The Thinking Man's Paris; Antony Beevor Tours the Postwar Haunts of Jean-Paul Sartre and His Philosophical Friends
Byline: ANTONY BEEVOR
SOME things in Paris never really change.
Best of all is the theatre of everyday life.
I love sitting in the Cafe de Flore on the Boulevard Germain, watching not the passersby but the waiters. Each one is still playing at the role, delivering his order with a nonchalant flourish.
This phenomenon was first observed by Jean-Paul Sartre in this very cafe, when he and Simone de Beauvoir and other writers used to scribble away at tables in a row, making the place look like an examination room. The concept of the man's
Saint-waiter as unconscious actor was brought into his major work, Being And Nothingness, the completely unreadable bible of existentialist philosophy.
This was also the cafe where the magnificently unattractive Sartre was besieged by beautiful young women. He profited from this fan club quite shamelessly, proving that ugliness was not a barrier to sexual success.
According to Simone de Beauvoir, his partner in ideas but no longer in love, Sartre had a rather diabolical side: 'He conquered young girls by explaining their souls to them.' Those heady days of Saint-Ger-main began in August 1944, when young Parisiennes dressed in red, white and blue clambered on to the armoured vehicles of their liberators to kiss their dusty faces.
Nowhere was the elation greater than around the quartier of Saint-Germain des Pres where novelists, philosophers and painters joined the delirious crowds, chanting and singing. Saint-Germain entered an extraordinary period.
It rapidly became the intellectual mecca of the world. 'In Paris,' observed Jacques Prevert, the screenwriter of Les Enfants du Paradis, 'it seems you need a war to put a quartier on the map.' You also needed youth and stamina to survive the all-night 'fiestas', arguing over politics, philosophy and love.
The leading actors in this small world became characters in their own unscripted dramas. They
formed coteries, they seduced each other, they quarrelled bitterly - over politics, not infidelity - and they became the superheroes of …
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Publication information: Article title: The Thinking Man's Paris; Antony Beevor Tours the Postwar Haunts of Jean-Paul Sartre and His Philosophical Friends. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Mail on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: July 11, 1999. Page number: 87. © 2009 Solo Syndication Limited. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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