Spring in Montparnasse

A beautiful weekend. Temperature climbing, no rain, even the sun made an extended appearance. Saturday I discovered a lovely little museum dedicated to the work of Antoine Bourdelle, a sculptor of monuments. Really big images of horses and generals, but also friezes to decorate theatres and museums. The man never thought small, but the most evocative room in the museum was his studio. Perfect.

Studio of Antoine Bourdelle

Entrance to the exhibits is free, but since I always manage to find a way to spend money—and you cannot leave without passing through the bookstore—I picked up a guide to the legendary locations of Montparnasse: cafés, ateliers, hotels, all the good stuff. And since I’m immersed in Paris culture of the twenties and thirties, Sunday became a walking tour.

La Rotonde

La Rotonde, Le Select, La Coupole, and Le Dôme are all within one block on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, so bar-hopping could be managed with a minimum of exertion, an important consideration in a time when drinking, smoking, and sex were the primary forms of exercise. The guide has historical as well as contemporary photographs and it’s interesting to see how things have changed. Of course, prices have gone up along with skyscrapers but in the 1930’s these places weren’t really restaurants, as they are now. Back then, there were more people than cars, so the sidewalks were wider, the roadway narrower, and the cafés spilled out into the street. There are night photos by Brassaï—the man only slept when the sun came up—that show crowded café tables stretching to the curb.

La Coupole

Of course it all changes and maybe it’s surprising how much is still recognizable. Rue Delambre still houses the three hotels where Man Ray, Simone de Beauvoir, and André Breton once lived.

Hotel des Bains

The rue de la Gaïté is still a street of theaters and the crowds were there for Sunday matinees. The Hotel Istria is still on the rue Campagne-Première although Duchamp, Satie, Rilke, and Kiki de Montparnasse no longer roam the halls, and down the street, behind a shop where Atget sold his photographs, there is a long low building known as Ateliers d’Artistes, a haven for those who abandoned Montmartre (too many tourists?), to settle down around the corner from Bal Bullier and La Closerie des Lilas. The rent wasn’t much, the neighbors were sometimes rowdy but always interesting. A few doors down, a plaque marks the former home of the writers, Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet. Probably a quieter place.

Entrance to Ateliers d’Artistes

©2018 Ron Scherl

Bastille Day

The weekend celebration actually kicked off Friday night with a tour of the outdoor art exhibit throughout town, followed by a paella dinner at the kiosque. I had every intention of covering this event for my loyal readers but there was serious competition, a very good group was playing at the café. Three women playing guitar and various percussion instruments and singing beautifully took a wonderful musical world tour: Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Africa, Spain, the US and France. It was a great show so I opted for the music and merguez over the paintings and paella.

Bastille Day 2012 ©2012 Ron Scherl

Bastille Day ceremonies began about 10 AM when people gathered in the Place de la Mairie. Flags were flying, the mayor wore his sash and the veterans their medals. Not many left now and the ones that are served in Algeria. Since official France does not consider that war to have been a war, the medals were awarded for service in the “maintenance of order.”

Bastille Day 2012 ©2012 Ron Scherl

The firefighters and their teenage trainees led the march from the Mairie through town to the war memorial, which is in the cemetery. There, flowers were placed, the mayor made a short speech and asked for a moment of silence for those who sacrificed for France. Then we marched back up to the Mairie for a short ceremony honoring the living veterans who were present at which point the mayor invited everyone to join him at the café for a drink. That’s France in a nutshell: patriotism, recognition and a pastis.

Bastille Day: The Mayor ©2012 Ron Scherl

I felt it was my duty as a legal resident to see this through so I joined the group at the café and received cheers and nods of approval when I ordered a glass of Maury. This was not your usual café crowd. For one thing, it’s probably the first time since I went to shoot bingo at the club for the elderly, that I wasn’t the oldest person in the room; and also, the place was not quite up to the standards of some of the first-time patrons. The tables weren’t properly cleaned, the glasses didn’t sparkle and the Schweppes was lemonade. When the Maury was served, several people were sure it wasn’t the real deal, so the glass was passed to Pierrette, the president of the Cave Cooperative, who pronounced it real Maury Blanc. That still didn’t satisfy, so the glass went to Paul, the former president who agreed with Pierrette. With the wine suitably blessed, another round was ordered. Still not everyone was happy and the lemonade went to water the tree.

The evening brought fireworks, a rock band and more eating and drinking for a distinctly younger crowd outdoors at the kiosque. It’s getting hard to keep up.

Bastille Day 2012 ©2012 Ron Scherl



The Café

“Grand Hotel…always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”


In Maury, everyone comes to the café Friday nights. When I arrive Richard and Bob are sitting with Bardot who’s on his semi-hourly pastis break from painting my house. I go to buy him another and gather hugs from the kids on my way to the bar. Bob and I discuss an apartment for rent next door to his house that he had arranged for me to see, but it’s not for me. I need more, a comfortable place where I can feel at home. Meanwhile, Richard is fielding a call from the US and Bardot lets himself into Ben’s house and emerges with a flat of tomato plants. The next day Bardot shows me his garden and where he’s planting Ben’s tomatoes.


Jean-Roger and the rain arrive at about the same time, but when the rain turns to hail, JR dashes off to the vineyards to check the vines. The fruit is just beginning to form and is extremely vulnerable to hail. He returns with a report of not much damage and everyone smiles and another round appears.


He also mentions a house that will be available soon and promises to find out more. I’ll need to follow up.


