Do Cool Sh*t series: This series is about awesome opportunities that can be found while travelling, starting with my stint as a writer-in-residence at Shakespeare and Co in Paris.
Despite living less than two hours from Paris, I’d never visited the French capital or been very interested in it. That is, until I heard of tumbleweeding which would allow writers to sleep for free in the bookshop, Shakespeare and Co, in exchange for helping out in the sgop a few hours a week. As a writer, bibliophile, traveller and Mediterranean addict, this would be the perfect place to indulge all of my interests!
I rocked up suitcase in hand… only to be told that they had no room. Drat. I awkwardly carried my hand luggage around the shop and wondered about my next move. I’d saved the details of a hostel on my phone and so immediately went to book my bed for the night, planning to go by coach back to London the next evening. Paris is where budgets go to die and then incur some debt on top of that, hence my hasty return. I wanted to spend two full days and one night in Paris, returning to London by the overnight coach, which can be found for as cheaply as €4 (I kid you not) from Flixbus, with the journey taking eight to nine hours. Paris in general feels more expensive than London for things like takwaway coffee and food, though I lived by Notre Dame, so I don’t expect prices to there to have been typical of the entire city. Also, London tends to have a lot more chain, so prices are more regulated, meaning everything is a little bit cheaper.
The next day, on a whim I decided to go back and try someone else to see if the answer would be different. I was directed to a thousand different people but was then sent to the person who had the tumbleweed schedule! She told me that they didn’t have space now, but did I want to come back next week? Hmm let me check my calendar…. YES!
I spent the next week in London, visiting friends and family, then came back to Paris to start working at Shakespeare and Co, I was now officially a tumbleweed! George Whitman, an American traveller, opened the bookshop in 1951 and wanted to payback all the hospitality he had received during his travels; he drifted from place to place, “like a tumbleweed” but was always received warmly, something which he wanted to pay forward to other young artists and writers travelling through Paris, hence his invitation for people to sleep and work in the shop as tumbleweeds.
As a tumbleweed you are expected to help out a few hours a day: you help open the shop (at 9.45AM), close the shop (22.45PM) and you do a two-hour shift during the day. On top of this you are required to help with events where authors are invited twice a week to give readings and talk about their latest book. The accommodation is communal, with a shared room and beds that you set up in the library area of the bookshop. It was a dream! I loved tumbleweeding and having access to so many books was like nirvana; in my two weeks, I read six books and spent my free time wandering the streets of Paris, meeting interesting folks, butchering the French language and haemorrhaging money, oh it was wonderful! And it was a great opportunity to visit all of Paris slowly, savouring the city, visiting the palace and gardens of Versailles, wandering the art galleries, donning berets, eating baguettes and enjoying two-course lunches in the sun and wine picnics on the Seine (yes this is now a thing).
I loved my time as a tumbleweed and would recommend it to other writers: it was amazing to meet other artists, writers and musicians and be able to talk about our work and give each other advice on the writing process. If you would like to more information on becoming a tumbleweed check out this page.