.)

      The book a day requirement... how can I put this. It's definitely a spiritually important goal, but almost no one manages it. (George invented the Tumbleweed hotel to give young, broke writers a chance to write and read in Paris, which is easy to forget because there are always a million things to do.)

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  6. I absolutely adored this and the beautiful ambient photographs. My French is poor at best, is knowing it fluently a requisite?

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    1. thanks lucy! no, you don't need to know french to be a tumbleweed!

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  7. I booked a ticket to Paris for next week and I've been dreaming of staying at Shakespeare and Company for months (your beautiful photographs may have had something to do with this) - but I'm afraid. Should I just show up and hope for the best?

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    1. Hi Anonymous! This is definitely a good time to show up and hope for the best (the summer is much more crowded). If you can't get a spot, you will easily be able to volunteer at the shop. Lots of Tumbleweeds volunteer and stay in hostels or couchsurf for a little while until something works out.

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  8. Hi Anonymous!
    I'm planning to come to Paris from London on the 17th until the 23rd, so maybe we might meet! I've also dreamed of staying at S&C ever since I first visited a few years ago, so fingers crossed that the winter month will mean vacancies. You should check out these photographs, as well! http://rookiemag.com/2013/09/in-the-stacks/ Here's my email if you want to get in touch:
    jfl49@georgetown.edu

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  9. This sounds like a simply wonderful and life-changing experience, and me (being only 15 and from a inexplicably dull small town) would love to make the pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Company at some point during my life. However, I was wondering, does one have to be an accomplished writer or literary genius to gain entry to the Tumbleweed Hotel? I glanced at your bio and saw that you're a former Henry Russell Shaw Fellow (Despite the fairly large amount of time that has elapsed, I believe congratulations are in order. That is amazing!), so obviously that is nothing that you needed be concerned about, but do you have any knowledge as to whether ability factors into being allowed in? Or am I thinking too far into this, believing it's some sort of elite semi-secret society? Thank you, and I think your blog is absolutely wonderful!

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    1. I think it's important that you care about writing and take your work seriously, but you don't need to be a literary genius by any means. Passion for literature and a desire to make great things are definitely more important!

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  10. hi, do you need to speak good french to be a tumbleweed?

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  11. I am 15 years old and being a tumble weed seems like my dream come true. Everything I ever wantzed in life combined its so wonderfull i love books more than anything and since I picked up myfirts book I knew I wanted to be an writer. I´m having an hard time at school and people told me outside of school its not going to get better even more social stress and that it gets harder after school I thought there´s no hope but tjis really restored my faith in humanity and my faith of one day getting out of the hellhole you call high school and in the "real world" were people understand my passion for words, poems and literature I never knew there were soo many people who wanted to be writers and if I read about them and never met them in person. Wow Paris sry tjis is like my light in the end of the tunnel. I hope when I finish school its still gonna be there waiting for me
    Zara

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    1. 15 is a very hard time, but in my experience, life actually gets less stressful as it goes on...hang in there, zara! xx molly

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    2. It'll get better! I had a hard time when I was 15. It lasted longer than I care, but then amazing things happened! The good thing about having a hard time is, it'll make you better for when life turns around and becomes awesome. Just be nice to the good people always, keep your distance from the bad ones, and, if you accept the gifts that nice people give you, make sure to give them back to other young people when you are in that better place. Good luck!

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  12. Hey there! I enjoyed the post!

    I've been to Paris a few times, but my timing for finding a spot at Shakespeare & Co. always seems to be off :( I'm heading back to Europe in April. Any idea if that's a good time to nab a spot? Any idea how long (how many days) it usually takes to be let in? Is persistence the key--just showing up every day?

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    1. I'm not sure how April tends to be, but no matter what the tumbleweed situation is, you can always volunteer and get to know the community that way--good luck!

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  13. Ernie in BerkeleyApril 7, 2014 at 7:00 PM

    I lived at the bookstore for a month in the spring of 1980. George had cleared out all of the travelers (we didn't call ourselves tumbleweeds back them). I somehow got to stay on, probably because I was an early riser and put myself in charge of opening the store in the morning. I'd throw open the shutters, drag the book cart out and go to the cafe next door for a petite creme to go. They served it in a ceramic cup and saucer, and a finger-wagging "You'll return the cup, hein?" "Mais, bien sur, monsieur!"--but there was a cupboard full of his cups in the kitchen upstairs. I'd sit at the front counter sipping the coffee, smoking a cigarette and scowling at the customers like a true Parisian before lunch.

    I believe Sylvia was born later that year.

    I was last there in 2000, and I was surprised at how small the spaces seemed now--and thrilled that George was still behind the counter, minus the formerly-ubiquitous cigarette. We chatted, and I left before he could offer me any pancakes, those awful, awful pancakes.

    A documentary came out about the bookstore in 2003, available here: http://www.ovguide.com/portrait-of-a-bookstore-as-an-old-man-9202a8c04000641f8000000014f4664a

    And there was a great book, Time Was Soft There, by a Canadian about his long stay there. I'm sure the bookstore has it.

    Thanks for the memories!

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    1. WowwwW! Thanks for the stories, Ernie!

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  14. I'm incredibly curious, what film camera do you use (I assume these are film photos)? They have such a lovely look to them, and I'd love to try out a non-instant film camera.

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    1. Hi there! Yes they are film!
      I brought two film cameras traveling:
      Definitely my favorite one is my Canon Ae-1. (Most of the photos on my blog are from it.) Good things about it: takes amazing film photos, even in low light, it's an SLR so you can control what you want to focus on/how much light you want, and it's very sturdy. Bad things: it's heavy! And it can be harder to do really quick photos with it because of the need to focus carefully.

      My other one was an Olympus Stylus Epic. (The last photo of this post is from the Olympus.) It's a little, lightweight, pocket-sized point and shoot camera that tends to take terrific photos, but sometimes the autofocus focuses wrong, and it sometimes does a bad job in low light. But it works really well most of the time.

      xxMolly

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  15. Well, you have inspired me! I just bid on one on eBay (now the question is if I'll actually get it for the reasonable $20 price tag). But now I have to find a film. (which, thankfully, I've seen, on average, is far less than instant film!). I'm now wondering what kind you use, because, again, these photos are phenomenal!

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    1. Yo! Glad you might be able to find a good camera. I usually use 200 film, whatever's cheapest (so usually Kodak or Fuji of whatever kind). Sometimes I get 400 film if I know I'll be taking a lot of low-light pictures.

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  16. As well (I apologize, I didn't intend to barrage you with camera-related questions), but did you use an external flash for these shots?

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    1. Nope! (My Olympus has a little flash but it never turns out too well.) If you have any other questions, don't worry, I'm happy to answer them.

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  17. This is perfect blog for anyone who is looking for topics like this. It has got it all, information, benefits and overview. A perfect piece of writing. Good job.

    ReplyDelete