THE PARADOX OF PARIS – PART FOUR
In May of 2010 I spent a week in Paris looking up some of the cafés, clubs, restaurants and residences that were frequented during the 1920′s and 1930′s by the American, English and French poets, writers and artists and in particular some of Hemingway’s Left Bank hangouts. I then wrote an essay for my friends on Facebook, most of whom had never been to Paris. It was more or less a personal account of my stay there and the places I found. The essay was accompanied by numerous photos. Over the past four days I posted the Preface, Part One, Part Two and Part Three, today I conclude with:
The final few locations I wanted to visit are located on and between the Boulevard Saint-Germain and the Seine, concentrated primarily near the one of the oldest churches in Paris, Saint-Germain des Prés [Photos 66 – 67]. This church was part of a Benedictine Abbey that was built in the eighth century. A block further, towards the Seine, runs the rue Jacob and it is here at No. 20 that Natalie Clifford Barney lived [Photo 68]. This was the location of one of the most famous literary salons in Paris during the 20#s and 30’s. Behind the doors [Photo 69] was a cobbled courtyard that led to a two story eighteenth century house hidden behind a walled garden. In one corner of this garden was a small replica of a Doric temple. Over its entrance was inscribed “Temple á l’ Amitié” and it was here that Sapphic dances and rituals were held creating a scandal when it was realized that sometimes the women were dancing in the nude. There is a famous photo from 1907 in which her scantily clad lesbian friends are performing a dance. Barney held her salon on Friday afternoons and once again a literal Who’s Who of writers, poets, artists and composers were in attendance through the years. Despite the early complaints of her neighbors, Natalie lived at this location for more than 60 years. Today access to the inner garden is apparently restricted. It seems a lot of modern writers want to check that temple out. On my visit it appeared that some sort of renovation work was taking place, but my wait for a workman to appear, on the way in or out, so that I could snatch a quick look or photo was in vain. Perhaps next time. (A year later when I returned they were still renovating and I managed to slip in behind a laborer and snap three photos of Barney’s house across the courtyard, but was rudely thrown out despite all my pleas in three different languages before I could even try to see if the temple still existed).
66. One of the oldest churches in Paris is Saint-Germain des Pres, originally built as part of a Benedictine monastery in the eighth century.
67. In this photo one can see the some of the various building phases of the Saint-Germain des Pres church.
68. At this location, No. 20 rue Jacob, Natalie Clifford Barney lived and held her famous salon.
69. Behind those stout doors leading to a courtyard is an eighteenth century house where Natalie Clifford Barney lived for over 60 years. And perhaps the small Doric temple is still in the garden behind the house.
Just a few steps down the rue Jacob from Natalie Clifford Barney’s address one can turn into the smallest square in Paris, the Place Furstenberg [Photo 70]. This seems to have been a favorite place of a number of the expatriates, among them Henry Miller. As one sees [Photo 71] it can be a nice place to bring a sandwich and a drink and just sit and relax.
70. Place Furstenberg, known as the smallest square in Paris, was a favorite of Henry Miller. This view is looking towards rue de l’ Abbaye.
71. Another view of the Place Furstenberg, this time looking towards rue Jacob.
Now it’s back to the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Directly across from the two cafés I will talk about shortly, between the rue de Rennes and the rue du Dragon one will find, at No. 151 Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Brasserie Lipp [Photo 72] looking very much like it did all those years ago. This was one of Hemingway’s respites where he could enjoy a cold mug of beer and a good Alsatian meal cheaply. Today the brasserie has an enclosed terrace that keeps out the noise and the traffic from the Boulevard Saint-Germain where you can still enjoy the same fare, a cold beer and the atmosphere, but bring your credit card.
72. Brasserie Lipp at No. 151 Boulevard Saint Germain was where Hemingway often enjoyed Alsatian cuisine and a good cold beer.
