Another Wild-Goose Chase

photo: rooftops of la ruche

The tops of the ateliers at La Ruche; seen from
the Rue de Dantzig.

No Sign of the 'Beehive'

Paris:- Friday, 25. June 1999:- I think if I had these Paris pieces plotted out in advance I wouldn't be able to write them because there would be nothing to discover. At this stage of these lines, I have no idea what the final words on this page will be.

It is true that I started discovering Paris about five years ago, after living here for 15 years - when I began writing my 'reports' for Web publications. When I started, I decided to use 'I,' putting me in the first person. This was not, is not, intending to be autobiographical - but more of a way of indicating 'I' am doing these reports by being on the streets and discovering everything for the first time.

There is this 'I' and there is this 'you' and the distance between us is supposed to be as short as possible. Although I am writing for all of 'you' - as I see it only one of you is reading this at one time, so I am not writing for any vast many of you, but only for one.

When I try to do too much, get too tired, get overwhelmed with detail, get behind - the style slips and I grind out what I've committed myself to; to hit the deadline. Lately this has been getting more off the mark, as my autobiography creeps in to crowd out the main activity here.

Looking for an apartment in Paris is about as accidental as how I put Metropole together each week, and much like how I'm doing this particular piece now. Finding an apartment is vital; but keeping the magazine up and running is just as vital. The problem is that I am doing these two full-time jobs at once and one is slightly more vital than the other.

Earlier today I got a copy of a paper full of private-to-private adsphoto: gate and courtyard for houses and apartments for sale and rent. There is a lot being offered; between this paper, the Web, offers posted in agency windows, and I even found a touch-screen database post in a supermarket that printed out a half-dozen 'possibles' for me.

The closed gate of La Ruche. Where is the round cheese?

A quick scan of the ads in the paper turned up one for a place in the Rue Santos Dumont in the 15th arrondissement. I have been down there; it is a wonderful village-like area of a couple of little streets with small houses.

Being on the street named after the pioneer aviator would give a good feeling and the quartier would be good too - but, public transport is not thick down there - as scarce as out in the country.

Since the Musée de Montparnasse popped up and their current exhibition about the Russians started, I have been meaning to visit La Ruche - the beehive - where a lot of them stayed, before Montparnasse got big and gaudy. The Rue Dantzig is near Santos Dumont, and I have time available between two meetings at estate agencies - so this piece is about La Ruche after all.

Getting to it is pretty simple. From the métro station at Convention I walk east on Rue de la Convention and when I get to the Rue Dantzig, I turn right, south, and walk away from the bus line towards the midday sun.

Paris' lost-and-found place, combined with the place where towed-away cars end up is on the left and the Rue Dantzig goes uphill to where the sun fills it again, and the Passage de Dantzig splits away a bit from the rue.

The building, or compound of them, I amphoto: la ruche, passage dantzig seeking juts up to the right; an incredible jumble, hidden beneath much wall-climbing greenery, hiding behind a green metal gate with a 'private property' sign on it.

I feel like Flossie Martin when she overheard two tourists arriving at the Dingo exclaim, "This must be the place!" Yet I am not so sure; I hadn't expected the 'private' sign. Also, what I can see does not look like any 'beehive.'

In the Passage de Dantzig.

I go up and down the Passage de Dantzig and then I go over to the rue where I can get a shot of the top ateliers, over the top of a print shop. It is looking like a long trip for not much result.

Now that I've dragged you down here with me, I may as well explain what it is I expected to see. In the year of the Universal Exposition of 1900, the sculptor Alfred Boucher bought some vacant land in the Vaugiraud area as a brainstorm.

After the exhibition, he purchased the Médoc wine pavillon, a forged gate from the Pavillon des Femmes, the caryatides of the British East Indies pavillon and some other items of the exhibition's architectural bric-a-brack, and plopped it all in the Passage de Dantzig, along with either 80 or 200 rudimentary ateliers for artists. The whole kabob was inaugurated in the spring of 1902, with the ministers of education and culture helping out.

La Ruche, the original building, was - is? - round. The ateliers dividing each floor are described as triangular, or as Zadkine said, "It is a sinister wheel of Brie." The artists worked in rooms like wedges of cheese. From the one old photo I have, it looks like a flying saucer wearing a Chinese hat - but I do not see this at all today. Maybe a higher angle is needed to see it all.

Maybe it is the jungle of greenery, because I do see a doorway that could be the caryatides of the British East Indies pavillon, but I am guessing.

Boucher was not diligent about collecting rents, so the poorest artists arriving in Paris tended to end up at La Ruche. The Russians were showing up at the turn of the century, although the first date I have is 1910, when Marc Chagall arrived and stayed a short time at La Ruche. In the same year, Marie Vassilieff opened her Russian Academy at 54. Avenue du Maine.

Without fixing dates, Ossip Zadkine, Marevna Vorobiev, Moïse Kisling, Chaïm Soutine, his pal Michel Kikoïne, and many, many others spent some time at La Ruche; drinking tea in the Russian fashion and having their home away from home, together.

With the sources I have there are not many details, but the bibliography that leads to more of them isphoto: exterior of la ruche very long. Stringing the whole thing together might take a couple of years. If you know the names above, you know they moved on - some to prosperity in Montparnasse and some - remember: at least 80 ateliers! - to oblivion.

The 'garden' outside is evident; the one inside stays unseen.

My 1999-edition guide book says La Ruche is restored, has fought off the developer's bulldozers, and is still home to artists, painters and sculptors. It even says there is nothing finer than to stroll about its barely kept-up 'delicious' gardens, among the variety of sculptures planted in it.

Somehow I have overlooked the 'welcome' sign today. A block away the Parc Georges Brassens is all green and very unlike it was on the winter visit I made to it some time ago.

In fact, everything in Paris is all green right now. It will not get any greener this year, now that 21. June is past. I waste a lot of time riding underground to a place where I think I can get a bundle of 'coming events' for this week's Scene column and when I get all the way back to the 14th for my second meeting I am 15 minutes late and the door is locked for lunch.

Either I walked too far or rode underground too long, or there is a bit too much pollution today; when I get back out to the western suburbs it is late and I'm beat.

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