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Shakepeare & Company–The Center of The World

Photo By Craig Finlay

Vanity Fair Magazine has a great article on what might be the greatest book store in the world.  I can’t say for sure–I’ve been to City Lights in San Francisco, Powell’s in Portland, and Rizzoli in New York City, but I’ve never been to Paris.  I’m a book fetishist at heart–as fond of old volumes for their texture and scent as I am for what might be in them, and an absolute fiend for vintage pulp sci-fi paperback cover art.  We have something like 10,000 books in our house, most of them on shelves but quite a few in boxes, waiting for their shot at daylight.  Shakespeare’s gleams in the foggy distance like a beacon, a warm hearth  in the murk.  Someday….



Of course, Shakespeare’s is and was much more than a bookstore–think of it as an oasis for aspiring writers, heavily laden with a memories of Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and their beat brethren as well as earlier, even brighter luminaries like Hemingway, Pound, Fitzgerald, Stein and Eliot in their day–and a host of others before, betwixt, and after them.

Rather than reinterpret what has been said so well elsewhere, I’ve collected some links and photos of Shakespeare and Company, its owner, its history, and its place in the world as a literary mecca.  I encourage you to indulge.

Shakespeare & Company: The Story is on the Shelves



The Shortest Best Story Ever

This post originally appeared in Old Road Apples’ very first week of existence. No one noticed it. No one even read it. So, I’m giving it a chance at new life, as I will be doing with other, carefully selected posts in the coming weeks.


Among the students voted “best…” and “most likely to…” for the Senior Class Personalities in my kids’ yearbooks, I noted what has to be the most flattering and impressive designation, “Talks the least. Says the Most.”  I can’t think of a higher salute from one’s peers.

Now I’m thinking about the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was one of those “gateway writers” who collectively inspired me to study literature and read obsessively.  An early selection of my adolescence-generated prose stinks of derivation, but as I stumbled into my pretentious twenties I mocked him along with other, equally unsubtle critics.  He ate a sandwich.  It was a good, moist sandwich with meat and cheese. The cheese was yellow and good. He had eaten kind of sandwich Nick ate in Italy.  I fell in love with bombast, magical realism, what I jokingly called “maximumism.”  That passed, too, and I’ve come full circle to recognize the subtle  genius behind the man who writes the least  and says, or at least edits, the most.

My favorite story about Hemingway involves him sitting around a table, possibly at The Algonquin, with his friends, a few of whom were towering talents in their own right, and betting the house that he could write an entire story with just a few words.  His eager companions bade him put his money where he mouth (and pen) was.  Hemingway replied with a 6-word novel, hastily scribbled onto a napkin  It read:

“For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.”

His companions read the words, probably grumbled a little, and paid the man.

Commentary Recipe

Autumn Photo: Hemingway’s Bloody Mary

absolut-bloody-mary(85)Ernest Hemingway didn’t invent Autumn’s most iconic cocktail–that distinction is rumored to belong to Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot, a Parisian bartender looking for ways to dress up vodka for Russian immigrants and American expatriots on the lam from Prohibtion–but the iconic American author, and legendary drinker, has been inextricably tied to the Bloody Mary thanks to a recipe he concocted and included in a letter to a friend in 1947.

Autumn is, in my mind, incomplete without spending at least one brisk, sunny weekend morning outdoors, on the patio or perhaps tailgating before a game, with a tall tumbler of this most delicious elixir in one’s hand.  It’s an excellent complement to hearty slab of good, crusty bread and a chunk of assertive cheese.  Do not, under any circumstances, pour this drink over crushed ice.  Any Bloody Mary is better than none, but the Hemingway recipe is definitive.

Hemingway Bloody Mary Recipe
To a large pitcher (anything smaller is “worthless”) add:
1 chunk of ice (the biggest that will fit)
1 pint of vodka
1 pint chilled tomato juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 jigger fresh lime juice
Pinch celery salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch black pepper
Several drops of Tabasco

“Keep on stirring and taste it to see how it is doing. If you gets it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.”

Thirteenth_Colony_Distillery_Plantation_Vodka_Vodka__89455A word about Vodka: there is very little correlation between taste and price with Vodka.  That said, a Bloody Mary is certainly not the place to dump your expensive bottles, or your throat-burning cheapies that scorch a path down your gullet like a can of flaming Sterno.  I recommend Plantation, or Luksusowa–both nice balances of price and smoothness.