And if you look across the Boulevard Saint-Germain you will see two of the best known cafés in Paris, Café de Flore and Café Deux Magots [Photo 73]. Café de Flore at No. 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain [Photo 74] little changed since World War II was host to many of the followers of the Existentialist movement in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s. Its regulars included Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Hemingway was a less frequent visitor, preferring his beer and meals at Brasserie Lipp and meeting his friends for discussions at the Café Deux Magots [Photo 75]. This café was the middle ground, a meeting place for several generations of writers and artists for many years. Both of these cafés, because of their history, have great appeal to tourists today, but in the 1920’s and 30’s in the Café Deux Magots regulars included Hemingway, André Gide, Djuna Barnes, Ford Maddox Ford, Picasso, Samuel Putnam and Janet Flanner just to name a few. In the 1930’s it was a favorite meeting place of the Surrealists and became a magnet for the circle of thinkers and writers around Sartre and Beauvoir in the 1950’s. I enjoyed a very nice breakfast there one morning. Just outside the terrace is a modern sculpture by Ospip Zadkinés called Prométhée [Photo 76].
73. A view across Boulevard Saint-Germain to Café Flore on the left and Café Deux Magots on the right.
74. The Café de Flore at No. 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, a favorite meeting place for the Existentialists in the 1950’s.
75. The Café Les Deux Magots, today a tourist attraction, was also frequented by generations of artists and writers.
76. A modern sculpture by Ospip Zadkinés called Prométhée just outside the Café Les Deux Magots.
And this brings me to the final destination in this narrative, the Hôtel du Vieux Paris at No. 9 rue Git-le-Coeur, better known in literary history as the infamous Beat Hotel [Photo 77]. Today it is a four star luxury hotel with rooms running about €140 a night. In the late 1950’s this was a cheap dingy hotel that served as a home for Alan Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs and others of the Beat Movement. Here the new generation of American literature found their Paris as so many others had and they lived their creativity to the fullest in the warm embrace of her arms. The lobby, which used to be a small bar, displays a few photos of the former residents. On my last visit to this hotel they hadn’t quite embraced their history as openly, but now there is a plaque displaying the names of the Beat poets who lived there [Photo 78]. And maybe this is as good a place as any to end my excursion for it is perhaps the best example of how Paris embraces both the past and present, how one can still grasp at the ghosts of a world long gone yet ever there. The Beat Hotel is long gone yet it lives on in the spirit of an age and in the eyes of the beholder. This is the true paradox of Paris, as Ginsberg so aptly said “…what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly…”
77. The Hôtel du Vieux Paris at No. 9 rue Git-le-Coeur, better known in literary history as the infamous Beat Hotel.
78. On my last visit to the Hôtel du Vieux Paris they hadn’t quite embraced their history as openly, but now there is a plaque displaying the names of the Beat poets who lived here.
I would like to close this narrative with a quote from Samuel Putnam that sums up the era that I tried to revisit on this journey to Paris and convey here. Putnam witnessed it all back then with his own eyes. “Such the Montparnasse we knew: a weird little land crowded with artists, alcoholics, prostitutes, pimps, poseurs, college boys, tourists, society slummers, spendthrifts, beggars, homosexuals, drug addicts, nymphomaniacs, sadists, masochists, thieves, gamblers, confidence men, mystics, fakers, paranoiacs, political refugees, anarchists, ‘Dukes’ and ‘Countesses,’ men and women without a country; a land filled with a gaiety sometimes real and often feigned, filled with sorrow, suffering, poverty, frustration, bitterness, tragedy, suicide. Not only was there never any place like it; Montparnasse itself had never been before and will never be again what it was in the 1920’s. For it was essentially a part of the first ‘après-guerre,’ and from 1929 on it began dying.”
But in some respects it hasn’t died. It lives on in the contemporary accounts, it lives in our appreciation and imaginations and, believe me, it is alive and well in the paradox that is Paris…
In closing one last quote: “A final reminder. Wherever you are in Paris at twilight in the early summer, return to the Seine and watch the evening sky close slowly on a last strand of daylight fading quietly, like a sigh.” ~ Kate Simon
Sunset on the Seine by Notre Dame in Paris in July 2013
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