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Orionite Abroad: Great expectations, unplanned experiences define destinations

Michelle Manera

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Michelle Manera poses next to a street sign in Paris. Photo courtesy of Michelle Manera.


Paris was my second highest priority, after London, this semester abroad. I was told by student advisers that Europe-bound students always anticipate too much and spend too much there, but this didn’t lower my expectations at all.

When choosing classes for my last undergraduate semester, I chose to take French because it seemed so European and artistic. With only a month of French class, I was excited to be a typical tourist and see some of the most-visited sites in the world.

I also wanted to see a bookstore called Shakespeare and Company.

I’m not ashamed to say that I first heard of this place on Pinterest, where hundreds of bright-eyed girls dream of browsing a Parisian bookstore, shouldering a bag of fruit, a baguette and a bouquet of flowers. So I looked through websites for directions and copied what looked like the clearest instructions on my phone.

After a day of seeing the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre, I went by myself toward the bookstore because no one else was interested in my picturesque French bookstore idea.

I spent hours wandering and using multiple maps from my hotel, bus stops, my phone and underground stops. I eventually made it to the Rue de l’Odeon and walked quickly down the street in celebration because I knew it was the storefront I was looking for.

After reaching the end of the street, I doubled back and started looking at the numbers until I found where my maps had led me.

After searching for a beautiful flower-covered Parisian bookstore, I stood in front of a simple, charred storefront. I had found the original Shakespeare and Company instead of the new one. As my disappointment and blistered feet competed for my attention, a stray memory from my Pinterest browsing hit me.

The original Shakespeare and Company was supposedly closed and burnt because its owner refused to sell her last copy of James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” to a Nazi officer. Ernest Hemingway insisted it be reopened because it was a haven for him and authors such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Roaring ’20s.

Allow me some dramatic language when I say that I was truly humbled by this sight. It was hard for my expectations of beauty to be replaced by this old, blackened building, but it was also a reminder of the spectacle that is Paris.

It’s easy to forget that Paris was fought for when planning to get to the next postcard landmark. Even though there are beautiful, historical battlegrounds in the United States, none are as old or as continually fought upon as these European cities that truly open the eyes of the soul.

No unplanned circumstance has to be a mistake in Paris, or any other city I have visited. I didn’t have any more time to satisfy my original goal, but I’m happy. I found, on a side street in Paris, a small understanding of how my humanity makes me fallible, but also able to choose happiness in the face of disappointment.

Michelle Manera can be reached at [email protected] or @michelle_manera on Twitter.

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Orionite Abroad: Great expectations, unplanned experiences define destinations