As I browsed through the stock-full shelves of the Shakespeare and Company book shop, I pondered what it is that makes a city a writers’ and artists’ city. Why is it that in the 1920s Paris was the place to be, and perhaps today one should be in Berlin? Why did so many artists congregate on the French Riviera in the end of the 19th century (was it just the peculiar light?)?
So I did what everybody does today when they have a question: I typed in Google, “What makes a city a writers’ city?” The top 5 search hits were about New York City: half of them listing why New York City is a writers’ city, and the other half telling writers to leave for better cities than New York City. Odd, however, that all the cities mentioned as great writers’ cities were located in the United States. Google made me none the wiser, except for one important factor: money and cafés. A writer thrives in a location which is esthetically pleasing and has good cafés where one can observe life – but that even a poor creative soul can afford. Places like Brooklyn and San Francisco, and St Germain-des-Pres in Paris, used to be hot hangarounds for creative people – until so many came that the area became “too hipster” (now define it if you please) and the poorest but also coolest full-time aspiring artists had to move out to find yet another inspiring haunt.Perhaps it does not matter where one writes, as long as one is surrounded by things that inspire. Or perhaps it does help to be allowed to crash at for example Shakespeare and Company, to punch away on the age-old typewriter in the corner, or to bounce around ideas and angst with fellow aspiring writers in-between shop duty.
In any case, a picnic at Luxembourg gardens may help. Many have tried and succeeded.
(Shakespeare and Company bookshop; the ceiling at La Coupole restaurant; Oscar Wilde’s tombstone; and Luxembourg gardens. Paris, France; July 2016)