Friday, 15 June 2018

The Joyce Trail in Paris: Montparnasse

I've just had a big birthday (which means that I've now outlived James Joyce). As a surprise present, Lisa booked us four nights in Paris, a city we haven't visited in twenty years. To get ready, I plotted Joyce's many addresses, favourite restaurants, publishers and eye clinic by sticking labels on this map.

Lisa, who has her own ideas about the attractions of Paris, viewed my meticulous planning with increasing anxiety.


We stayed at the lovely Hotel Lenox on Rue Delambre in the heart of Bohemian Montparnasse. In Joyce's day, this was the Grand Hotel des Ecoles, whose residents included Henry Miller, the Dadaists Man Ray and Tristan Tzara, and Man Ray's mistress, Kiki of Montparnasse. Lisa booked it because she'd read a New York Times article describing the Hotel Lenox as Joyce's first Paris address. In fact, that was a different Hotel Lenox, but ours also had a Joyce connection. Here it is, Room 37, which the hotel offered us when they heard we were on a Joyce trail. 

Room 37 was Man Ray's home and photographic studio. 

'The artist Man Ray and his pupils Berenice Abbott...were the official portraitists of 'the crowd'. The walls of my bookshop were covered with their photographs. To be 'done' by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant you were rated as somebody.'

Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company,  1956

In 1922, Sylvia Beach, about to publish Ulysses, sent James Joyce to have his photograph taken, in this very room!

Man Ray later recalled that Joyce 'seemed to consider the sitting a terrible nuisance'.

There was only one thing to do....Note the wallpaper is still textured.

Lisa was going to re-enact Man Ray's famous photograph of Kiki of Mantparnasse, Le Violon d'Ingres, but we couldn't find anything to draw on her back with.


Over the road, we found one of the most famous bars of the 1920s Lost Generation, the Dingo American Bar. It's now an Italian restaurant, but has pictures of the bar as it was in the 20s in the gents' toilet.

There's also Hemingway above the stairs. In his 1934 memoir, This Must Be the Place, the Dingo's barman, Jimmie Charters, wrote that 'Hemingway came into my bar frequently (he was no white-winer!) and we would have long conversations about boxing or he would tell me about bullfighting.'

James Joyce was a 'white-winer', and Charters tells us that he never visited the Dingo:

'Joyce himself, who is a white-wine-totaler, I do not know, for he leads a retired life and never visits bars, but I have known many of his friends and I have seen him around the Quarter. Montparnasse was very much impressed with Mr Joyce, partly because he kept himself so aloof, I suppose....He was very well liked by his friends, I believe, and it was a pleasure to see his fine sensitive face and erect figure.'



We walked up Rue Delambre to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, which had the two chief artists' bars, the Rotonde, where the French, Spanish and Russians drank...

....and the Café du Dôme, where the Americans, English and Irish went. This now resembles any other hotel bar, but here's what it used to look like.

Joyce's friend Arthur Power makes the Dôme terrace sound like a scene from Hancock's The Rebel:

'Here, as well as on the terrace of the Rotonde, the intellectuals used to collect in their crowds in the evening, so that as one approached this café from the distance at night, under the haze of lights, it looked as though it were a huge hive with innumerable swarming bees. Even in the afternoon there were always a huge number seated there, recognizable by their coloured shirts, sandals, and variegated headgear, and they would remain for hours contemplating the busy boulevard before them. Indeed in the hot and temperamental Paris afternoon their apparent indolence and detachment would sometimes so annoy passing van drivers and others, their nerves already frayed by city traffic, that I have seen them pull up on the curb and pour abuse upon the half conscious and immobile intellectuals.'  

Conversations with James Joyce, 1974

André Kertész took this photograph in 1925

Americans arriving in Paris, like Morley and Loretto Callaghan, went straight to the Dôme: 

'At the Dôme, there seemed to be hundreds of recognizable Americans; men and women who, like us, had just got off the boat and were there for the night....They used to say if you sat there long enough you were bound to see someone you knew come strolling by. We watched and waited....That first night, sitting there as strangers, wondering hopefully if Joyce or Pound or Fitzgerald or Ford...might pass by, we didn't feel lonely or out of place.  The corner was like a great bowl of light, little figures moving into it and fading out, and beyond was all of Paris....What it offered to us was what it had offered to men from other countries for hundreds of years; it was a lighted place where the imagination was free.'

