All posts by John Cameron

Shakespeare in Paris

One cloudy spring afternoon, after crossing the mud-green Seine from Ile de la Cite to the Latin Quarter, my spouse and I stumbled upon a small bookstore at 37 Rue Bucherie. Two foot-high bollards dotted the sidewalk next to the street. Large pink blossoms decorated the Paulownia tree in front of the store. The facade and wooden shutters were painted a very British viridian green and above the windows of the first floor, the words Shakespeare and Company, in all caps.

Shakespeare and Company with postcard rack, Paris
Shakespeare and Company with postcard rack

This bohemian shrine to English literature had a reputation as large as the store was small.  In a refreshing antithesis to the big box bookstore, limited floor space meant that every stuffed shelf had been carefully curated. An anachronism in the era of the paperless book, this living museum contained at least one book by every Beat author, and not content to remain in the past, Shakespeare & Company now featured podcasts on its website by the most fearless contemporary writers.

On the sidewalk in front of the store, a small crowd stood in the evening rain. They were the unlucky ones who had not secured a seat indoors for the evening’s reading – a celebration of the bard’s birthday. Next to us, under their umbrellas, a tall American and a portly Brit were one-upping one another with their knowledge both of the French language and Shakespeare. When we heard that professional actors were going to read selections from Shakespeare, we quickly abandoned our dinner plans.

After we listened to the Bard’s brilliantly performed works over the outdoor speakers, we resolved to attend next week’s reading, but seated indoors. There are approximately 50 seats for the readings which cannot be reserved – it’s first come, first served.

The following Tuesday we ate a vegetarian meal at the cozy Shakespeare Cafe, all blond wood and raw stone walls, while next to us, two MFA students from Sarah Lawrence discussed their creative writing class. Then we headed next door to hear three young Irish writers newly published in Granta. A twenty-something host welcomed us in English and like every accomplished ringmaster, began to weave his spell. “Paris has a long history of welcoming Irish writers” he said, “And we’re delighted to continue that tradition with tonight’s authors.”

Sara Baume last visited Shakespeare and Company as a nerdy teenager and was thrilled to return as an author. She read her first paragraph in halting French, then stopped and reread it in her soft Irish brogue. We quickly entered the world of her short story about two cousins, young women called Dark and Fair, at a drunken Irish wedding. Authors Lucy Caldwell and Sally Rooney followed with equally accomplished stories and I wondered, are there really any bad Irish writers?

After the Q&A we remained in our precious hard, wooden chairs, holding plastic cups. A volunteer filled our glasses to the brim with a French bistro red and we both said in unison, “this would never happen at home.” We vowed to return the following week.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris
Shakespeare and Company, Paris

Browsing the store on our next visit, I discovered several aphorisms from my college days in the early 1970s. Above the entrance to the reading library I read, “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” On worn red steps leading to the third floor, painted in one to four word phrases on 9 individual risers, were the words of Sufi poet Hafiz, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” These inspirational affirmations, totally out of place in Barnes & Noble, added immeasurable charm to the time capsule that is Shakespeare & Company.

After a month of readings, Frederic Lenoir was our last author at Shakespeare & Company. His latest book was a European best-seller titled “Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide.” He was the first French author we encountered at Shakespeare & Company, and he wasn’t a novelist, but a philosopher, writing in a genre more commonly the purview of charlatans.

“We never shy away from the big questions here at Shakespeare and Company,” the host began, “and tonight we are going for the jugular of one of the biggest, happiness.” People squeezed into impossible spaces and the crowd at the back leaned shoulder to shoulder.

“Thank you for coming, said Frederic Lenoir, a boyish looking man with neat gray stubble, “ it is a big joy for me and also a deep suffering. The big joy is because I love this place, I know this place since a long time, and suffering because my English is very poor, so please be patient with me.” When the host asked Lenoir about his motive for writing the book he responded, “It was my first aim to show all those debates, the way happiness has been thought about throughout history.”

In his research Lenoir discovered that scientists and philosophers, taking different paths to a similar conclusion, found that people are happiest when they live in the present. That we really can be happier is the premise of his book – if we think better, we can live better. “Happiness is a state of being, a way of watching life,” he said.

He cited a parable to illustrate, “A young man entering an unknown city asked the old man at the gate, ‘How are the people here?’ The old man replied, ‘How are the people where you are from?’ ‘Terrible,’ said the young man. ‘They are terrible here too,’ replied the old man.” The rapt audience laughed. Lenoir continued “Another young man walked to the gate of the same city and encountered the same old man. How are the people in this town? he asked. How are the people in your town? he replied. The young man said, they are wonderful, considerate people, the best in the world. The old man replied, They are the same here.”

Travel has that remarkable ability to keep one in the present and the audience felt very much in the present that night at Shakespeare & Company. After our month of readings, we felt less like tourists and more like active participants in the literary life of Paris. What the readings gave us, beside glimpses of new authors, was a sense of community, of being part of the regular activities of English-speaking Parisians. No longer a minority of two, we had found our people and they were at Shakespeare and Company every Tuesday evening.

Hello Sunny Fort Lauderdale

Mention Fort Lauderdale and the first thing most people think of is spring break. But if you’re worried about being caught in a hazing ritual in a hotel elevator, fuggetaboutit. The spring break crowd has long graduated, gotten jobs and moved on.

Not that Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have a youthful vibe. Fort Lauderdale’s arts and entertainment area, known as the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District, has the impressive NSU Art Museum.

