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Farewell to George Whitman

"Be not inhospitable to strangers - Lest they be angels in disguise"


George Whitman, 12.12.1913 - 14.12.2011

The death of the owner of the Shakespeare & Co bookstore in Paris, has brought back memories of my time in Paris back in 1992, which lead indirectly to the start of La Fée Absinthe.  I had arrived in Paris in early January 1992 and had two weeks to find an appartment and a job before having to return to the UK.  Wandering around the left bank one day, I came across the Shakespeare & Co. book shop...


The Shakespeare & Company bookstore, on Rue de la Bûcherie

...With its ramshakle notices chalked up on the outside shutters.   One of the notices was from an American Journalist looking for a flatmate on the idylic Ile St. Louis (one of the little islands in the middle of Paris).    Having a good French accent, but not many other skills, I managed to get a job as a bi-lingual secretary for a pharmaceutical company in the 13th arrondisement.  My life in Paris had begun and being very shy and living with a super shy American (yes, they do exist) I spent many hours wandering around Paris and ended up one day back at Shakespeare & Co.  The owner, George Whitman, invited myself and some other young people up to the top floor for tea.  I was put in charge of an enormous metal kettle and a massive sieve to use as a tea strainer.  The whole place had a bohemian air with wonky bookshelves, dusty carpets and cats asleep amongst the novels.  I did not know at the time, the long history of the bookstore and its association with American writers including Ernest Hemingway.    George Whitman had a line of a poem by William Butler Yeats displayed on the wall of the store:  "Be not inhospitable to strangers - Lest they be angels in disguise"


Inside Shakespeare & Company

George's hospitality and my finding an appartment through the Shakespeare & Co bookstore allowed me to spend two wonderful years in Paris.  Years later I returned to Paris with my husband George and we visited the Absinthe Museum in Auvers-sur-Oise and begun our relationship with Marie-Claude Delahaye leading ultimately to the start of La Fée Absinthe and the return of Absinthe to France.

A cultural beacon who saw the book business as ' the business of life'.  He will be missed.

by Jane Rowley

See the following links:

Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris - owner dies.
George Whitman, the owner of Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, an iconic English language store frequented by Ernest Hemingway, died Dec. 14 in his apartment above the store...
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ local/obituaries/george- whitman-owner-of-paris- bookstore-shakespeare-and- company-dies-at-98/2011/12/14/ gIQAFcVvuO_story.html

The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/books/george-whitman-paris-bookseller-and-cultural-beacon-is-dead-at-98.html

The book store also makes a cameo appearance in the latest Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris (where Owen Wilson's character Gil sips Absinthe with Hemingway in Paris).  
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/ 05/28/movies/midnight-in- paris-a-historical-view.html?_ r=1