That Summer in Paris, 1963 

This was the last place you would find James Joyce. If he'd gone there, he'd have been stared at and asked for autographs, something he always found embarrassing. Ellmann tells the story of a young man approaching him on the street and asking, 'May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?' Joyce replied, 'No, it did a lot of other things too.' 



Jimmie Charters was wrong when he said that Joyce never went to bars in Paris. In 1921, Robert McAlmon had regular late night drinking sessions with Joyce and Wyndham Lewis in the Gypsy. Now gone, it was on Rue Cujas, on the east side of the Luxembourg Gardens.

'The Gypsy Bar was our usual late night hangout. The patron and the 'girls' knew us well, and knew that we would drink freely and surely stay till four or five in the morning. The girls of the place collected at the table and indulged in their Burgundian and Rabelaisian humors....Joyce watching, would be so amused, but inevitably there came a time when drink so moved his spirit that he began quoting from his own work or reciting long passages of Dante in rolling sonorous Italian....In those days...I didn't have hangovers. Only once, after a particularly mad assortment of drinks, I had to struggle to a lamppost and relieve myself, and Joyce said solicitously, 'I say McAlmon, your health is rather delicate. Maybe they'll be saying I'm a bad example to you.''

Being Geniuses Together, 1938

Wyndham Lewis maliciously told Joyce's patroness, Harriet Shaw Weaver, about these drunken evenings, causing a crisis in her relationship with Joyce.



Joyce also visited the Closerie de Lilas, another Hemingway favourite, on the Boulevard Montparnasse. In March 1921, he had a drink here with Arthur Power, a nightcap after their first meeting in the Bal Bullier, Paris's biggest dance hall.  Power recalled that they argued about the relative merits of English and French:

'When Power protested in favour of French, Joyce supported his argument for the superior depth and sonority of English by quoting passages from the Bible in two languages. He contrasted the weakness of 'Jeune homme, je te dis, leve-toi' with the strength of 'Young man, I say unto thee arise.'' Ellmann, p 505.

In 1927, Joyce also attended a PEN dinner here, given in honour of his friend Italo Svevo. 

This is what La Closerie looked like in the 1920s.

'We strolled along the boulevard as far as the Closerie de Lilas. How lovely the lighted tables spread out under the chestnut trees looked that April night: a litle oasis of conviviality! Apollinaire's café'  Morley Callaghan

Like the Dôme, the Closerie now looks nothing like it did in Joyce's day.

We preferred the look of the Bullier café over the road, and wondered it this was where the Bal Bullier stood (it wasn't). It was happy hour too.

We were entertained by a women who arrived with a monkey-faced cat on a lead.



If you wanted to see Joyce in the 1920s, you would find him every night in Les Trianons, his favourite restaurant. It's now gone, but it stood opposite Montparnasse Station. I asked on the James Joyce Quarterly's facebook page if anybody knew its exact address. Catherine Kellogg replied that the 'building that housed the restaurant was demolished and all that is left is a traffic island named Place du 18 Juin 1940 (to commemorate the Général de Gaulle’s famous June 18, 1940 Appeal that gave birth to the Résistance)'

Here I am, in Joyce's favourite restaurant!

We have several accounts of Joyce's evenings here.

'We met invariably at the same Montparnasse place, well known to gourmets and men of letters...Joyce was a man of habit. 'I am so dumb', he used to say, 'that in ten years I have not discovered another restaurant.' He always occupied the same table, and at the table, the same seat. The menu was determined once and for all: marenne oysters, chicken, flap mushrooms or asparagus, cup of fruit or ice cream. He himself did not touch anything, smoked or ordered the same muscatel, emptying three or four carafes of it nervously...'  

Louis Gillet, 'The Living Joyce' in A Claybook for James Joyce, 1941

'The proprieter and the entire personnel were devoted to Joyce. They were at the door of his taxi before he alighted and they escorted him to a table reserved for him at the back, where he could be more or less unmolested by people who came to stare at him as he dined, or brought copies of his works to be autographed...Joyce pretended to take an interest in fine dishes, but food meant nothing to him...He himself hardly ate anything, and was satisfied with the most ordinary white wine just as long as there was plenty of it...When he started on his way downstairs to the men's room, several waiters came hurrying to escort him...Joyce's tips were famous; the waiters, the boy who fetched him a taxi, all those who served him, must have retired with a fortune. I never grudged tips but, knowing the circumstances, it seemed to me that Joyce overtipped.'

Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company,  1956

By 'the circumstances', she means that Joyce was spending Harriet Shaw Weaver's money!

Not only did Joyce barely touuch the food in Les Trianons, according to Thomas MacGreevy, he sometimes brought his own wine with him! 

'The two men would go to an estaminet or small Alsace-style pub on the rue Saint-Honoré that was owned by a Swiss. This was where Joyce would buy a bottle of one of his favourite wines – the Swiss Fendant de Sion...Carrying the wine the two would make their way to the Trianons restaurant to join Nora, arriving around a quarter to nine. The wine would be consumed with the meal, which would be followed by a liqueur.'

Conor Fennell, A Little Circle of Kindred Minds: Joyce in Paris, 2011, p 199 
Robert McAlmon describes a wild St Patrick's night party at Les Trianons:

'Joyce sang songs...and I broke loose with my 'Chinese Opera'. Joyce wanted me to sing it, and I did. It is the corncrake and the calliope wail of a Chinese virgin in a snowstorm, not understanding where she got her newborn babe, and the neighbour's son claims it is not his inasmuch as he never saw her before. This is a performance that has had me thrown out of several bars and most respectable households and the police of various stations know it well.
  Later, when we left, Joyce wanted to climb up the lamppost. He fancied himself various kinds of dancers, tap, Russian, and belly. Nora was there however, and protest as Mr Joyce might, she got him into a taxi, and, despite his bitter wailings and protestations, drove him home.' 

Joyce switched his custom to Fouquets in the 1930s, which must have come as a big blow to Les Trianons. I wondered if that was why it went out of business.


At the bottom of Rue Delambre, we found the Boulevard Edgar Quinet, which runs along the side of Montparnasse cemetery.

It's named after the historian who wrote one of Joyce's favourite sentences:

'Today, as in the days of Pliny and Columella, the hyacinth disports in Gaul, the periwinkle in Illyria, the daisy on the ruins of Numantia; and while around them the cities have changed masters and names, while some have ceased to exist, while the civilisations have collided with one another and shattered, their peaceful generations have passed through the ages, and have come up to us, one following the other, fresh and cheerful as on the days of the battles'

Joyce quotes this in the original French on page 281 of the Wake. It's the only undistorted quotation in the whole book. Joyce loved this sentence so much that he would recite it from memory.

'He recited a page from Quinet, which satisfied him completely, a description on which he embroidered for several pages in 'Work in Progress': the whole atmosphere of the Mediterranean is in it, he said, its ports, its flowers, the azure sky, the sun on the sea. In that passage he felt at home.'

Jacques Mercanton, 'The Hours of James Joyce', 1963 (reprinted in Portaits of the Artist in Exile p 239) 

Here's one of Joyce's Wake reworkings of the sentence:

'Thus, too, for donkey's years. Since the bouts of Hebear and Hairyman the cornflowers have been staying at Ballymun, the duskrose has choosed out Goatstown's hedges, twolips have pressed togatherthem by sweet Rush, townland of twinedlights,  the whitethorn and the redthorn have fairygeyed the mayvalleys of Knockmaroon...'

Quinet is buried in the cemetery, so we went to see his tomb.  

It has a fine bust on top, with a dead plant in a pot behind.

I climbed on top for a closer look, and found that scarlet pimpernels had sprung up in the pot!

'these paxsealing buttonholes have quadrilled across the centuries and whiff now whafft to us, fresh and made-of-all-smiles as, on the eve of Killallwho.' 14.35

Looking around the cemetery, we found Tristan Tzara, our fellow guest at the Hotel Lenox. Like Joyce, he came to Paris after spending the war years in Zurich. He appears as a major character, and foil to Joyce, in Tom Stoppard's Travesties.

People are now leaving pebbles, shells and bus tickets on the tombs. Here's Baudelaire's.

But Joyce's old friend Samuel Beckett had a single white flower. 

In my next post, I'll take you on a walking tour around Joyce's addresses...

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