The children love the rain and I become the adult designated to lift the kids up to push the rain off the awning. Did I forget to mention that we are outside? Smokers.


Aimee has a small encounter with a very small dog, many tears but not much damage. The dog’s owner then gets a bit of a talking to from Pierre, the proprietor, who follows it up by buying him a drink.


Sarah appears and tells me how much she loved meeting my sister. She talks for a bit about how important siblings are, how they ground us, connect us to the past and most of all to family. I say little, thinking instead of other connections. Sarah mentions that her brother is coming for a visit and she’s sure I’ll like him.


Jean-Roger leaves and Manu arrives with young Clarice. The rain stops, starts again, and then the sky clears.


Marcel stops in for a beer followed by Taieb the hunter and Jean Pla, who is now a negociant, buying wine from coops and selling it under his own labels. He has an “End of the World” cuvé from Bugarach that’s a big seller. Taieb is a hunter of wild boar but he doesn’t eat pork so I asked him if the pleasure for him was in the hunt. He responded by inviting me to go with him, just to shoot cameras, not guns. I agreed and we made a tentative plan subject to weather, etc.

Taieb ©2012 Ron Scherl


Pizza appears and the pizza kid has not taken my advice. He needs to put the chorizo on top of the cheese and put the pizza on the floor of the oven, not on a tray so the crust can bake. Having established myself as a photographer I now need to turn some of my attention to pizza. So much work, so little time.


Fragments of conversation roll around the tables until overwhelmed by a political rant clearly anti-government, but otherwise unintelligible to me and most everyone else. I understand very little but it really doesn’t seem to matter. I nod, shrug, pet the dog, make the pff sound and non, non, say beh, shake my head, order a drink. It resembles a conversation until I head for home.

Sunday Evening

Sundays are family days in Maury: the oldest generation usually hosting the younger ones for long lunches. Next door, Therese’s son and daughter in law come every week and Therese is out early making sure no one takes their parking space in front of the house. Up and down the street, people arrive for lunch with an armload of baguettes and children in tow.


No market today, the boulangerie is open in the morning, then a little after noon the town goes quiet, everyone at table. I’d expect to see large-pot stews: coq au vin, perhaps a blanquette de veau or wild boar when the hunters have been successful in protecting the vines. The vin de Maury is an aperitif and the local grenache noir will anchor the entrée.


Today the wind is up, blowing through the valley with a force strong enough to shake this old stone walled house. It’s autumn and life is beginning to move indoors. Harvest is almost over with very few vineyards left to pick, colors are changing, evenings are a little cooler, sweaters and jackets reappear.


Photo of men in front of painting
Fantasy Cafe ©2011 Ron Scherl

Families are back in their cars and heading home in the early evening as I go out for a walk. There are still a few hours of daylight and the quiet streets and fresh air are a pleasure. Although shutters are rattling and leaves blowing, it’s still warm and the air is soft. Businesses are closed and few people are out. The men have convened for their nightly photo op in front of the trompe l’oeil café, but the wind has kept the women from the olive tree salon. Occasionally the sound of a television leaks out onto the narrow streets and bounces off the close buildings.


Now here’s a hopeful sign posted on the window of the cafe.

Photo of sign announcing closure of cafe
Sign in the Window of the Cafe ©2011 Ron Scherl

If ever a business was in need of change it’s our café. Let’s hope for friendly proprietors, good pizza, sandwiches and local wine. Is that too much to ask?


This is a great time to walk up the road to Lesquerdes with camera and tripod and photograph the village and vineyards as the sun sets. It’s especially beautiful when the winds have recently blown through and cleared the air; the light seems to etch the edges of vines and mountains and picks out details not often seen. This quiet time also allows for longer and more contemplative shooting which lets me see the texture that the camera doesn’t always render but the mind can still record.

Photo of Maury and Mountains

Watching the light change on the mountains, etching the shape of a 12th century chateau, evoking the age of the land itself brings an understanding that the Maury wine revolution and societal changes that will follow are a small part of the story. Yes, there will be changes, there’s money coming in and more will follow. Tourist trade will increase, hotels will be built, but I wouldn’t worry that new, more popular wines or the influx of foreigners like myself will spoil this place because wine is made in the vineyards. The land is unspoiled, the connection of the people to the land is profound and the continuity of generations that keeps this town alive preserves the spirit and traditions that make it a wonderful place to live.


Visa Pour L’Image

Here’s the Place Republique in Perpignan most days:

Market in Perpignan
Market in the Place Republique, Perpignan ©2009 Ron Scherl

Like many great cities, Perpignan provides a lovely public space that serves as meeting place, living room, market and cafe for many people. The market is there most mornings and the square is surrounded by good food shops and cafes. Think of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or the Piazza San Marco in Venice, now scale it down in size, number of tourists and architectural ambition and you have the Republique in Perpignan, a place appropriate to its setting.

Now take a look at the place in the evening during Visa Pour L’Image:

Photo of Visa crowd
Overflow crowd at Visa Pour L'Image ©2011 Ron Scherl

This is one night in a week of presentations and this is the overflow audience, those who couldn’t get in to the program at the Campo Santo. They’ve filled the plaza to watch the video broadcast of the presentation of the year’s best photojournalism. It’s astonishing to see a crowd like this paying attention to the images and paying homage to those journalists who risk everything to tell a story. I’m in awe of them and very fond of this city that welcomes and honors them.

Incredible Images, great storytelling, courage, a commitment to telling the truth, as we democratize the news and encourage citizen reporting, it’s important to remember the value of professionalism.