The Big Doze In Montparnasse

photo: lucile vernissage brasserie

Maybe it is all mirrors and smoke. Inside the Brasserie du Maine on Thursday.

Is It a Siesta or a Coma?

Paris:- Thursday, 18. May 2000:- I think the 'Mai des Montparnos' is worth some enthusiasm, not just because I live in Montparnasse, but because I have the feeling it has been asleep for a long time.

When I moved into Paris last summer I didn't realize that the area of the 14th arrondissement south of the cemetery was just as much 'Montparnassian' as the boulevard of the same name. I thought Denfert was 'down there somewhere,' more on the 'way out of town' than in it.

Even if I wasn't looking at what is around me, I should have known better. Artists don't live 'on the boulevard' because that is where the high rents are - they have always lived where they can afford it - and this excludes nearly all of the upscale 6th arrondissement part of Montparnasse.

Yesterday afternoon I cruised into La Coupole to see how the photos by Claude Schwartz were laid out. Thephoto: coupole interior huge place was nearly empty and I was invited to take a look around, and permitted to take all the photos I wanted to.

La Coupole opened on 20. December 1927, after being converted from a wood and charcoal depot into Paris' biggest brasserie - of 800 square metres, with a dance-floor in the cellar and a rooftop terrace with an outdoor bowling alley.

Two of La Coupole's renewed pillars, plus mirrors, more mirrors, and ferns.

Meant to outdo all the other cafés on the Boulevard Montparnasse, its architects called for local artists to add their efforts - mainly to the 16 square pillars holding up the high ceiling and 17 other pilasters.

Taken over by Jean-Paul Bucher in 1987 and listed as a historical monument a year later, La Coupole was totally renovated over a nine month period.

Only one of the paintings on the pillars was signed, so the art historian Emmanuelle Corcellet-Prévost was called in to identify the other contributing artists. The café's color scheme was returned to its original version. Everything is 'as it was,' with the possible exception of the 'Bar Americain.'

Since I was last in it, the basic color switch from brick-red back to the original green, has changed the café's atmosphere. Many lights may have been off, because the photos I took are gloomy - for the camera.

As imposing as La Coupole may seem - big, high, with correctly dressed maîtres and waiters - its prices are average and it is still considered to be a neighborhood cantine.

Montparnasse déja-vu in other words. If the traffic could be subtracted and replaced with streetcars, the view of Le Select across the boulevard would be just about asphoto: what? lucile it was too. From Le Select, the story is different because La Coupole's headroom has been filled with steel and glass.

All in all, La Coupole fits right into the 'Mai des Montparnos.'

One of Lucile's 'Plastiflores et Florifères.'

Thursday in Paris is the traditional day of exposition-openings in galleries. Today, with this 'Montparnos' party starting, means all sorts of odd places have been turned into temporary showcases.

Late this afternoon I get myself to the Brasserie du Maine, near the city hall of the 14th, partly because it is close, but mostly because Lucile sent me an invitation to see her latest 'Plastiflores et Florifères.' Other artists represented with works on show are Snöfrid Wuori, Anne Delobel and Pierre Labrot.

I arrive 15 minutes late and seem to be the first. This gives me a chance to look at everything without tripping over cocktails, olives and crackers.

The expo part of the café is in a back corner of one of its two wings. It is not an ideal space, but then there aren't many barn-like La Coupoles around.

The artists arrive, and some browsers too, and Lucile takes in a cheque for one of her odd compositions. I amphoto: interior brasserie sitting down out of the way, trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be thinking about all of this, when I'm fingered as the 'Paris Internet Reporter' to Pierre Labrot.

The 'Montparnos' exhibition space inside the Brasserie du Maine.'

This begins a long invitation to attend a committee - a committee? - meeting at the Bistro 48; where I'll be introduced as an 'Internet expert' to its 20-odd members. Apparently the artists' problem is that nobody believes there are any artists in Montparnasse anymore.

I trekked around the quartier last fall when there was a local 'open-doors' weekend, so I had the impression that everything was well-oiled - but this does not seem to be so.

There is Metropole to do, so I decline the invitation, but without shutting the door on the idea of offering a bit of aid to get the 'committee' online, if that is what they want.

The program for the 'Mai des Montparnos' - which I finally have in hand - lists something like a half-dozen events and several dozen 'open-doors' throughout three arrondissements, allphoto: la joyeux maquereau, lucile starting today and continuing through this weekend and the next.

'Covering' this is impossible for one 'reporter.' Now I'll skip from the 'dateline' above and move forward to Saturday.

After finding a money machine with cash in it, I stop into the Librarie Duvernet to say hello. Madame wants to know why I wasn't at the bookshop's vernissage on Thursday. Being at another one seems to be a good-enough answer.

Before completing this composition, Lucile ate the mackerel.

The new exhibition's painter is on hand anyway, so I meet Jean-Christophe Ditróy. He is taller than me, he is wearing a suit and he looks more like a musician. He confirms the latter, and since it is noonday closing time we go around the corner to the Café Comédia for a 'good café,' as he puts it.

He bolts his down - with an express this takes about eight seconds - and bats out the door, to go to the big 'open-doors' extravaganza - in Belleville.

I have not been vigilantly reading the papers, but when I get back to the 'ed's office I start turning some pages. Yes! It is indeed Belleville - the place to be! - this weekend.

All I find out about Montparnasse is a one-paragraph mention of Saturday's 'Feria' at Montsouris. This is in Le Parisien and I don't know what is in the other papers - if I looked at all of them, Sunday editions included, I wouldn't have time to do this, much less walk around the block.

Around the quartier, including on my own building's front door, there are posters announcing 'Les Mai des Montparnos.' But the one on my front door says the 'open-door' in my building has been canceled.

On my unplanned big Saturday walk-around - to get warm - and find an older version of a Morrisphoto: poussin expo 2000 column, I did not see much in the way of 'open-doors' activity - except for the open ateliers at Poussin's in the Boulevard Raspail.

Is it, after all, an event that is not happening? The committee meeting - was it not too late? Am I possibly a fan of something that doesn't exist?

One thing is sure, I am not getting much thrilling material out of it for this magazine. Worse - if I have simply been in the wrong places at the wrong times, you are still not going to want to read another word about this even if I do luck into its action before the next issue comes out.

I know, I know; I should have followed Jean-Christophe Ditróy across town to Belleville. If there is a next time, I will.

But I promise you, 'Les Montparnos' are not comatose; they are only dozing.

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