In the café littéraire meet-ups of yesteryear, old establishments like this may have welcomed book lovers.
Un café littéraire est un lieu de réunion où l'on parle de littérature, échange des idées, écoute des extraits de livres lus par des comédiens, assiste à des spectacles érudits tout en dégustant un café, ou autre boisson. A café littéraire is a meet-up place where one talks about literature, exchanges ideas, listens to book excerpts read by performers, participates in intellectual plays, all while enjoying a coffee or other drink. (French text from Wikipedia)
A Day in a FRENCH Life... by Kristin Espinasse
"Namedropping in Paris"
When Robin invited me to Paris to speak at her book salon my first thought was No. I can't.
It was a reaction that made very little sense given that my big dream in life was to one day experience an historical tradition: le café littéraire. And here was the chance! A longtime reader and supporter was not only inviting me to one--she wanted me to be a guest speaker!
It was not the first time opportunity knocked on my door. A few years ago I had the chance to speak at Karen Fawcett's--in her beautiful salon overlooking Paris. That event, in which I sat cross-legged on the floor eating a home-cooked meal and chatting with journalists and authors (including Cara Black!), was a stepping stone. So how is it that when another stepping stone appears, I sometimes want to stay put?
I'm laughing now realizing I'm not the only one to stay put. I am finally at Robin's, on rue Cherche Midi, waiting for the first guests to arrive. Only they're in limbo too! The ascenseur appears to be broken and they can't make it up to the 6th floor!
A few minutes later the couple appears, faces glowing from their trek up several flights! The initial thought of climbing six flights was daunting, but now they're at the party. And, so, metaphorically, am I!
Familiar faces begin to arrive, including longtime readers Rosemary and Bernard:
By now the elevator is working and invités are pouring in, along with fellow guest-speaker Ann Mah. I begin to wonder about two things: will everyone fit and will there be a chance to have a meaningful conversation with each guest?
The first question has already been thought out by Robin's husband John. He googled it: "stand up reception how many people can fit into 4 X 6 meters?" Sure enough, there's elbow room for everyone!
As for meaningful conversations, I notice there are many unfamiliar faces. Which were friends of Robin's? Friends of Ann's? Or readers of my blog? Should I just march right up and introduce myself? (And come off as cheesy as a used-car seller?) (Note: nothing against used-car sellers!)
Once at a booksigning in New York I tried circling the room, intent on thanking each person for coming out to the event. The next morning I received a vitriolic email from a guest who had hired a babysitter and driven all the way to the event--only to be "ignored" by the author!
Looking around Robin's apartment, now full to the brim with guests, a variation of "speed-dating" seemed a good solution this time! All we needed was a bell to keep things moving along--and wouldn't you know one manifested that very instant!
Only the chime I had just heard was the call of Robin's voice....
"Thank you everyone for coming! I would now like to introduce you to our speakers!"
No time for speed-dating, we needed to high-tail it over to those chairs beside the fireplace!
Ann and I sat wringing our hands during the introduction, but our presenter put us at ease. We listened as Robin shared the story of a chance meeting and a growing friendship.
Robin told about the day I received an unexpected email from Simon and Schuster. I remember nearly falling out of my chair the moment I checked my inbox. Soon after I would learn about Ann Mah--the then journalist from Beijing who had discovered my blog and sent a link to the New York publishing house! That was in 2005. Ann and I have been getting to know each other ever since. And reading Ann's latest book Mastering The Art of French Eating, I've learned even more about my down-to-earth friend (who knew this food journalist's favorite comfort food is toast?!).
Before Ann and I spoke to the audience, Robin took the time to acknowledge some of the others in attendance, many of whom had helped her realize her own dream of coming to France. Adrian Leeds, Karen Fawcett, Ann and Kirk Woodyard, Heather Stimmler-Hall, Janet Skeslien Charles, Marjorie Williams, Victoria Ferauge, Katia Grimmer-Laversanne, Meredith Mullins, Brian Spence, Mary Winston Nicklin of France Today -- the journalist, bloggers, and writers and bookstore owner all contribute to our crush on France.
I could relate to what Robin was saying when she told the audience she could pinch herself, being here in Paris surrounded by a community of writers. I felt the same way, and Ann acknowledged the sentiment too when she answered Robin's question What's the best thing about having published book? by holding out her hands, embracing those who had gathered in the name of shared stories and the love of France.
The audience response was so warm and encouraging. But I still feared someone could go home disappointed. That email from New York still haunted me. But Robin's next announcement eliminated any chances of that!
"For those who have come here to spend a moment with Ann or Kristi, you can meet with them at their private stations." (Ann's station was in front of the fireplace and mine was in the only other space available: the bedroom!)
It was finally time to put to rest my worry of disappointing a reader, and what better place to put it to rest than in bed? I took my seat on the edge of the bed where Robin had placed a stack of my books, a pen, and my publicity flyers.
"If anyone wants to talk to me, I'm here in the boudoir. Come on in!"
(First in line was Bernard, whose eyes twinkled. "I’m going to tell Jean-Marc that I was in the boudoir with you!!" he said, chuckling as he handed me my book to sign.)
* * *
Phew! I hope you made it through this story. Events like this are the most difficult for me to write about. There is always so much to say and so many different ways of recounting the event (and I didn't even get to mention the delicious amuse-bouches or bite-sized hors d'œuvre, that Robin served--along with the champagne). Thank you very much for reading! Click here to respond.
A word about the title of today's story
Namedropping in Paris is a funloving poke at a commenter who wrote in following my previous post. I wrote back that it was not my intention to puff up my story (or myself) by mentioning local personalities--but that it's good to shine the light on other bloggers and writers--and point readers to other stories beside my own. Here are a few more places to visit:
- Adrian Leeds. Check out her resume of Robin's event!
- Ann and Kirk wrote about the recent book events in Paris, too!
- Cassandra Surer was sent to this event by her sister Julia, who could not make it. Cassandra told me about the French Heritage Society.
Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos.
It was a sheer delight to meet Rina, seated here listening to Robin's presentation. Rina, I have good news: I'll be back in Paris on April 8th. I've been invited to speak at Adrian Leed's "Après Midi"! More info to come!
Thank you for the time you've just spent reading this French word story. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next letter, please know that a one-time contribution helps me continue doing what I love most: improving these posts. Your support is vivement apprécié. Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment!