Every so often, I get to spend a few days in Paris. Each time, I love it a little bit more.
Last time, I spent my time by the river and at late night jazz bars, wandering home a little unsteadily through the empty streets in the early hours.
This time, I’m the parent of an 18-month-old, here with my husband for a bit of precious time to ourselves. The days start earlier now, so this trip was about early morning coffee, Grand Slam tennis and capturing as much of that Parisian je ne sais quoi as we could before passing out early to cram a year and a half of sleep into two nights.
We stayed in Saint Germain, with its beautiful medieval churches and understated cafes, its elegant juliette balconies and quintessentially-French pavement restaurants. It was never going to be enough time, but we squeezed as much Paris as we could into 48 hours. We wandered the streets and navigated the metro system. We took a whistle-stop tour of the sites, dragging our bags up a thousand steps to see the city from the Sacre Coeur. We tried to put our high school French to work, and smiled gratefully when people responded in English.
My favourite place to spend some time in Paris is the independent English language bookshop Shakespeare & Co. Overlooking Notre Dame cathedral, it sits on the Left Bank of the Seine, in the very same spot since 1951. It’s a literary icon and a booklover’s dream. It’s all quiet corners and winding staircases, stuffed full of books. Upstairs, there’s a beautiful square room lined with comfy benches and armchairs, and floor-to-ceiling book shelves. The books aren’t for sale here; it’s a small library the comes with a view over the river, a warm breeze flowing through the open window, and an invitation to sit a while and get lost in a new world.
I wish I could have brought everything home. Among the mountains of titles, here are five that caught my eye and reminded me, in the most sophisticated of cities, what it means to be Bijou.
The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life – Sarah L. Kaufman
I’ve often thought of grace as simply a particular way of carrying yourself. But author and dance critic Sarah L. Kaufman defines it as a “refined sense of movement and manner, as a way of pleasing, assisting, and honouring others”. In other words, it’s as much about empathy as it is about elegance. In this book, Kaufman highlights people – from Audrey Hepburn to Roger Federer – who naturally move through the world with grace, and suggests her own ‘Ten Tips for Moving Well with Life’.
Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent – Neil Chapman
Put simply, this book is beautiful. The author, Japan-based perfume blogger Neil Chapman, has created a ‘scent atlas’ that promises to walk you through the world of perfume and help you identify your ideal scent for every moment and mood. Each Art Deco-inspired page is carefully designed to spark joy as much as to convey information. This is one of those books that would add a little something to your interior design and make you happy to spend time at home.
The Modern Cook’s Year – Anna Jones
I love to cook. Ok, let me try that again – I love to eat! Like a lot of people, I’m thinking a lot about the environment and how I can make better food choices, particularly when it comes to meat. In her third book, cook and food writer Anna Jones shares seasonal vegetarian recipes for the whole year. It’s colourful, creative and just what I need for getting out of my veggie-meals rut. Anna differentiates between the start of spring, which feels like winter, and the warm days of spring, which feel like summer. I really appreciate that attention to detail.
She Must Be Mad – Charly Cox
This is the first collection from Instagram poet Charly Cox, filled with raw reflections on mental health and modern womanhood. There’s a certain weight to feminine style; sophistication and elegance used as armour as we move through the world with grace. But I’m glad to be part of the generation that’s putting authenticity into that mix, so we can be honest about our struggles and turn them into strengths. If you feel that way, you’ll see that reflected in the pages of this book.
C’est La Vie: The French Art of Letting Go – Fabrice Midal
This book is an interesting take on an increasingly prevalent message that’s equal parts revolutionary and just plain common sense: it’s ok to be you. It’s translated into English from the original French and is about, in the author’s words, stopping tormenting ourselves into following social norms that don’t fit us. It’s a book about giving ourselves a break. In other words, this is a book about being Bijou.
What are your favourite book stores to spend some time? What will you be reading this summer?