Séjour en France. Ch 2. cafe Wepler; Palace of Justice

cafe Wepler

After returning to the house we got to sleep around midnight. At three in the morning my eyes popped open and I was not going back to sleep. 3AM Paris time, 9PM Boston time, the night before. Wide awake to stay. Well, okay, fine, I sat on the floor at the end of the bed under the outside light coming in through the window and wrote.

The next day Felista said, “You were lying on the floor writing. You looked like a dream to me. You were glowing golden".

I knew Pete had set his alarm for six to head to the airport to meet Mike and Jim. When it rang I announced to him I would take the trip with him to the airport. “I wouldn’t miss it.” I said. I really wanted to be there when they reunited in Paris.

Felista was asleep when we left. She did not know I was going to go with him. Neither did I. when I went to sleep, and I was glad I wasn't to because I liked the idea of meeting Mike at the airport and seeing him and Pete together in one of their high moments. That’s not something I  often get to experience.

I left her a note saying I was going with Pete and that we would return about nine.

Getting on the train that morning was beginning of a lot of riding on the Metro that day. At one of transfers, we made a wise decision to have coffee and a croissant. I say wise decision, it wasn't much of a decision, really. Coffee is one of my favorite things to do and what better place to do it than in Paris. Café au lait. A cup filled perhaps twenty percent with espresso, topped with steamed milk, packets of chocolate and sugar on the side. What a treat. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? I was okay though. I opened the packet of chocolate, dropped it into the cup and let it melt inside the coffee. You can get delirious drinking this coffee. What immense flavor.

“Pete, how can this be? This coffee is unbelievable.” I said, nearly jumping out of my seat. He looked at me and kind of smirked, his eyes lighting up. I know he knew I’d be in near ecstasy here in France. And we were having this fantastic coffee at a train stop. It is not as if we were in an expensive restaurant. I looked around and people were sitting or standing with their coffee, savoring it, I'd say.

“Have you noticed,” he asked me, “that coffee cups do not come with lids?”

“I’m just seeing that now,” I said to him.

“French people sit with and enjoy their coffee.”

“What a novel idea,” I said.

Mike and Jim got in right on time and we were on time and standing in front of them as they came through the gates. With bags in hand and rolling along with us, we made our way to the train station.

The train station. I’m telling you, it almost crazy. All these sights, all these experiences. Even the train station is fantastic. We came into the wide and well lighted expanse of the upper story of the station, above us light streaming in through the roof, wide white beams elegantly turning this way and that, holding up the glass while the sunlight streamed through. The place was designed with a glass ceiling supported by beams you hardly notice, to allow light great amounts of light to come through. I felt I was walking in open air. I just stopped and looked. We all did, I think. Every place I go, every sight I see is riveting, beautiful, fantastic, unusual and usually original to my experience. And amazing. It surprises the senses.

For all the great design above and in front and around, it is the light and the space stands out. The place is big and huge and not in the least overwhelming.


As Jim and Pete and Mike made their way down the escalator, I stood back and took a picture of them going down, just to be able to keep the experience for my eye and memory sake, just in case I might not remember what could be.

The first business was to get Mike and Jim to their hotel. Off we went and where we went was another pleasant surprise for me.

As we came out of the Metro, Pete said to me, “This place was on my itinerary for tomorrow, but with their hotel here, we are a day early”. And pointed to a café with a red awning, “That is Café Wepler. Right there”.

Pete, Mike, Jim

Me

I turned around and immediate felt, “This is home. I am here. I have made it”. Café Wepler. I am standing where Henry Miller, my favorite writer, spent many hours writing, talking, generally carousing and raising a glass. It was his café, the cafe he wrote about and inside of often and at length. I felt I knew the place well. This was his neighborhood, his place, his spirit, where he feasted on all things sensual. How often I had seen the Wepler through his eyes, his experience of France? Standing here, this is my synagogue, my temple, my cathedral, my most exalted moment in art. The birth of a baby might be close, but it is not art. Having a baby is a physical manifestation of an act. Anyone can do it. But but few are capable of creating art. Yes, home. Here is where he parked his rear and talked and wrote and carried on, the place of his many and voluminous conversations. Here is where he watched, hour after hour, “The sexual marketing taking place, without self-consciousness”, as he said. I am here. I could only stand and look.