Some notes: 1.)You’ve undoubtedly seen Bloody Marys served with celery slices, which is fine but not necessary if you add the celery salt.  Unless you like celery a lot, which I do, although I’m still ambivalent. A spring of crushed celery leaf would add better flavor. I’m of the opinion the celery just gets in the way.  2.) The addition of extraneous ingredients–like gin, sherry, vermouth or, gods help us, bacon or clam juice* is a sacrilege.  3.)Large pieces of ice are preferable because they melt more slowly (less surface area) and take longer to water down your drink.  It is rumored that Hemingway used a tennis ball can to make ice cubes for his pitchers.  4) In a pinch, lemon juice can replace lime juice.  5) Using V-8 instead of Tomato Juice is an interesting variation.

*Adding clam juice, or substituting Clamato juice makes a different drink, the Bloody Caesar.

Commentary Journal

Cats, Hemingway, and Me

I was catching up on on blog posts I’d bookmarked, things that caught my eye on busy mornings or late nights to which I had attended to return long ago, when I came upon this one from Millie Ho about Art, Edward Gorey, creativity in general and–if you read between the lines–a whole lot more.

The post reminded me instantly of Hemingway, and not just because of the prominent photo of the artist Gorey reclined, asleep, and half-covered in his beloved cats.  It is easy to mistake this for a photo of Hemingway, as I initially did–and as many others on the internet have done, because along with the deceptively simple syntax and precise word vocabulary, the long line of marriages and adultery and more marriages, the fishing and the hunting and the boxing and the bullfighting, Hemingway is sort of famous for his cats.
tumblr_lmyfhszSUf1qiu5e6o1_400My first pet was a cat–a fierce, possibly deranged, copper colored striped cat that maybe weighed eight pounds which I named Amber, because I was a kid (geek) who knew what amber was, what it looked like, and that was what color she was.  This led to a lifetime–she would live to be 23 years old–of “that’s a stripper’s name” jokes, which none of us appreciated very much. Amber loved me, slept most of her life on my bed, and tolerated my mother and sister. She waged war on the rest of the world, dominating all the other cats and dogs in the neighborhood via sheer, hostile tenacity.  She twice ventured  to our neighbors’ yard and thrashed their miniature collie–a silly, lazy thing called “Boots” and cornered it on it’s own porch, then came home to sit in my lap, a tiny, purring little Genghis Khan.Literature Personalities. pic: circa 1940's. Author Ernest Hemingway watched by his wife Mary, feeds tit bits to the cat at dinner. Ernest Hemingway, (1899-1961) US writer of novels and short stories and Nobel Prize winner, also a keen sportsman. He was p

When the neighbor, in all her bright red-dyed hair and perfume-drenched glory marched down to our hovel to confront us, and pounded on the door, the cat launched herself at the screen door, from the inside, growling and hissing as she did to most visitors, the mailman, meter readers, extended family, and innocent passers-bycat on screen door. It was a little embarrassing, especially to my mom.  It was also a little bit awesome, in both the colloquial and literal senses of the word.

We never worried about locking our door–my grandmother couldn’t get past this snarling beast.  Forget some burgler–not that our house wouldn’t have been the last house of the block to draw the attention of n’er do wells, unless they were looking for warn rugs or a shabby old flowered sofa.

I never appreciated the cat.  I was a boy, and I wanted a dog, and when I got one–a stray German Shepherd puppy that started sleeping on our back porch one summer evening and couldn’t be convinced to go home–well, nothing really changed.  The cat loved me because I let her alone, I’m convinced, and she ernesthemingway_narrowweb__300x4700worked out some sort of deal with the dog.  She let it sleep on her porch, after all, and eventually shared her bed with him (after already sharing the antique double with me).  This was a dog she could work with–smart, respectful, quiet–except for his love of fetching things (tennis balls, rubber bones–he even carried a neighbor’s beagle puppy back to me one evening, perfectly gripped–unharmed–in his mouth.  That really was embarrassing.) Amber would never have degraded herself by fetching, though she did bring me the requisite corpses of small rodents and birds, but not as tribute mind you–but as a reminder, like the horsehead in The Godfather.

It seems ironic, in retrospect, that I under-appreciated the value of such an interesting companion probably because she demanded so little of me besides the occasional scratch behind the ears, the opening and closely of doors, some water and food.  Do we love based on the effort we’re required to make?  Perhaps not exclusively, but it’s something to think about.1.55811_image.jpeg

You expect a dog to provide companionship, but a cat–I’ve learned to expect, if not quite settle for, something called “affectionate disinterest.”  Psychologically, this is genius on the part of the cats, who could provide excellent advice on human relationships.  I had to learn that keeping my distance and moving (seemingly) reluctantly into relationships, more often than not, is a far better strategical approach than, say, the emotional equivalent of marching headlong into the brink.  064b

We’ve all seen Black Hawk Down, right?  In love, Tom Sizemore and a column of Pakistani mechanized infantry aren’t going to rush in at the last moment and save your ass when you crash and burn.

Better to be the tentative Pakistanis, biding their time.

But there weren’t any cats in that movie…