A Clean Saloon for Folks

photo, artist group of the week, martha holden and jana bednarkova Artists of the Week, Martha Holden and Jana Bednarkova.

Live Art and Chorizo

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 1. October:–  Uncle Den–Den has a theory. He says Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse is not like other cafés. He says it is a café–like place that is a community centre for folks who work and live in the quartier. He says its glassed terrace is for tourists, and the waiters out there treat them with the contempt the American press has told their readers to expect here. Uncle Den–Den has lots of strange theories.

It is true that I used Le Select as a wet way–station 30 years ago, between French classes at the Alliance Française, on the way to the Gare Montparnasse. I even worked nearby and often went to Le Select for inspiration. Even if none was found the service was tipo–topo, the booze was tasty and its interior saloon had more life to it than watching antics at La Coupole across the boulevard from the outer terrace.

So, the purpose of a visit on Saturday was to verify Uncle Den–Den's theory, which matched my memory, and find out if we both hadn't been eating magic mushrooms. Another possibility was that the place had been taken over by some frock dealer or turned into a playpen café for the iPodders.

On Saturday I was off by a couple of minutes of on–time. The terrace with its tiny tiles and many fronds was settled by the Hemmingway fans and the waiters were working on the profit–sharing. If you walk straight in to the bar there is a chorus of welcome and you can get through it by spreading around some stray bonjours.

photo, jana opening wine for the vernissage Jana opens non–explosive wine.

Then I stood there, making an inventory. Still tiles on the floor. Bar was still wood, with the patron on a little throne to the right. Behind the bar the usual wide selection of Scottish booze, and on the bar a huge chrome pot full of ice and Champagne, flanked by essential bar accessories like swizzle–sticks. Something had changed at the bar's left end – now there's a snug cubby where folks used to fight to get past to get to the water department downstairs.

Of course there's a glimpse of mirror behind the bottles behind the bar so Uncle Den–Den spotted me gawking around like a rube from Kansas City. Besides the patron, the barman and some waiters, we had the place almost to ourselves, expect for a couple of those folks who work and live nearby.

There was also an active rugby screen in the depths of the back room, where some iPod types were in obscurity. My excuses if they weren't – the waiters were craning for looks at the screen too. Otherwise Le Select has no musak and the clocks are even silent. Clocks – I mean one, still opposite the bar, where you can see it only if and when you are leaving.

Uncle Den–Den explained to me that the free snacks from the kitchen are great but there's none on Saturday. He was telling me the other wonders of this place that's like a time machine – was it 1976 again? – when I noticed a big tabby cat up on the edge of the cubby snug eying the side by the bar, and sure enough it hopped over, walked past and stepped delicately down to the work area behind to amble off.

photo, painting fancier Uncle Den–Den loves art.

The last thing you want to see in a serious bar is flitty little mice. Then a couple of barfolks came in and settled in the cubby, put their books on the bar and commenced reading. The barman brought them drinks, peanuts and olives. I got up and found a portrait of the cat – Mickey, le chat d'or – on a pillar behind some green bushes. Le Select is supposed to be an artists' hangout, but I don't think Picasso has been around for a while. It doesn't mean he wouldn't be welcome if he happened by.

A customer walked out, getting a chorus of goodbyes on the way. He looked like an arty type, with long hair and some pin–stripes. In fact Uncle Den–Den looked like an arty type. He was supposed to have been seeing some art film at Bercy, but he got sidetracked by some other thirsty arty types.

We finished our drinks and paid up. Even doing this in Le Select is cool. It's like a place for grown–ups – of a certain age! – but anyone who comes in can get service. But let me tell you, if it's inspiration you are looking for, stay off the terrace. Stay in, not out, since about 1925.

At 99. Boulevard du Montparnasse, near métro Vavin. Open late, until 02:30 or later. Has food too, which Uncle appreciates.

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Live Art and Chorizo

Just a little later we were standing on the corner of Boulard and Liancourt when I noticed that the collection of shoes hanging from wire over Boulard had increased to about five or six pairs. We were waiting for a vernissage to begin and when Uncle Den–Den decided the time was ripe I went to the wrong address I got from Dimitri. He directed me across the street to the open door of the Espace Artaim where the window shutter was lowered part way.

Inside it was clean and tidy with ceramic pieces by Jana Bednarkova on display and paintings and lithos by Martha Holden were on the walls in the two or three rooms of the atelier space. A lady who asked if I had an invitation card looked confused when I said I didn't. Dimitri invited me on behalf of the neighborhood.

There was a table copiously strewn with edibles, with some obvious chorizo on top and I made a vow to try some before it disappeared. Later I would taste and say the chorizo was very good – it was! – and whoever said, what's that? How can folks live so close to Spain and not know chorizo? I mean the 14th is practically next to the Pyrenees.

photo, window of artaim atelier The welcome window.

By listening closely it seemed as if the crowd of French–speakers was equally comfortable in English. Some even brought Champagne and one loaded bottle went off, without, luckily, injuring anybody. As usual this is from memory. Who wants to take notes while there's so much fun?

After watching Uncle Den–Den surveying some portraits it occured to me that I'd seen everything two or three times, and it was therefore Photo of the Artists at the Vernissage time. Despite the dense crowd Jana and Martha were cooperative and posed where there was light – just enough – to get one useable shot out of eight, an average score.

The smokers amoung us were doing it in the street, in the warm light from the atelier's window. Out there, cigarettes in hand or being deftly rolled, there was less stress – "Like the pots?" – and opportunity to exchange autobios, and this is where I learned that nearly every pair at the vernissage to support the artists was bi–national, usually French and American.

This allowed Uncle Den–Den to tell everybody who would listen that he was a Marxist of the Groucho variety. This is always funny because Lenin and Trotsky invented the whole business a few blocks away, according to legend rather than Hollywood.

Frankly a lot of these folks at the vernissage were hardly old enough to remember Checkpoint Charlie so Uncle was mired deep in heavy slogging, especially after professional ex–pat Terrance Gelenter arrived and barged straight in to the chorizo. It was another reason for being outside smoking.

It wasn't raining so the sidewalk became moderately popular – only after everybody had a good look! – and Uncle and Terrance were entertaining the ladies, who probably were, like me, hungry. A couple of chorizo pieces do not make a three–course meal unless maybe it's breakfast.

photo, art fans loiter on sidewalk by night After the art we turn into rascals.

After several days we moved slowly down the sidewalk to the corner where Karole's café and bar, known around here as the Afghan place, is. Bringing up the rearguard I saw four goblets of wine already on the bar, but otherwise the interior looked the spitting image of what it had been in June when we last rendezvouzed in it.

You ask, what has this to do with the vernissage? With artists and ceramics and lithos? What, the free food and drink weren't enough? It wasn't smokey enough maybe? Just this – man cannot live by art alone and there comes a time when a retreat to the Afghan café is called for, is, nay, necessary.

Or was it that five's a crowd? A fifth wheel type of affair? I say it was hunger that drove me back to the world headquarters of this magazine and dare you to prove it wasn't so. Full of art, I craved some peanuts.

Part two of this story begins on Wednesday when Le quatrième salon de la Céramique 14 opens its doors at the Annexe of the Mairie of the 14th on Wednesday. As the name suggests, the 4th edition of this show will present 29 ceramic artists. This is to be a mini preview of a big ceramics show scheduled for 2010. While waiting for the future, Céramique 14 continues until Sunday, at 29. rue Durouchoux. Métro Mouton–Duvernet is closest.

A bientôt à Paris
signature, regards, ric

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