[Kelly’s Newspaper Column]
Last fall we spent a month in the south of France, primarily in Aix-en-Provence. One happy discovery (among countless happy discoveries) was Book in Bar, a charming bookstore with coffee bar and pastries. I love bookstores of any variety but this one was especially magical.
Not only did they have books in English, they also have books in Japanese, Chinese, German, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Arabic, and of course, French. Or perhaps I should say anglais, japonais, chinois, allemande, espagnol, russe, italien, arabe, francais. (Check out www.bookinbar.com)
People of all languages gather to read, to nibble, and to converse. You could practice your language skills just by striking up a conversation or by attending a scheduled time to do so. They had author events, poetry readings, book clubs, and writing workshops. In a word, heaven.
The thing about bookstores, this one and all in general, is that they are ageless. Not only are the books timeless in many respects, the bookstore entices all ages. Mothers with toddlers weave in with the students and the retired folks. It does not matter how old you are, a beloved book is a topic for conversation with anyone who also resonated. Or simply the love of books is enough of a common cause to comingle in peace.
When I have been in other countries, I often find myself in bookstores even those that are not international. I have lingered in bookstores in France, Germany, Italy and beyond just to take in the feel of the place and to delight in the written word, even if it’s in a language I cannot read.
I pick up the books and flip through them. I rub my finger on their covers. I look at the photo of the author. Even with the lack of language, there is a connection. A fellow human felt the desire to express in the written word and those thoughts are enclosed in a capsule we call a book.
My command of the French language is enough to decipher a menu, differentiate between junk mail and real mail, and read the newspaper headlines. I do not have the skill to read a book in any language but English. Except for a few children’s books in French. But the joy of a bookstore is universal.
When you travel, I invite you to visit a bookstore. Notice what titles are translated by your favorite authors. Look at guidebooks in any language. Read the posters – you usually can get the gist even if you don’t understand all the words.
Visiting a bookstore brings in touch with other regular folks wanting to get their information and inspiration via the written word. That is something we all have in common. You see that people are people and we are more alike than different.
A child laughs at a funny picture book. A woman weeps at a heart-wrenching love story. An old man may even wipe his eye at a riveting history account. We learn from others, in the pages, and all around us. Take in the ambience of a bookstore. I’ve never been in one that has not touched my soul in some way.
You can even lose yourself in the big name chain bookstore in the mall. The books can take you away from whatever is on your mind and that is magic in itself. Six minutes of reading can lower your stress. Six minutes of flipping through books, in any language, can lower mine.
For now, I daydream of old wooden floors in an ancient building with quiet murmurs of many languages, and the smiles of delight as we all peruse the pages of new delights. I close my eyes, I close the book, I smile.