Monday, June 1, 2009
Cafes in Montmartre and West Bank
A leisurely afternoon strolling around Montmartre is not complete without a cuppa at one of the many cafes dotting both sides of the path that leads up the hill to the Sacre Couer. At any one of them, someone might be playing soothing tunes while you drink an iced latte or a powerful espresso and watch the world go by. Paris cafes are possibly the most well-known image of the City of Light. The Paris Cafe is more than a place to sip coffee. It is an institution in Paris, it is a magnet for tourists and a cultural phenomenon. Here one can have a relaxing, long sit-down and do some fascinating people-watching.
A lot of French history can be traced to the cafes of Paris. Revolutions were schemed in Paris cafes as with Robespierre and Lenin. Great writing has been done in Paris cafes as it was by Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. Art movements have been launched in cafes as was Impressionism. So while Parisian cafes serve food, they do much more. They provide a social venue to hang out, meet with friends, and do business, read newspapers and people watch. Christine and I are spending hours with a drink and our journals and watching life and people go by.
Of course there are modern cafes that have their own ambiance and reputation, like the Hard Rock cafe.
Cafes began during the 17th century and extended throughout Europe because of the acquired taste for Arabian coffee. The oldest cafe in Paris is the Procope, which has been operating on the Rue de l'Ancienne Comedie ever since 1686. The Procope, refurbished in 1988 with Pompeian red walls, l8th century oval portraits, crystal chandeliers, flintlock pistols waiters, dressed in quasi-revolutionary uniforms, was nearly a century old when Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire became two of its customers. After them came the revolutionaries, Robespierre, Danton, Marat and even Napoleon.
The old Montmartre cafes frequented by Manet and Renoir have gone. There are still however, some great cafes along the Left Bank. Montparnasse apparently was at its best during the 1920s, when Hemingway sat and wrote stories in the Closerie des Lilas. The Closerie is a bit shabby again in 2009 but in it Hemingway is part of the décor just like the red lampshades because a brass plate on the bar marks his presence and his face adorns the menu, which includes a rumsteak au poivre Hemingway.