Caveau des Oubliettes
is a cold and rainy Wednesday night in Paris. Fresh from California,
and unaccustomed to the realities of Fall, I yearn for something warm
and lively. I hop onto the metro and decide to venture over to Saint
Michel, confident that something will entice me: maybe a gyro stand, or
a hukkah bar, or a salsa club with a floor manager named Moose. The
Latin Quarter always has something going on, no matter your mood or
I get out and walk
along the Seine for a block or two, and take a right just before
disappearing into the encompassing shadows of Notre Dame. To my right
is the thirteenth-century Gothic church of Saint Séverin, and to my
left lies the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. I slip into the tavern
on the corner of Rue Galande and rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, under the
protruding letters of Caveau des Oubliettes. The name, as you might
have guessed, means "the cellar of the forgotten."
truth, this small tavern was home to the trademark of the French
Revolution—the guillotine, dating back to 1793. Its stone walls and
wooden cross beams have been left unchanged, but the ambiance is far
from that of a sepulchral vault, as its name suggests. I pass by a few
tables of laughing twenty-somethings, and am lured down a small,
winding staircase by the swinging melody of "In a Sentimental Mood."
Ducking under a stone archway, I enter a smoky room pulsing with
students, all crowded around only a handful of tables (60 people
maximum). Wednesday night, I am told, is devoted to Latin groove and
the quartet, standing only a few meters away, is definitely grooving. A
small sign above indicates that entrance is free, but a consommation is
obligatory (starting at 4.50 Euros), so I grab a beer at the bar to my
left and then peruse the room for a free seat.
seem to notice the metal shackles still hanging on the stone walls or
the altogether dungeon-esque décor of the place, but all are enjoying
the lively atmosphere and good music. The group plays an hour and a
half long set of Latin jazz standards, opening up all of the charts for
surprisingly well-syncopated solos with tasteful comping (intermittent
piano accompaniment). At midnight the group takes a short break, but
the crowd thins only a little. Fifteen minutes later, the "boeuf,"
otherwise known as jam session, begins. Anyone is welcome to bring an
instrument to join in, rotating in new musicians with the old. Two
young saxophone players trade fours for a tune, and then a blond
trombone player with a small presence but a large sound switches in for
two more. Many others await their turn, some young and some old, some
shy and others not at all. If only I had brought my horn along. Part of
me yearns for my turn to sit center stage, but another happily soaks in
the mood second hand. The openness of possibilities, the beauty of
notes as well as the silence in between them—that’s jazz. And for the
time being, I am happy to remain silent.
a sudden pang of regret, I realize that I must face class at 8 the
following morning, and thus the more immediate cold and rain just
beyond the tavern walls. I settle my tab and turn for the door. I am
torn at first, but the bartender encourages me not to worry—tomorrow
they will host a funk group, bebop on Friday and Saturday, blues on
Sunday, acoustic on Monday, and an organ feature on Tuesday. I assure
him, and myself, that I will be back soon.
Bundling up as best as I can, I leave my haven of the past and the present and hum the melody of Caravan the whole way home.
Caveau des Oubliettes
52, rue Galande
Metro: Saint Michel
Concerts start at 22h30
Spiegel, a third year undergraduate at Stanford University, is majoring
in Political Science and Economics. She is currently studying in France
to learn about the building of the European Union and French political
life, and aspires to do work involving international relations and
human rights promotion. She is also a jazz trumpet player and president
of the Stanford Jazz Orchestra.