This man, Henry Miller, was one of the great artists, not only to come out of the U.S., but one of the world’s truly great artists. People might take exception with that view. That means nothing to me. I know what I know.

As he said in TROPIC OF CANCER, “A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty . . . what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse. . . .

To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing”.

Only an artist of such stature could stand in the face of art and say he was, in fact, not an artist.

When his French friends read the book, they told him he might be from the U.S., but TROPIC OF CANCER is a French book written by a French author.

It is worth noting here that in 1961, just after the book was published in the U.S., a censorship battle was waged, where TROPIC OF CANCER, itself, as well as D.H. Lawrence’s, LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER, and Gustave Flaubert’s, MADAME BOVARY, were the primary books used in the case, and in 1964 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of freedom of speech. TROPIC OF CANCER, prior to its U.S. publication, had been banned in the U.S. for twenty-nine years.

One of the Supreme Court dissenters from the majority wrote: TROPIC OF CANCER, "is not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity”.

I am sure Henry Miller appreciated the compliment.

As I say, I was thrilled seeing the café Wepler. Also, to first see this in the company of my sons Mike and Pete, and Mike's friend, Jim; to be able to look at the floor Henry walked on, the space he moved through and occupied, the doorway he passed through, I recounted to myself one of his descriptions, from his book, QUIET DAYS IN CLICHY:

As he wrote: “I remember the first day I entered the Café Wepler, in the year of 1928, with my wife in tow . . .

. . . I remember the shock I experienced when I saw a whore fall dead drunk across one of the little tables on the terrace and nobody ran to her assistance. I was amazed and horrified by the stoical indifference of the French; I still am, despite all the good qualities in them which I have since come to know. ‘It’s nothing, it was just a whore . . . she was drunk.’ I can still hear those words. Even today they make me shudder. But it is very French, this attitude, and, if you don’t learn to accept it, your stay in France won’t be very pleasant.”

Pete and Mike were having a bit of difficulty figuring out how to get to Mike and Jim’s hotel. While they worked that out, I followed my eyes around, thinking back to what this place must have looked like in Henry Miller’s time. The hats, the clothes, the cars much different today, but, the same cobblestones still existed, the same building sidings, the same sized small tables placed in front of the café’s. The same doorway he walked through. Lots of talking, food, coffee and wine consumed and enjoyed. I have an idea there is just as much unabashed sex marketing going on now as was then. Henry loved how much and how open it was. In fact, one of his favorite things to do was to watch the sex contracting taking place day and night, and then writing about it at length, with the same flair and without hesitation. He enjoyed all the people, especially the whores. To him, whores were the real people of society. No pretension, no nonsense, just what is. He had no patience with people who put on airs, pretending to be something other than what they were and what they were were human beings living and dying. “Anything else was dreamy fabrication”, he said. Which brings to mind something that stands out about the current Wepler, the white table cloths and all the chairs lined up like neat and clean, the only stain, the stain of the clean filth below it all. Everything too in place. Gone is the flair of the place he had described. No whores sitting around in the corners, no drunk's head on a table, no loud conversation. Somehow I don’t think the today’s Wepler would attract Henry Miller. However, the café is still there and my visit was about Henry MIller more than about café Wepler.

Henry MIller. Photo by Brassaï 1932

Brassaï

Well, wait a minute now.

Well, wait a minute now, there is a sight that would have delighted him. Just his kind of lady too. He liked fleshy ladies. If he were here today, however, I am sure he’d call today's Wepler pretentious bourgeois bullshit, fit only for the walking dead. It is what he abhorred. He’d not stay. Neither did we. Except to stand out in front of trying to make sense of how to get to the hotel.

After Mike and Pete figured out what direction to take, there was still difficulty finding the hotel. Finally, Pete stopped a lady and asked directions. She was sweet and friendly and did all she could and did to help us find our way. She practically took us by the hand and brought us there. We are told the people of Paris are cold. I wonder what we really mean when we say Parisians are cold? I don't know. I am not going to speculate. Judging from what I have seen so far, and the people in the US I know from France, we should be at the font of the French, trying to learn what it means to have culture and class. Perhaps it is their indifference, their stoicism, people from the US are reacting to. What Camus wrote about in THE STRANGER.

That may be, but not in the case of this lady. Maybe we those things about the French after leaving here as something everyone else accepts and is in agreement with to bring home with us to build up our stock when we return to our relentless and circular and empty lives. So far I have been here just a few hours, but thus far, I have been treated wonderfully. Well, maybe that is because I feel more at home here than I do at home.