Frank Stella at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale
Frank Stella at NSU Art Museum photo credit: Sherel Purcell

Highlights of  the permanent collection’s 6000 pieces include the largest US collection of William Glacken’s work, avant-garde CoBrA artists from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam and works by leading Latin American artists.  

Its distinctive modernist building, designed by the renowned architect Edward Larrabee Barnes is a short walk to the shops, restaurants and galleries of vibrant Las Olas Boulevard as well as to the picturesque Riverwalk waterfront promenade.

The district runs east-west along Las Olas Boulevard, from the beach to the heart of downtown, easily traversed aboard a cute trolley.

Homes along canals Fort Lauderdale
Homes along canals Fort Lauderdale photo credit: John Cameron

Another fun way to see Fort Lauderdale is by water taxi. Often called the Venice of America for its extensive network of canals, Fort Lauderdale has Venice beat with its 165 miles of waterways compared to Venice’s 26 miles of waterways and canals.

Fort Lauderdale has something for history buffs as well. But If you’re hoping to see forts here, like the 315-year-old Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, you’ll be disappointed.  At the end of the conflict the forts were abandoned and it took 50 years before the development of the city began. Fort Lauderdale is named for William Lauderdale who built the first fort during the Second Seminole War in Florida.

Bonnet House Museum & Gardens
The Bonnet House Museum & Gardens photo credit: Sherel Purcell

Instead, for a rare glimpse into old South Florida, visit the colorful Bonnet House, listed on the National Register of Historic places. Hugh Taylor Birch gave the house and property to his daughter Helen and her husband, Chicago artist Frederic Clay Bartlett as a wedding gift in 1919.

Hugh Taylor Birch came to Florida in 1893 and purchased ocean-front property for a dollar an acre. Wishing to keep the natural environment from development, he donated his estate to Fort Lauderdale with the proviso that it remain a public park.

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, is a 180-acre island of trees and greenery in the middle of urban Fort Lauderdale. The park features nature trails, canoeing, camping and picnicking areas, and features the Terramar Visitor Center, with exhibits about the ecosystem of the park. The on site outdoor tiki-type bar makes a fun happy hour stop after a warm afternoon of hiking.

International Swimming Hall of Fame Fort Lauderdale
International Swimming Hall of Fame Fort Lauderdale

For swimmers and fans of the sport, there’s The International Swimming Hall of Fame, that houses a large aquatic complex as well as a museum, theater, and research library. The public can swim laps at regularly scheduled hours.

Where to Stay

Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach

Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach
Lobby Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach photo credit: Sherel Purcell

Overlooking Fort Lauderdale beach, Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach hotel features 240 modern guest rooms with on-site amenities, open to guests throughout the day and night. Guests of the hotel can sample daily happy hour creations such as Taco Tuesdays.

The “ beachy chic” Bistro at Sonesta Fort Lauderdale is the perfect blend of contemporary casual and a professional full-service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in a recently redesigned space with white-washed wood floors and cool blue, leather furnishings and walls.

 Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort

Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort
Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort photo credit: John Cameron

Just steps from the beach, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort features spacious guest rooms with great ocean views from private balconies.

Guests have three great options for dining at the Hilton, the casual and contemporary S3, Ilios and Marche. At S3 try the burrata salad with faro, the chili-rubbed bavette steak perfectly grilled medium-rare and the grilled octopus sitting atop giganda beans and salsa verde. For dessert, try their panna cotta served with strawberries and blackberries.

Atlas Lobby Bar at The Conrad
Atlas Lobby Bar at The Conrad photo credit: John Cameron

Next door to the Hilton Beach Resort, The Conrad, the Hilton’s hip younger sister offers a cool, contemporary cocktail bar.  Try the Old & Smokey if you enjoy an Old Fashioned – the great presentation matches the drink. WOW. We also enjoyed the swordfish empanadas and the smoked salmon pizza.

Where to Eat

Greek Islands Taverna

A perennial favorite, always busy and worth the wait. Traditional Greek cuisine and impeccable service that never disappoints. My favorites are the grilled octopus and lamb chops.

Located on A1A just north of Oakland Park Blvd.

Zona Fresca

Fresh Mexican cuisine with a contemporary health conscious approach – all natural, no preservatives, nor MSG. Perfect example is their chile relleno – not breaded, deep-fried and over sauced. Great varieties of salsas and the gringo beer is just 2 bucks. Take out or eat-in – there are tables but the vibe is more fast food.

N. Federal Hwy near the Best Buy, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

Mod Pizza

While there is yet no Fort Lauderdale location, it’s  a short drive to Coral Springs. Great artisan style, 11” wood-fired pizzas. Honey on a pizza? Sounds crazy but you have to try it. A drizzle of chili-pepper infused wildflower honey takes a pizza to another place. Mike’s Hot Honey is now a permanent item at all Mod locations. Foodable Network named Mod Pizza as the most loved pizza brand in 2017.

2702 N University Dr. Coral Springs.

South Florida Food Tours

Tailored for small groups of foodies, South Florida Food Tours offer a great introduction to local ethnic restaurants. The tour operates on a “dine-around “ system so that different course and drinks occur at different venues punctuated with lively commentary and fun facts on the scene.

Fort Lauderdale Travel Planner

Visitors have the option of flying direct to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport or into Miami International. From the Miami airport Fort Lauderdale is a 40 minute drive north on I-95 with Sunpass tolls – or catch the new Tri-Rail train in the Miami airport to Fort Lauderdale, about an hour’s journey for $5.

Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach  

999 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
On the corner of Sunrise Blvd and A1A,  across from the tranquil Hugh Taylor State Park.

Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort

505 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd, Fort Lauderdale