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By Flore der Agopian

final-stvalentinesday cropped 1057x1027Paris has always been inspiration for writers and painters, both from France and all over the world. The French novelists of the nineteenth century were no exception to this rule. They depicted the atmosphere of the city of light in real depth, and described Parisian characters in a lifelike way. Emile Zola, for example, explored all strata of the French capital through the living conditions in which his key figures grown up in the course of his novels. The readers can feel the mood of nineteenth century Parisian life through Zola’s series of twenty novels, called Les Rougon-Macquart. The reader can follow Zola’s characters from the working class district of La Goutte d’Or in L’Assomoir (1877) to the amazing new department store Le Bon Marché in Au Bonheur des Dames (1883), showing middle class life in Paris. All the characters of the series are related, though they are all from different stations of the society.

In L’Assomoir, Zola describes the working world, which is a victim of the curse of the alcoholism. The title comes from the name of the café present in the novel. It also means “the cafés” in a slang expression of the time. When the workers finished their hours for the day, they went to the cafés and were knocked out by the alcohol and the fatigue. The alcohol is, for the characters, the only way to escape from their hard working and living conditions, even if it destroys them little by little. Indeed, they are condemned to die young because of this alcohol and their tough way of life. This is why the café is an essential feature in the novel. Distress and poverty are the daily reality of the inhabitants of the district La Goutte d’Or. The description of Zola’s scenes in his novels was inspired by his own experience in Paris. He left the South of France at the age of 18 in order to become famous, and lived in hard conditions that have left their mark on his work as a writer. Zola was the leader of the naturalist movement, and was close to the impressionist movement in paintings. Because of his naturalist views, his novels depict an exact representation of the reality, like a picture. In order to be as close as possible to the truth, Zola investigated. If he needed to mention a street of Paris, he usually went to identify the place and sketched it. That is why the reader is carried away by his many incredible descriptions.

One of the famous French Impressionists was Edgar Degas, who liked painting the cities, places of leisure time and pleasure. He has painted Dans un café, also called L’ Absinthe (1873), that has probably been another source of inspiration for Zola. Indeed, in this painting we can see a woman and a man in a café sitting next to each other. Yet, they are both isolated, and their expressions are of emptiness and sadness. It points out what the alcohol can lead to. The painter took for the scene a real café, the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes, place Pigalle. This café was set in an area of the ninth arrondissement, called “La Nouvelle Athènes”. Many artists, who formed the heart of the Romantic Movement, for example Eugène Delacroix, Alexandre Dumas or George Sand, lived in this quarter near the Place Saint-Georges. The Square d’ Orléans attracted artists who wanted some peace. It is rumored that Alexandre Dumas was one of the first inhabitants of the area and that he organized a party with around 300 guests, mostly musicians, painters and poets. This would be the event that led artists to discover this quiet haven. The housing estate was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century in order to accommodate the growing population. The historian Adolphe Dureau de la Malle gave it the name “Nouvelle Athènes” on October 18, 1823 in Le Journal des Débats, in reference to the inhabitants’ passion for Greek Antiquity. The area inspired many artists who lived there as the popular Café de la Nouvelle Athènes. Indeed, in 1878, Edouard Manet included this café in La Prune and the unfinished portrait George Moore au café.

The ninth arrondissement is culturally very rich, with the Opéra Garnier among its monuments. The Place de l’ Opéra comes out on the Boulevard des Italiens, which is one of the four “Grands Boulevards” of Paris. Camille Pissarro painted it in 1897. This street was the site for many popular cafés, where writers met. However, most of them have been closed or destroyed during the twentieth century. The Café Riche, created in 1785, is one of these places, which is now a bank. Yet, through quotes and memoirs of artists, we can still imagine this café today. Indeed, Guy de Maupassant, who was a regular visitor, described the café in the fifth chapter of his novel Bel Ami. The restaurant was made up of parlors on the second story. There was a red sofa in harmony with the red color of the walls. A square table was set with silverware. A candelabra gave light in addition to that coming from the window that looked onto the boulevard. The writer also described the meal that the characters ate, and among other dishes, the oysters and the soup, show the excellence of the cooking.

