Here is the story of how my supposed quick run to a bookstore turned into a lovely 3 hour excursion. (It’s a good thing I’m alone at the office, right?)
Here in Toulouse, I have had trouble finding a good English bookstore. Most stores have some books in English, but they are mainly American classics or new releases, like “The Great Gatsby” or “The Help”. Those books are both wonderful, but I’m in France, I want to read French literature. But my French is not yet at Molière’s level and finding English translations of French novels in Toulouse is very difficult. I searched on the internet today and found 2 bookstores near Capitole that looked promising, so around lunch time I hopped on the metro and headed over.
The first, Gibert Joseph, proved to be like all the rest. I’m not currently interested in reading Stephen King. I went to the second, called The Bookshop, with high hopes. It was closed when I arrived, but a handwritten note on the door said “Back at 1:45”. I began wandering around for a good place to pass the remaining 30 minutes, and only after a few minutes of walking did I even realize that the note was in English – a good sign! The Bookshop is around the corner from the Jacobin’s church, so I went in to wait. The high school across from the church had just let out for lunch, and I was quickly enveloped in throngs of noisy teenagers, their cigarette smoke, and honking cars. I quickly ducked into the church, where I was immersed in the type of silence you can only find in a 700 year old church. The only noise was the reverberation of the occasional footstep.
Outside sounded like a warzone, with the shrieks and yells of the students and the rumbling of the cars on the cobblestone (let’s just say I had forgotten how loud a school lunch break can be.) But inside I was left to peacefully admire those awe-inspiring ceilings.
“Lost in soft amaze, I gaze, I gaze” – John Keats
Coming twice in two days allowed me to notice details today that I was too overwhelmed to notice yesterday. For example, in the arch behind Thomas Aquinas’ tomb, I noticed AE’s and what look like crowns. (I searched on the internet but can’t find any information, if anyone knows what these symbols mean I would be very interested to know.)
Also, on the ceilings, the colored strips between the “palm fronds” are actually covered with stars. What a nice touch.
I also got to spend more time in each little chapel under the arches, which are charming.
At 1:45 I left the church and went back to the bookstore, which was still closed. I started getting hungry at this point, so I went to find something to eat. To my surprise, I soon came upon a little Argentine restaurant! (Last year I spent 5 months in Buenos Aires, hence, my excitement.) I walked in and immediately was surrounded by Spanish. People speaking Spanish, Spanish music, Spanish words on the walls. Mi gente.
I asked for a menu and almost started laughing, it was so Argentine. Well, it was actually more like a Latin American mix, they also served tacos, fajitas, things like like that. But I sure never thought I’d see Milanesa Completa on a menu again! I almost ordered it out of nostalgia, but my nostalgia quickly reminded me that I don’t like Milanesa, so I ordered choripan. In fact, here is a picture of me eating choripan. In Argentina. At a futbol match. Oh yeah.
There were tango murals everywhere, mate and Quilmes beer, and even a picture of Carlos Gardel! (There must be a national law in Argentina that to own a restaurant you must hang a picture of Carlos Gardel, the legendary tango singer, on the walls.)
As I paid, I spoke with the cashier, who was indeed from Argentina. I told him how I spent 5 months there and how much I miss it, and how his restaurant brought back so many memories. It felt so good to speak Spanish again, after so long without using it in a conversational way. I will definitely be going back to El Chivito!
Anyways, lest I forget, this post is about a bookstore. So, after lunch I went back to The Bookshop, which had since reopened.
AND, they had French novels in English! Not very many, but still, I was very happy. They also had books on the history of France, which I am dying to learn more about since being here. I ended up buying “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo and “The Discovery of France” by Graham Robb. After reading Les Misérables I consider myself a Hugo fan (note the quote by him at the top of my blog), but I have not yet read “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, so I am happy to have the chance. The second book is by a British professor of French literature who decided he didn’t truly know France, so he set off an an epic voyage through France (and many libraries) to learn and experience as much as he could. My kind of book.
So that is how, 3 hours later, I returned to work, not having missed a single thing, with 2 books, a bag of leftover choripan, and a smile on my face.