We waited downstairs at the hotel, and when Mike and Jim got back down, Mike said, “I just want to warn you, the hotel room is very small, way smaller than anything I’ve ever experienced in a hotel room before.”

Was that a complaint? More an observation, I think. Jim thought small rooms mean more rooms mean more money. That could be. That could also be the perspective we brought with us. Perhaps all you need in a hotel room is a place to sleep and freshen up. No one in their right mind would spend a whole lot of time in their hotel room in this city. Or perhaps the French way is intimacy. Looking around at the cafe's, everyone sits close to each other. Is that part of the same thing? The city itself is big. Huge. Bigger than it actually is. And it is enchanting.

Having gotten their their hotel details sorted out, Mike, Jim, Pete and I walked back to Place de Clichy and to café le Petit Poucet, another of Henry’s favorite places. It conveniently sits on a corner adjacent to cafe Wepler.

Those two cafe's together in that location, just across the street from one another, bring on vast imaginings of what nights there must have been. Gathering places where lots of music, dancing, food and talk took place. The raucous nights. Shadows moving in and out of brightly lit and smoky rooms, the air outside roiling with the scents of the wine, perfume, of dirty, smelly body’s, the whole thing embroiled in rolling conversation, beer, wine and whiskey. All the grabbing, the touching, the longing and feeling. The singing. The laughter. Ah, the laughter. I quickly found you hear constant laughter in France. Out loud laughter. It is somewhere always around you. And listening beyond, the French language is music. When the French speak in their language, they don’t just accent a piece of a word, they use whole parts of words to accent and express.

Just one word, bonjour, is enough to know. Once you hear a French person say it, you don't forget. In the second syllable the whole voice raises as the syllable moves along, the sound coming up from the belly through the chest and out the canyon. You can almost see the body moving with the word, the arms moving up and out, the body rising up on its feet. Bring food into the mix. If food is the most important thing in France, and it is that, its taste is its greatest testament, unbelievably fantastic, then it follows that those hands and minds and imaginations that create that food must always be accompanied by feeling good. No wonder there is music in the language enveloped in laughter. Musical language, laughter, yeah, that would create good food. Make that, great food.

Yes, I can just imagine the activity. Groups of people falling out onto the street in front of and in between and on the sides of those cafés. What nights those must have been. And they all knew each other, the drinkers, the whores, the café keepers, the whole lot, and all gathered in thunderous herds, many of them with thunderous and thundering words. If I could go back in time I would fall squarely in the midst of it.

Yes, Le Petit Poucet, one of Henry Miller's favorite places to be.

As Pete pointed out to me, reminded me, much of Henry Miller’s correspondence was written on letterhead from this café. I had completely forgotten. And what a nice surprise to be reminded. In fact, here is a page from that correspondence.

cafe le Petit Poucet

And this then, is the inside of le Petit Poucet. Just imagine this being one of your regular places you enjoy food and good company.

Pete and I left Mike and Jim to have breakfast there and went off retrieve Felista. Back onto the Metro.

Back out the door, with Felista, and onto the Metro again.

Metro Arcueil Cachan

Just now here my second day and beginning to get a sense of what the Metro looks like, how one line interchanges with another, how it works and what to expect. One thing about it, as Pete pointed out, is that the doors do not open automatically. If you want to get on or off the train, you have to open the door using a handle.

Everything is well marked, Maps are everywhere, easy to read and follow. Just a matter of familiarizing myself enough. It is obvious to me how those running this system have taken great care to make sure they have done everything they can to accommodate people moving through their system. And if maps are not enough, there is always someone available to help, either in booths or walking around.


Pete and Mike had decided where to meet, Felista and I following along, looking at this and that. Or gazing. What else could I do? Geez, what a place. A culture shock. I look around and am fascinated by things as simple as lampposts.

Lampposts

As we strolled along, I am not sure strolling is the word for it, my eyes were bugging out of my head. Yesterday we ventured into fairly well known places, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine river, but this architecture, unbelievably detailed and ornate, though I’d seen a bit of yesterday, is now everywhere and on top of me and all over me. "Look, dad, the Cathedral Notre Dame is over their", pointing, then turned away before I could say anything. I didn't see anything I thought looked like it, well, yea, there was a cathedral off in the distance, peeking above trees. It was quite a distance from where we were, as far as I could tell. Cathedral Notre Dame was in our plans for today. Not yet there, however. We turned a corner and there, before my eyes, the Palace of Justice, or, if you prefer, Palais De Justice. Whoa.

