Mementos of Montparnasse: Self-Guided Walking Tour Paris 14th

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Mementos of Montparnasse: Self-Guided Walking Tour Paris 14th
I don’t know whether the tour groups that wear out the cobblestones between Notre-Dame cathedral and the Marais, and clot my neighborhood of the Eiffel Tower, ever think about Montparnasse, or whether many of their great number do realize the glorious place in French civilization this neighborhood has. Montparnasse was the world’s navel of Modernism in art, between the two World Wars and earlier, but history is not a detailed preoccupation of recent generations. I have a niece who, on her way to college, asked me who was the current king of France. I may be all wrong about this, but in any case I never see lots of tourists on my way to breakfast at La Coupole on the boulevard du Montparnasse. The vast empty dining room of the Coupole is one of the most attractively tranquil places to spend a leisurely morning—where the breakfast is excellent and of good value. La Coupole, Hemingway and Literary Paris Lunch and dinner time here today are not as interesting as they used to be, when a young writer named Ernest Hemingway worked the big room shaking hands with people who might give him a hand up. In those days Picasso, never shy, either, of being in the right place, had moved across the river and over here from Montmartre, which had become a back number as far as buzz went. La Coupole remained a venue for painters and writers up into the seventies. I remember regularly seeing, at the end of a slow lunch, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and his “adopted daughter” arrive for theirs. When the brothers who owned La Coupole sold it to a chain of brasseries, the crowd changed to the genre of which the New York metaphor is “bridge and tunnel”: provincials, suburbanites, a few tourists, or ordinary folk who come for the physical ambiance of vintage décor, which the new owners, to their credit, have spruced up without destroying. At the Dôme and La Rotonde nearby, however, the “relooking”, as the French say for redecorating, has created awesome kitsch. Near where the boulevard Montparnasse joins the boulevard Raspail, these three places and Le Select, across from the Coupole, formed the “there”, as Gertrude Stein would have put it, of vibrant Montparnasse—the heart of the hangout. The Select has kept its art deco intact, and it is to this day a place where arty people go, in particular screenwriters who work at the dark wood tables. The backstreets, asleep now, look pretty precisely as they did during the heyday of Montparnasse, when people short on money but long on talent took shelter here. There are just a few plaques that mark important places in that story. But if, as they say, these stones could speak, here is a little of what you’d learn strolling among them: 10 AM to 1 PM: After breakfast at La Coupole, walk up into the rue Delambre. Pass no. 9, where the great modern dancer Loie Fuller dwelled in 1926. Andre Breton, the seminal figure in Surrealism, lived at the Hôtel Delambre at no. 28. Head for 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. A wall in the courtyard marks where Ernest Hemingway lived and collected rejection slips in the 1920s. His building is gone, but the artist studios that line one side of the secluded yard give a feel for the life that went on then. Walk back through the rue de la Grande Chaumière and peer through the glass in the door of no. 8, into the courtyard where Modigliani and Gauguin once had their studios. Gauguin ran up a bill on the cuff at “La Mère Gattegno”, a cheap restaurant that stood where the art supply store Gattegno stands, at no. 13. Sennelier, the supplier still favored by artists from around the world, is at 4 bis. Passing Rodin’s Balzac statue at the place Pablo Picasso, go to the studios at 242 boulevard Raspail, where Picasso worked for three months in 1915. In the rue Campagne Première, across the street, Man Ray’s studio was on the ground floor left of the entrance at no. 31. The modest Istria hotel, at no. 29, rue Campagne Première, still functioning, was a dormitory of geniuses. Tristan Tzara, founder of Dada, Mayakovsky, Cocteau, Aragon, and Duchamp, among others, lived here. The glamorous Nancy Cunard had secret trysts at the Istria, with poor lovers. From his apartment at no. 17, Eugène Atget set forth with his tripod and camera to capture Paris and immortalize himself as a pioneer of modern photography. The row of artists’ studios in the courtyard of no. 9 was home to Giorgio de Chirico and to an impoverished student named Rainer Maria Rilke. Modigliani also lived here briefly. Around the corner, the late contemporary sculptor Niki de Saint-Phalle had her studio in the gardens of no. 49, rue Boissonade, a street lined with handsome artists’ studios dating to the time pre-war artists lived in them. Back in the boulevard Raspail, check out the latest contemporary art exhibition at the Fondation Cartier, whose glass structure by Jean Nouvel is typical of a neo-Modernism that draws inspiration from the 20s-30s architecture that abounds in the neighborhood—of which no. 216 is a particularly good example. From there enter the rue Schoelcher, where, at 5 bis, there…
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