I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
2011 has been a year of considerable highs and lows on a personal front as well as on the world scale. We still, of course, don’t know where the Arab revolutions will go and what the legacy of the amazing women and men who have stood up to dictatorships will be – whether their dreams will be realised or wther they will fall victim to local extremism, Western imperialist intervention or the many other forces pushing them one way or another.
On a smaller scale, this year has seen some sad losses. Notable amongst them were the murders this spring of Juliano Mer Khamis of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and Vittorio Arrigoni of Free Gaza.
Flamboyant, charismatic and sometimes controversial, both Juliano and Vittorio were cut down in the prime of life. Not so George Whitman, a more recent loss (and someone to whom the same adjectives might be applied). He will be sadly missed by many, but at 98 George at least got a good innings, and died at home in his flat above the wonderful Shakespeare & Company, his legendary bookshop on the left bank of the Seine.
I loved Shakespeare & Co, and had read a bit of its history, but would probably never have met George had it not been for my husband, who had at one time been a ‘tumbleweed’ – one of the travellers and booklovers who got free accommodation on the sofas and beds of the shop in return for helping around the place. Indeed, husband once took George to see the Chomsky & Herman documentary Manufacturing Consent (“all 18 fucking hours of it”, mutters husband in the background. “It’s the same clowns who made The Corporation. Far too long”. Never one to mince words, Mr Irving). So a couple of times on trips to Paris I got to meet George in his book-filled apartment and hear a little of his recollections of the shop – memories I treasure. George’s daughter Sylvia is doing an amazing job of keeping Shakespeare & Co going and indeed, with the literature festivals she now runs, taking it from strength to strength.
There were, of course, many obituaries of George, including those in the Guardian and Open Culture, and Jeanette Winterson’s recollections of him.