Remembering the Hôtel des Bains

Dorian and Murray Aronson in Avignon
Dorian and me, going for a ride -
photo taken at Avignon in 1996.

More Dreams of Montparnasse

eMail from Murray J. Aronson, via the Internet:
Dear Ric -

Friday, 22. May 1998:- I just read your essay, 'Dreaming in Montparnasse,' and it brought back so many memories.

I am seventy five, and lived in Paris during the early fifties, at the Hotel des Bains, in the rue Delambre across from the Bar Basque. It was a dump, a walkup, and had a Turkish bath in the basement. Perelman wrote a story about it in the New Yorker once, telling how he couldn't read in his room in the winter because of the condensed steam. When I lived there, as a poor bohemian, there was a filthy pissotière between each two floors.

In 1996, my wife and I stayed there - now a lovely, one-star hotel with an elevator and modern bathrooms. Very clean, not cheap - but I got a discount as an old client, and I was once again on the sixth floor, looking out over my quartier, and really planning to hop on the métro at Vavin this time for sure, and see the right bank.

My poor wife: all she saw was Le Dôme - I used to get my mail there - the Select, and, my new and upscale hangout, La Rotonde.

It deserves a special note. In 1950 it was just a café, sort of like La Coupole, but a nothing restaurant. I couldn't afford it, anyway. On my first time back, in 1967, I ate a fair steak and pommes frites there. When I brought Dorian over, we ate at Le Dôme - it had been so good, and now it had one star. It was just plain bad. So we tried the Rotonde, and have eaten almost all our meals there on our two visits to Paris together.

Well, she saw Wadja's too, but we didn't eat there. Wadja's, on the rue de la Grande Chaumière, is still there. Poor students eat there. Wadja is Polish, and the food was great when we were young and poor.

We went once to Balzar for steak tartare, since the Rond Point was gone. Balzar is an old brasserie on rue des Ecoles. It's not great food, but the ambience is really old Paris, and we like the food. We love dogs, and people bring their dogs into Balzar; nobody cares. The Rond Point was the other café at Metro Vavin. I think it is now a steak house, maybe called the 'Hippo.' The Bar Basque is long gone. It was a comfortable place across rue Delambre from the hotel.

Two little girls who had befriended me, took this GI home to meet their family in 1945. They came in 1996 from Epinal in Alsace for dinner, we dined at the Rotonde, drank a wonderful red Sancerre, and hugged and laughed - and my French came back. It just - simply - came back. My Web site has their fotos taken by me in 1945 - in black and white, and one taken by the waiter at La Rotonde in 1996.

La Rotonde deserves a star. Consider, at today's inflated prices - twenty-five cent pastis at Le Select in 1950 is now three bucks - the following dinner for four, for about two hundred dollars:

Pâté maison; lovely, thick grilled veal chop, lightly sauced, and served with appropriate garnishes; a salad of cresson; crème brulée, with seconds on the crème brulée for all four of us - all washed down with two bottles of wonderful red Sancerre - I know, it should have been white, but we all wanted the red, since they have a fantastic red Sancerre which is not sold in the US, and at a good price.

I'm planning my next trip to Montparnasse; five years from now, for my 80th birthday.

Best regards, Murray

Text and photo: Murray J. Aronson©1998

All About Red Sancerre
Dear Murray -

Sunday, 24. May 1998:- Red Sancerre is a French secret and is therefore, not exported.

Regards, Ric

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