In the Summer of 1927

Le Select in Montparnasse
Le Select today is pretty much the same as when it first opened.

A Day Looking for Friends in Montparnasse

Paris:- Friday, 11. July 1997:- Man Ray and Juliet Man Ray's grave in the Cimetière du Montparnasse is where I've gotten to last. With the map at the entry in memory, I couldn't find it at first and was going to leave but I changed my mind and went back.

It is my first time in this big cemetery and the map-guide to 'famous graves' is not very exact. It is warm and a bit humid and the ground is hilly and in places, ill-paved. There is little shade.

I am not a big fan of cemeteries; if I hadn't looked at the map I wouldn't have seen Man Ray's name and I would have left it for some other time - but he is very much alive in what follows, so I have to put him in at the beginning as he is now, or the rest won't make sense. I can't leave him out, so it's better to do it this way; even if it is a bit crude.

Paris:- Monday, 11. July 1927:- The July sun is really pasting the boulevard Montparnasse as I come out of the métro in front of the Restaurant Lavenue at the corner of the rue du Départ. The mid-July holiday-leavers are crowding the Montparnasse station fronting on the place de Rennes and the trams are squealing on the steel rails snaking through the place or parked in front of the Café de Versailles.

No sense taking the line one to Vavin. It's not yet too hot to walk and I need to save the money anyway; although I all have is tram fare. The money still hasn't arrived at the bank, so I blew Le Falstaff bar some on the métro to get here - to see if I can find any to borrow for a couple of days.

Except for the Falstaff now being a restaurant, it is little changed.

Here it is mid-July and dogs should be sleeping on the boulevard in the sun. Instead the road is full of big cars and the café terraces are packed with the new arrivals from the ocean liners, looking as if they are waiting for the chariot races. Maybe I should just pass the hat while mumbling something like, "Can you spare a bit for train fare to Villefranche?"

No, I don't want to be character - even though all these tourists would like - came here in fact - to see some of us Montparnasse 'characters.' The Falstaff bar, just off the boulevard, is open but it is between 'shifts' and nobody will be there - it is not worth the 20 metre-walk.

Le Select's terrace is crowded as usual; I can't see a free seat. The chairs here do not even get cold because they're in use 24 hours a day - or should it be, 24 hours a night? At the wooden bar inside behind the wilting palms, Madame gives me a glass of water and asks if I'm coming for the 'bal' on the 13th.

'For the 13th?' I wonder. If I get nothing today, I may well have to - it'll be a good crowd for the music and dancing and they'll be in a good mood for the fête.

The water restores me somewhat, but instead of trying to decide which of their 56 whiskies I'll have - none - I scan the backs of heads for familiar faces. There are a group of art dealers - Paul Guillaume, Adolphe Basler and Pierre Loeb, who has the gallery in the rue Bonaparte. It's not the time of day for artists; they must be here to meet clients. People live on these café terraces, so the dealers have to come here.

It seems kind of early in the day for the waiters to be jammed up ordering drinks at the bar, but they are. I know everything at this time of day seems early; I could have waited. Montparnasse is the place though, so it makes no sense to 'wait' somewhere else - it all happens here.

Summer comes and everyone you know leaves town, to be replaced by these boatloads of Americans. With Prohibition over there, it's hard to know if they really are thirsty - and besides, the ships' bars open Courtyard of 22. rue Delambre as soon as they leave the dock in New York. The only dry stretch might be on the train from Le Harve, and then only if they drink the bar car dry or didn't bring any emergency provisions. Maybe the taxi from Saint Lazare is dry. Anyway, it's like the 49th state here, and everybody carries something for the taxi too.

Through a door and back in time, in one of the courtyards off the rue Delambre.

The construction of Fraux and Lafon's Coupole across the way is making a lot of noise and dust so I head for La Rotonde at Vavin. It's terrace is all full as Le Select's was; and the 'Horde de la Rotonde' must be in the back as usual; broke as usual, so there's no sense looking in there.

The Café du Dôme opposite is more popular now anyway and while waiting for a tram to pass I glance east towards the Closerie des Lilas, under its trees.

Those I know who go there I know are in Pamplona now for the feria. It is for people who want bulls and simple drinks and a lot of loud noise which never stops. I shouldn't run it down; I would have gone for it too even though the noise is not my favorite part.

At the Dôme nobody has 'their' table or place and anybody can sit wherever there is a free chair. Only Kiki has the dubious taste to notice the floods of tourists passing; which she does especially if they look as if they were visiting a zoo. She wonders if the regulars should do tricks for them.

There are more artists at the Dôme while foreign writers are more tolerated at Le Select; even though Mme Jalbert is suspected of being a police informer. I don't believe this. Who is she to inform on?

The foreign writers are not revolutionaries and neither are the painters. In fact, the police let just about anything go in Montparnasse; all sorts of monkey-business that will get you arrested in any other part of town.

All the same, my guess is that is why the Americans go to the Dingo to fight, although Jimmy the barman is tougher than most of them. It is really tedious when he and Hemingway get going on it; especially if Hemingway gets excited and needs to show us his moves. Then we have to grab our glasses and give him lots of floor space. He has a good opinion of himself

It is too early, the artists are either working or are gone. Foujita, the darling of the press, and Youki are at the Normandy in Deauville, guests of François André the director of the hotel and casino who was once an undertaker. Conrad Kickert doesn't like the idea at all and is living in a tent on the beach. Mistinguette is there too.

I don't see anybody to take a seat with in the Dôme so I round the corner to the rue Delambre and pass Edward Tomb of May Ray and Juliet Titus' bookshop 'At the Sign of the Black Manikin.' Just further along, the Dingo and across the street, Le Parnasse bar. I know nobody to put the touch on. I'll have to wait.

Nobody's around at number 22 either. Its too expensive to sit down anywhere and I don't feel like having to talk to tourists for drinks on the boulevard, and nobody ever goes to L'Odessa.

Who hand-wrote the inscription on the semi-circuler headstone on the left?

I take the Square Delambre over to Edgar Quinet and enter the Cemetière du Sud which everybody just calls Montparnasse. In it there are trees to make shade, and in the shade there are benches, where I can sit out the afternoon in peace.

Seventy years later there are a few people doing this. Some of them are minding babies in strollers. In some directions the view has not changed at all, and if you know where it has changed you do not have to look that way.

The left part of the decor on May Ray's grave has a handwritten inscription. "Unconcerned but not indifferent," it says. He died in 1976, the year I came to Montparnasse first. Juliet May Ray, with the inscription, "Together again," died in 1991. Almost yesterday.

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