. . . hemingway . . . picasso . . . sartre . . . joyce . . . brecht . . . camus . . . beauvoir . . .
From the apartment where I stay in Paris, along the rue Vaugirard where I walk, I can continue straight to the Jardin du Luxembourg, my favorite spot in Paris, or to Saint-Sulpice where stands the mighty cathedral made famous to Americans in The Da Vinci Code, or I might turn north instead and walk on rue de Rennes or rue Bonaparte, a street lined with many boutiques, to a major boulevard that cuts west to east though Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Près. Here, at the intersection of the two, one arrives at Place St-Germain-des Près, where one encounters Les Deux Magots, Le Café de Flore, La Brasserie Lipp, and Le Café Bonaparte, four famous coffee houses (really not the most precise two words) in French cultural life. Here, too, one sees one of the oldest churches in Paris, if not the oldest, l’Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, dating from the 6th century.
The Église de Saint-Germain-des-Près, romanesque and gothic in style, does not demand your attention like Notre Dame Cathedral or Église Saint Sulpice, but quietly it invites you into its inner sanctum where some pray, where others take photographs, or where concerts are regularly performed. (Click on a photo to see more.)
Picasso and Hemingway and Beauvoir, with her came Sartre, and many other well-known cultural icons went to Place Saint-Germain-des-Près and to the four cafés to drink and eat and talk and debate. Waiters who dress in black and white and wear long aprons are now uncommon in most Paris bistros and restaurants, but are still a tradition on the Place Saint-Germain-des-Près. It will dearly cost you to sit in one of the chairs today. Recently, I drank an espresso at Le Café Bonaparte and left poorer by 4 euros, or $5.49 at the current exchange rate of 1.37 to the euro. Years ago, I ate an omelette at Les Deux Magots that was forgettable, but I remember it today because it was. (Click on a photo to see more.)
Today tourists come in droves to see and be seen. I have wanted to speak to the French who sit there ask them why. What draws them. Is it the tradition, the celebrity, the coffee, the neighborhood? Will I go back some day and and wait patiently and then grab one of the prime front row tables and eat a croque-madame and drink un vin rouge? Most likely. (Click on a photo to see more.)