Palais De Justice

Pete and Mike had decided where to meet, but still there were a bit of final directions needed, so Pete directed him to us.

Ah yes, the Palace of Justice. I was particularly interested in seeing it because within the past year I had read, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, which opens at the Palace of Justice, amid the rowdies and such and a play that never seemed to get under way, and one lone character sitting aloft observing the ruckus below.

I had read the book in honor of Pete being in Paris his first time. While he was there I had started reading it. I say I had started because it took me more than a couple of weeks, which was the length of time Pete was there, to finish it. At the time I read it, I had no idea I would be standing be in Paris myself within the year. And now here I am standing in the courtyard of the Palace of Justice. As you can imagine, I am pretty nearly in ecstasy.

Ah yes, the Palace of Justice. I was particularly interested in seeing it because within the past year I had read, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, which opens at the Palace of Justice, amid the rowdies and such and a play that never seemed to get under way, and one lone character sitting aloft observing the ruckus below.

I had read the book in honor of Pete being in Paris his first time. While he was there I had started reading it. I say I had started because it took me more than two or three weeks to finish it. At the time I read it, I had no idea I would be standing be in Paris myself within the year. And now here I am standing in the courtyard of the Palace of Justice.

This was also my first in depth look at the ornate beauty of Paris. Good gracious. What a place. Every sight you see here is moving poetry to the eye. The windows, the wrought iron, the gates, the fences, the ornate churches.

Of course, Pete knew I’d be interested in seeing it. He had recently read it himself, so we were sharing the experience of it. No doubt he was looking for the same things I was. So here it is, the place of the opening of one of the most famous books ever written, written by one of France’s greatest authors. Meaning, of course, one of the world’s greatest authors.

I looked around trying to get a sense of how things played out in the book, but no matter how and where I looked, no matter the full stretch of my imagination, none of it fit in with what I’d imagined. Well then, I’ll just leave that imaginative place in place and get on with the business of enjoying what I am seeing. And what is before my eyes, almost pains the eye to see. The astounding intricate work done on the front of buildings, on the side of buildings, on the top of buildings, the steeple work, the colors, the statues, the gate work, and on and on and on. I mean, am I in a museum or what?

The Palace of Justice was my first in-depth look at the elaborate architecture of France. Naturally, I’ve seen pictures of Versailles, and that is amazing, but to see this with my own eyes, for the first time, standing right in front of it, after having it described in a novel, whew. When I first came around the corner and saw before my eyes what I was looking at, I stopped and stood just stood, transfixed. You know how tourists are so obvious. I was one of those. Heck, I was getting rushes every minute. I like rushes. I stay around and enjoy them. It is like listening to great music. You can’t be doing your laundry while being overwhelmed by, say, Beethoven, or Mendelssohn, or someone like that. This is the same.

Ornate to a degree I could hardly fathom before I’d seen it. On the left a church, or what I imagine is a church, all with extremely elaborate steeples, and on the right a three story high building, with wide tall windows, an elaborate façade. If building on the right, I don’t know what it is, it could be an administrative building of some sort, were to stand alone, it is a building that would stop you and make you look, but the surrounding buildings are so incredible, it falls into the background.

On it every wall is decorated with something. It is just an old building, and there again, available space the French have filled with something beautiful and artistic. What an attitude. What a positive life-force energizing attitude. And everywhere around you, the faces of the people looking at these renderings, you see wonder on the faces of those of us visiting, and pleasantness on the faces of those living here. You could live here for a thousand years and not get tired of these sights, all the while being constantly uplifted. But then, that is beauty for you. Beauty is something that invigorates the eye each time you see it.

I’m going to have these sights within my eye-view from now on, forever within my imagination, knowing all the while, what is possible. Beauty is possible That's what, always and everywhere.

There's Mike, taking pictures of these incredible artistic works of art.

Can you believe this?

Off to where next?

Comments 1 comment

Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

It's interesting, isn't it, how the most ordinary mundane things can seem special, when one is visiting somewhere new?!

My family members are often surprised, when I take photos of lamp-posts and shop fronts, etc ~ just very ordinary things ~ but not quite like those we see at home :)

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