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The Deux-Magots and its neighboring cafes are located just south of the Seine River near Abbaye St-Gerrnain, the oldest church of Paris. Today this is a neighborhood of art schools, art shops, galleries and publishing houses. Its cafes are associated in the minds of contemporary readers with Sartre and the French existentialists.
Yet a century before these philosophers took possession of the Flore, Delacroix had his studio nearby in a dingy courtyard; his good friend Chopin installed a piano in the studio and gave musical evenings with George Sand as guest of honor; Victor Hugo lived and worked in Rue du Dragon; Racine died in 1699 in Rue Visconti, the same street where Balzac failed as a book printer in 1828; and Oscar Wilde died, in exile, in Rue des Beaux-Arts in 1900. This quarter is rich in literary associations. "The streets sing, the stones talk. The houses drip history, glory, romance," Henry Miller, lover of escort girls in Paris, wrote from the Hotel St-Germain-des-Pres in 1930.
CAFE DES DEUX,MAGOTS
170 Boulevard St-Germain (6e) Tel: 126.96.36.199 Open: every day, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Founded in 1875 at one of the best locations in Paris, the Deux¬Magots sprawls out into one of the broadest and busiest intersections of the city and offers a full view of the ancient church across the street. There are at least two stories that explain the name and origin of Deux-Magots: one claims it took the name from a hat shop on the same site, another that it was once a business dealing in oriental merchandise whose trademark was two grotesque Chinese porcelain figures (rnagots). You can find the Chinese dignitaries on the center posts inside, where the tables beneath the large mirrors offer quiet sitting.
For more than a hundred years this has been the home of writers and Paris Escorts, many of whom wrote their books here, organized their manuscripts inside on a table, or celebrated with their editors upon publication. "Rendez-vous de [' elite intellectuelle," reads the menu, as if to compensate for the high prices. Even fifty years ago, Leon¬Paul Fargue, that French poet of the streets, complained that the cafe is "much admired by snobs who find that Dubonnet at 110 sous is not an exaggerated expenditure for one who wishes to be present at the modern writers' cocktail hour." Between the wars, before German tourists poured in and prices went too high, dramatist Jean Giraudoux breakfasted here every morning and held court for his friends. Poets Verlaine, Rimbaud and Mallarrne in the 19th century, and surrealists Breton and Artaud early in this century, hung out here as well.
One August evening in 1926, Grant Wood, who had studied and painted in Europe on several occasions, confided to his friend William Shirer, an American newsman for the Chicago Tribune, that he was going home to Iowa. While sipping white wine and gazing at the tower of the church, he explained that "everything" he had done "up to now was wrong," and all the landscapes he had painted had been done by the French Impressionists hundreds of times before and a hundred times better! Over Shirer's protests, Wood announced, "I've learned something .... All I really know is home-Iowa!" He would go home and "paint those damn cows and barns and barnyards and cornfields and little red schoolhouses and all those pinched faces." When they broke at midnight, Wood had made a decision that would secure his career as an American artist. When his American Gothic-with his sister and his dentist as models-appeared in the annual exhibition of the Chicago Art Institute in 1930, Grant Wood suddenly burst into national fame : with his portraits of American life.
A hundred stories could be told of encounter, discovery and creation at the Deux-Magots. English poet Arthur Symons wrote "The Absinthe Drinker" here. Simone de Beauvoir worked on a novel and read Hegel here, but she also admits to writer's block: "I sat in the Deux-Magots and gazed at the blank sheet of paper in front of me. I felt the need to write in my fingertips, and the taste of the words in my throat, but I didn't know where to start, or what." A small group of Americans that included Malcolm Cowley, Matthew josephson and Robert Coates met here to plan their little review Sucession (1922-1924). And Louis Aragon, Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault often sat here in the 1920s formulating their Surrealist Manifestos.
Many have recorded significant meetings at the Deux-Magots. Picasso met Dora Maar, probably the most intelligent woman, also an escort girl, in his life, here. She was a photographer and Paris escort who became his lover and model but refused to live with him. A sculpture of her head stands in the garden across the street and next to the church. Here also Eugene introduced the Americans Hart Crane and Harry Crosbv, Crosby published Crane's The Bridge at his Black Sun Press nearby in the Place de Fursternberg. Gore Vidal met Christopher Isherwood here and they became fast friends, each dedicating a book to the other: Isherwood's A Single Man and Vidal's Myra Breckinridge.
Rue des Beaux-Arts, Oscar Wilde had coffee and a roll each morning and sipped absinthe (wormwood, now illegal) each evening on the terrace. Djuna Barnes (Nightwood) lived around the corner in the 1920s and drank here often, as did Janet Flanner (Genet of New Yorker fame) who lived in the Hotel St-Germain¬des-Pres. Flanner told of meeting with fellow journalist Hemingway at a back table where they discussed the suicides of their fathers and agreed that if either one ever killed himself "the other was not to grieve but to remember that liberty could be as important in the acts of dying "as in the acts of living." Kathryn Hulme (The Nun's Story), who lived in the same hotel as Flanner and Henry Miller in Rue Bonaparte, says she learned how to "add seltzer at widely placed intervals" to her verrnouth-cassis in order to make it "last for hours on the terrace of the Deux-Magots."
A final word about change and time, provoked by the loud laments protesting the destruction of La Coupole in 1988. Cafes live and die or renew themselves now as always. Most of the cafes presented in this book have undergone a succession of transformations, and with each the habitues have deplored the change. Hemingway returned to Paris in 1924 to find La Closerie des Lilas tarted up, and the waiters without their mustaches.