A Trick Question: How I Work

photo: cafe la rotonde

A big-time café on a big-time street, the
Boulevard Montparnasse.

About Doing the 'Scene' in Paris

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 17. May 1999:- For some time now, in every issue of Metropole there has been a 'Scene' column. This grew out of a very haphazard effort to add a few 'coming events' to the end of this column.

Like a lot of innovations to this magazine, the 'Scene' column got upgraded as a result of readers asking for more, or more different items, or plain 'mor' betta.' Once I started doing it, it got more items from people who think being mentioned in the column does them good - known as 'plugs' - and this has lead to it getting even more bigger.

Every week the first thing I do is 'prune' it; trying to get rid of the stuff that has outlived its shelflife. 'Coming' itemsphoto: entry rue d'assas zadkine get moved to 'new' items and some of these get moved to 'long-running' items. Doing all of this makes me think of new categories, while at the same time I curse myself for ever starting the complicated thing in the first place.

There's one point I should clear up. I take what I get and if there's a good photo or image to go with it, it is more likely to get into the column. The merit of the event, if there is any, has nothing to do with the selection.

Although a Montparnasse landmark, the Musée Zadkine can be easily overlooked.

Nobody pays me anything to get plugged in Metropole, so I can be ruthlessly autocratic about the selection. I am not on everybody's 'press' list, so there are items that should be in the column but are not. Someday I will take care of this; most likely before the end of the century.

I am on several of the Ville de Paris mailing lists, as well as on the lists of some national museums in Paris. I have poked my nose in others, but my visiting card has either failed its attempt at impression or it has slipped through a crack in the firewall.

Metropole is also on lists of places I never heard of, some not even in Paris or the Ile-de-France. Since I think most readers have the standard guides, I'd rather plug some obscure little - anything - than be constantly boosting, say, the Louvre, for example.

The ex-Euro Disneyland now known as Disneyland Paris, I never boost. I am 'for' Disneyland and I am glad they provide employment, pay taxes and draw people out to east Paris, but I will not boost them - unless they pay for it! - because I've never cared for Walt Disney's factory-cartoon style. 'Asterix' is another kettle of fish entirely, so I 'plug' it with near abandon.

Another way I get items is just by walking around. I read posters and strip-search the reception areas of arrondissement city halls and even find things in trash cans. Or lying in the street nearby.

Last Wednesday I was doing this sort of 'research' while moving crabwise through the Latin Quarter towards the city's Zadkine museum in Montparnasse. I got hung up in the Rue de Seine, picked up a nice booklet at the Mairie of the 6th, and checked out an art book publisher - Hazan - who has closed the shop and moved from the Rue de Seine to the Rue de Fleurus.

Since I have already visited the Musée de Montparnasse - twice! - and have been running a 'plug' for the Musée Zadkine about the night watchmens' beds, I thought it was time for a visit.

photo: atelier zadkine museumWhat with the foray into the Rue de Fleurus, I had a fair amount of the Rue d'Assas to cover until I got to 100 bis. By the time I'd gotten this far, past all the law-school students, I thought I'd lost it.

One of Zadkine's ateliers is now a museum showroom.

So I went across the street to look at some botany school garden, and when I turned around, there it was - the narrow, garage-like entrance into the first courtyard - the hand-made sign pointing to another, hidden courtyard - the trees obscuring the ateliers in yet another series of courtyard, and the almost invisible front door to the right at the back.

I was convinced this feat of deduction put me into the realm of 'investigative journalism.' So it was with some confidence that I began to introduce myself and present my 35-francs-for-50 visiting card.

The large lady guarding the tin cashbox looked at it and said, "This is not a press card."

"I didn't say it was," I replied mildly, adding, "It is a visiting card."

"Well you can't come in here with this," she declared, and handed it back.

I took it and held it out to her again, and said, "It is politesse, Madame, to offer a visiting card..."

"Not a press card!" she almost shouted, face getting slightly flushed.

"....before telling you my reason for..."

"Listen buster," she said forcefully, "It's not a press card and that's it!"