Near to the Café Riche is the Café Tortoni, founded by a Neapolitan ice-cream maker in 1798 and then extended by Giuseppe Tortoni. The café quickly became the establishment where the Parisian elite, composed of intellectuals and politicians, met. The billiard set in a room on the second floor is mentioned in Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. Marcel Proust also described the café in A la recherche du temps perdu. Swann went twice inside the café in order to meet his beloved, Odette. Another café on the Boulevard des Italiens is referenced in this Proust’s scene, the Café Anglais. This last one was founded in 1802 and it was named after the peace treaty signed with England the same year.  It was one of the trendiest cafés in Paris. Alexander Dumas and Alfred de Musset, among many others, were regular customers. Nevertheless, the French writers were not the only ones to mention this café in their novels. Henry James mentioned it in some scenes of The American. The main character, who lives in Paris, was advised to eat at the café to discover the glory of French cooking. This is list of Parisian Cafés that are mentioned in these novels, among many others. These are only in the ninth arrondissement and other quarters host many more cafés that have been described in the arts. The Cafés are an important part of Paris and have always inspired the artists.

Cafés in Paris’ 9th Arrondissement

Café de la Paix
5 Place de l’Opéra

Café le Baron
11 Rue de Châteaudun

Café Marco Polo
121 Rue Saint-Lazare

Le Syphax Café
26 Rue de Châteaudun

Café Oz
8 Boulevard Montmartre

Le Poussette Café
6 Rue Pierre Semard

Rose Bakery
46 Rue des Martyrs

Hard Rock Cafe Paris
14 Boulevard Montmartre

13 Rue Auber

Café Grévin
8 Boulevard Montmartre

Sofa Café Studio
4 Rue la Fayette

Nespresso Boutique
11 Rue Scribe

Kooka Boora
62 Rue des Martyrs

Le Rocketship
13 Rue Henry Monnier

6 Square de l’Opéra-Louis Jouvet

Folie’s Café
16 Rue Geoffroy-Marie

Le Manoir
34 Boulevard Haussmann

11 Bis rue Scribe

Le Carmen
34 Rue Duperré

Café Lorette
43 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre

Bar Brasserie Printemps
60 Boulevard Haussmann

Le Café Zéphyr
12 Boulevard Montmartre

St Georges’ Tavern
46 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre

La Terrasse des Galeries Lafayettes
40 Boulevard Haussmann

Flore der Agopian crop portraitFlore der Agopian was born in Clamart, a southwest suburb of Paris, where she grew up and lives today. She is in the final years of terminale, which is equivalent to the senior year of high school in the U.S., where she is preparing for her Baccalauréat at the Lycée Françoise Rabelais de Meudon. If accepted into the language program, Flore will study history, literature, and the culture of anglophone societies and will hopefully study abroad in the U.S. or Germany.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Café Culture in Paris, by Parisienne Flore der Agopian. The café, writes Flore, is a pleasurable way of sitting unbothered for hours on end with a book, with friends, or jut watching all sorts of people coming and going. Le Café de Flore, one of the oldest and most prestigious in Paris, where you can meet or observe its famous clientele among the Parisians, tourists and waiters dressed in their black and white uniforms as if they were still in the 1920s. To Flore, Café de Flore is almost mythical, legendary—a real institution. (French)

Museum tearooms in Paris. Parisienne Flore der Agopian invites us to visit some of the most enchanting tearooms in Paris: Café du Musée de la Vie Romantique, its courtyard garden a step back into the 19th-century; Café Jacquemart-André, decorated and furnished in late 19th-century style; and La Flottille, in the garden of the Château de Versailles in front of the Grand Canal. Including a list of Museum tearooms, cafés and restaurants in Paris. 

French Hot Chocolate: sensuous, elusive and whimsical by Barbara Redmond as she tells about a dazzling early 19th century French service placed on a table at the far end of a dark, yet luxurious, reception room in Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum exhibited as though prepared and waiting for guests. Which French woman should we invite?  Including a recipe for Parisian Hot Chocolate by David Lebovitz.

A dinner party: what makes the French so French. On a recent trip to France, Jacqueline Bucar, French teacher and immigration attorney, shares the dinner party conversation at the home of some of her friends––a conversation that was like no other she could ever imagine in the States…

Text copyright ©2014 Flore der Agopian. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.