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The Paris of Beauvoir, Sartre, Proust and Foucault

September 22, 2008 |  2:36 pm


The Left Bank of Paris is legendary for its artistic and intellectual history. In the 1920s, it was where French artists and expatriates from America and elsewhere rubbed shoulders over Pernod and escargot. OK, I'm making that up -- I have no idea what Fitzgerald or Matisse might have ordered. But Picasso -- I'm pretty sure he liked bread.

I admit, the details of this period and place elude me; my knowledge extends only as far as Henry Miller's freeloading exploits in the French countryside. So I welcome this primer from Gridskipper, with a quick and succinct list of the literary cafes of the Left Bank.

Tourists have overrun many of them, such as Les Deux Magots, pictured above. Everyone wants to order a caffé latte where Albert Camus did. Which is why they also go to Café de Flore, one of many haunts of Camus and Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Hemingway frequented the Café Dauphin, which has been transformed into the Café Jade with a "retro-modern décor" -- not sure what that means, but apparently it's keeping the tourists at bay. But Brasserie Lipp, opened in 1890, is protected by the French Ministry of Culture, so it looks much as it did when Marcel Proust ate (madeleines?) there. Nowadays, it's frequented by the likes of Woody Allen.

A couple of notable colleges and libraries make their list. What curious intellectual doesn't want to say they set foot in the Sorbonne? But the best tip is that Foucault worked on "The History of Sexuality" at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir. Gridskipper notes, "The staff is not exceptionally friendly, so it helps to speak French." Bonne chance!

--Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Zemzina via Flickr