CHAPTER V

Déjeuner in the Quartier — Thirions — Curious incident in the Rue du Four — Arlequins à 2 sous — A joke on the waiter — Copying at the Louvre — Julians — The atelier in the Rue d' Uzès

We generally went to déjeuner as soon as the model had gone, for one felt pretty hungry by then, after getting up so early. There were lots of little restaurants in the neighborhood which would be crowded at this hour. Every coterie had its favorite place of reunion — which was usually selected for some special reason, but generally from motives of economy, for we were not fastidious as to the quality of the food. Stott and I and several of the American and English students used to meet at a place in the Rue St Bénôit where it was quite good, considering how cheap everything was. Then there was Thirions in the Boulevard St Germain, a very quaint and old-fashioned little place, reputed to have been favored by the presence of no less a personage than Thackeray when he was a student at the Beaux Arts. It had a certain renown in consequence, though I don't think the food was any the better for it.

I remember a curious incident that occurred at a small restaurant in the Rue du Four, where we used to feed sometimes. It conveys a good idea of the rough-and-ready manners of the Quartier. We were rather later than usual for lunch one day and there were only a few students in the place, as déjeuner was practically over by one o'clock. We were nearly finished when to our amazement the door opened and two men entered carrying a large coffin on their shoulders; with the utmost gravity they passed slowly through the room with their grim burden and made their way up the stairs leading to the "Salon pour Noces" on the first floor. The lugubriousness of the unwonted spectacle would have probably horrified older folk than ourselves, but to an étudiant, as to the proverbial Sappeur, nothing is sacred. After the first moment of stupefaction facetious remarks were heard — someone wanted to know if it was a client of the house who had died suddenly after dining there, to which another replied that it was not that at all, it was the cold meat for the assiette à l'Anglaise they were bringing from the charcutier's. The manager, who evidently felt that some explanation was due to the customers, came forward and told us that he regretted to inform us that the proprietress had died suddenly, and as there was no other entrance to the house but that leading through the restaurant, this painful scene could not be avoided. Evidently it did not occur to him that to have closed the place for a couple of hours in the afternoon would have been the decent thing to do under the circumstances.

Many of the students went much farther afield, even to places as far away as the Boulevard d'Enfer — very eccentric most of them, though; there was one in particular where the knives and forks and spoons were chained to the tables, which was, however, only visited when one had got to the end of one's month's allowance and had been more extravagant than usual.

There was an old woman at the Marche St Germain who used to sell Arlequins à 2 sous. These consisted of odds and ends of the debris from the restaurants. These were laid out in rows of plates, and if you got there early you might be fortunate enough to get something tasty, such as half a fowl, or a nice piece of beef and carrots, but it was all a matter of luck what was on the plates, as the ingredients were mixed up anyhow. The old lady, though, wouldn't always let you have the plate you chose for the two sous. "A non, mon petit," I remember she would say, " je ne peux pas te ceder ça pour moins que 3 sous il y a du dindon dedans, mais tu auras une bonne croûte avec"; and if she was in an extra generous mood you got a large piece of bread, which hadn't been kicking about too much on the ground, thrown in. You then emptied the plate on to a newspaper you had brought with you, and ate the contents there and then whilst strolling round the market, finishing up with a cigarette and a two sous cup of coffee at the marchand de vin close by. One had indeed to be young and have a healthy appetite to tackle this unsavory bill of fare.

It was a curious fact that the early days of the month — when one's allowance had just arrived — were marked by a cheery optimism with regard to expenditure which gradually disappeared as the succeeding weeks wore on; but the spirit of joking was ever present, no matter how low one's funds — sometimes even at the expense of the waiters. One in particular, very silly, but always raising a laugh. Someone would ask when near the end of a meal, "What cheese have you, waiter?" to which of course came the reply enumerating the usual list.

"Is the camenbert good today, waiter?"

"Oh oui, Monsieur."

"Nice and ripe? "

"Oui, Monsieur, in fine condition."

"Very well then, give me a piece of gruyère."

If the garçon did not know us, the look on his face may be imagined.

In the afternoon after déjeuner and till it was time to go to the Cours Yvon I used to copy at the Louvre. Gérome always recommended this as a method of learning technique, so for some months I followed his advice assiduously and got to look on Rembrandt and Titiens as personal friends; but after a time the old masters got on one's nerves, one felt so insignificant alongside them, and the atmosphere of the galleries was so depressing that I decided that work at a life class would be more cheerful. At that time there was only one studio where on paying a fee you could go and paint when you chose. This was Julians, and it had attained considerable celebrity. It was divided into two ateliers — one in the Rue Montmartre and the other in the Rue d'Uzès close by. In the Rue Montmartre lady students were admitted as pupils, and, if they chose, even when nude male models were posing; there were no prejudices or false modesty. It was all considered Art —with a big A. I shall never forget my impressions on going there for the first time one afternoon. The model, a big brawny individual in a state of nudity, was taking a rest, seated by the stove smoking a cigarette; around the studio were groups of students, male and female — some of the latter quite young girls, chatting and laughing unconcernedly. To me the scene was a surprising one, but to them it was only part of the day's work evidently.

The Louvre...

In the Rue d'Uzès there were no women students, and the fees were considerably less, perhaps for that reason; so as most of my particular friends from the École went there, I joined also. It made a very pleasant change from the Louvre, where there was an impression of hard work; it was a casual go-as-you-please sort of place, where there was no Professor, but where you managed to do a lot of good studies without undue effort. Men would stroll in with their paint-box and a canvas, and if they thought the model worth painting they would stay — if not, they'd have a chat and smoke and go away. It was probably this casual state of affairs that induced a number of very clever men to come and work at the Rue d'Uzès in the afternoon. There was of course no ragging or paying one's footing as at the École, but there was the same spirit of camaraderie — though perhaps in a somewhat modified degree, as the majority of the men were considerably older than those at the École, and there was therefore a tendency to divide up into cliques. Perhaps on account of the inartistic character of the neighborhood — the Rue Montmartre is a wholesale business centre — the atelier lost a good deal of its Bohemianism — as, for instance, if one felt like going out for a cup of coffee there was only one place conveniently near, and that was the Brasserie Muller on the Boulevard Poissonière, which had a back entrance opposite the studio, but it was very bourgeois and not in the least like the cafés in the Quartier.



Proceed To Next Chapter

Go To Table Of Contents

Return To BohemianLit.com Home Page