"....coming here today," I said. By now it had occurred to me that this was an unusual situation and only speed-talking was going to make coming all this way with the heavy sack full of booklets, brochures, flyers, notebooks, cameras and exposed-but-undeveloped films, worthwhile. "I am the Internet reporter for Paris and I have been plugging this museum because of the Russians at the Musée de Montparnasse nonstop for weeks in my Internet magazine for readers worldwide and the purpose of my visit today is merely to say 'hello.'"

She looked at me, she looked at the card, which was laying on the counter like a diseased bit of idle trash, and a fellow who was there looked at the card too, and she said, "Well, in that case..."

After a few more minutes of de-stress chit-chat, the quiz began. Visiting card not press card, mere 'hello' or not; the fellow there asked, "Who is the best painter?"

"Cézanne," was my answer because thought I remembered hearing on the morning radio news that a painting of his had just gone for gazillions more than any other in New York. "Impressionists," I added, "Are very popular with my readers. So is Montparnasse."

"Give the names of paintings by Van Gogh, Sisley and Toulouse-Lautrec done in Montparnasse," was the next question.

Actually there were more names in the question, but the basic correct answer was, is 'none,' which I said.

His face lit up and he brought out a small notebook with a list of names and dates written on the inside back page. The lady told him to put it away, while I wondered, 'what next?'

With glee in an eye and the notebook in front of his nose, he asked, "Who is your favorite Montparnasse painter?"

Modigliani, we agreed was super, although only half Montparnassian. Utrillo, not at all, and not super either. I won a point by being able to drag Soutine's name out of memory.

The big argument started when I put up Jules Pascin as the 'best' Montparnassian. "Not for painting," I said, "But for being a Dômist, a Montparnasssian. He was a painter manqué."

The lady tried to get in a word, "Don't try to argue with him," she said to me, and, "Put the book away," she said to him. Meanwhile she'd called the press service and a young guy had come downstairs from someplace and we arranged for future press releases to be sent.

At one point I was sent on a tour of the museum while the man with the notebook phoned to get a vital fact from somebody, and when I got back, the discussion about Jules Pascin continued. About whether he was 'mangué' or only thought he was.

By this time I was drawing a cartoon of Madame and since it was a cartoon I had to put in her potato-nose, butphoto: garden zadkine museum I put in her glasses hanging by a neck-cord too and this interesting detail over her large chest distracted from the nose; and all this while museum visitors were coming in and buying tickets, and then she started packing everything up.

Many of Zadkine's larger pieces are in the enclosed garden - for which there is no entry charge.

The next visitors to arrive had 'closing time in twenty minutes' barked at them. While the man was looking in his notebook to try and figure out what new puzzler to launch, she told me his two sisters each had art galleries nearby, as if this gave him an unfair advantage.

Somehow, we got on to the Prado in Madrid, where I have been a couple of times and she 20. Then it was closing time, closing for the long weekend - and closing for the museum - until the 'Demeurs' show begins on Friday, 18. June.

This will feature a bunch of well-known names, gathered around Dubuffet, Etienne-Martin, Giacometti and Zadkine. I will have to get back for this, mainly to comment about the museum itself, which is a hidden jewel in Montparnasse.

The poste guy on his yellow motor-bike brings me half the items for the 'Scene' column, and I find the other half, one way or another, sometimes in Montparnasse.

Musée Zadkine, 100 bis. Rue d'Assas, Paris 6. Métro: Vavin or RER Port Royal. Closed until Thursday, 17. June. Info. Tel.: 01 43 26 91 90.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

count down Eiffel TowerIssue 3.20 - 18. May 1998 - This issue featured - Café Metropole - 'No Cause For Alarm - Yet' and the 'Au Bistro' column had 'All Sorts of News For Visitors.' This issue had three features: 'Who's Afraid of the RER?' by Linda Thalman, 'Public Transport Tariff Maze Explained' and 'Life On the Road in France' by M-R Erickson. There were four 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned, 'Clochards Get Ready To Greet You,' which was not a cause for alarm.

The Tour Eiffel Countdown to 31. December 1999:

Only 229 more quite cool and breezily blue, slightly freezing Ile-de-France spring days to go until summer happens before it's over.

Regards, Ric
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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