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A crowd of patrons at a Montparnasse café.
[Paris Cafés: Landmarks of Paris Life]
Gelatin silver print
6 11/16 x 9 1/4 ins
Courtesy of the Lucien Aigner Estate
"When you live in Paris you must have a café where you go regularly. Mine was the 'Deux Magots' where after lunch I took a half hour or so with my friends to sip a café crŢme, talk shop, politics, gossip or literary concernsŕMy friend and partner Louis Aczél could talk for hours. I envied him but couldn't imitate him. After half an hour I became restless and bored.
The Deux Magots is a famous literary café, but we were not part of the crowd on the inside, where writers, artists and newspapermen congregated. We sat on the 'terrasse' [terrace] facing the big stone church on the opposite corner of the square, built hundreds of years ago to honor the patron saint of meadows and pastures. Around our table gathered our mostly Hungarian friends, some newspapermen like ourselves, others active in a variety of fields: doctors, businessmen, artists and so on.
Of course the Deux Magots (literally meaning 'two worms'...) is only one variety of the Paris sidewalk café. There are as many types as there are neighborhoods. Deux Magots itself is surrounded by a number of other cafés which sprang up when its terrasse and interior proved too small for all those who gravitated to it. The terrasse was mainly for sedate area residents, who with their ladies, took their aperitifs mostly in the afternoon, or for tourists from many countries who adventured beyond the confines of the Opera district, the Champs-Elysées or the Montparnasse.
Many of us natives of coffee drinking nations were lured to the Deux Magots by the aroma of its strong tasting coffee which in Paris (especially in the pre-espresso days) wasn't easy to find.
Around the Deux Magots are the small streets surrounding the legendary Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where budding painters and sculptors prepare themselves to officially join the 'artists' of Paris. These young people don't patronize the Deux Magots, they gravitate to the smaller ones near the school, between the Boulevard St. Germain and the river Seine.
When you move east toward the Latin Quarter and the Boul'mich (short for the Boulevard Saint Michel) you move to a more international area. On those terrasses lining that main artery of the Latin Quarter you are likely to meet students from many countries, predominantly from the Middle East, the Balkans and the Orient...
The Montparnasse around the Dome [is] that universally famous 'center' which draws more and more crowds not only from the neighboring studios and small hotels but also from far areas of the city: boy meets girl, where professional ladies play their game and where visiting businessmen of the movies and of the export-import trade come for slumming and for local color.
Of course the list is endless. The variety is endless. The world of the Paris sidewalk cafés is a jungle of constant growth where new types are surging every year."
Lucien Aigner, from his unpublished memoirs