bohemian paris

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The Heaven (Le Ciel) and Hell (l’Enfer) cabarets of Montmartre, Paris. 1880s.

In the 1899 book Bohemian Paris of To-Day by William Chambers Morrow and Édouard Cucuel, the authors visit several of the City of Lights darker drinking destinations and describes l’Enfer thusly:

“Enter and be damned, the Evil One awaits you!“ growled a chorus of rough voices as we hesitated before the scene confronting us. Near us was suspended a caldron over a fire, and hopping within it were half a dozen devil musicians, male and female, playing a selection from "Faust” on stringed instruments, while red imps stood by, prodding with red-hot irons those who lagged in their performance.

Crevices in the walls of this room ran with streams of molten gold and silver, and here and there were caverns lit up by smouldering fires from which thick smoke issued, and vapors emitting the odors of a volcano. Flames would suddenly burst from clefts in the rocks, and thunder rolled through the caverns. Red imps were everywhere, darting about noiselessly, some carrying beverages for the thirsty lost souls, others stirring the fires or turning somersaults. Everything was in a high state of motion.

And right next door to the Cabaret de l'Enfer was Cabaret du Ciel (“The Cabaret of the Sky”), a divinely themed bar where Dante and Father Time greeted visitors and comely ladies dressed as angels pranced around teasing patrons. As Morrow recalled, the evening’s entertainment was presided over by St. Peter himself, who anointed the boozy crowd:

Flitting about the room were many more angels, all in white robes and with sandals on their feet, and all wearing gauzy wings swaying from their shoulder-blades and brass halos above their yellow wigs. These were the waiters, the garcons of heaven, ready to take orders for drinks. One of these, with the face of a heavy villain in a melodrama and a beard a week old, roared unmelodiously, “The greetings of heaven to thee, brothers! Eternal bliss and happiness are for thee. Mayst thou never swerve from its golden paths! Breathe thou its sacred purity and renovating exaltation. Prepare to meet thy great Creator and don’t forget the garcon!” 

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Vali Myers (2 August 1930 – 12 February 2003) was an Australian visionary artist, dancer, bohemian and muse of the 1950s and 1960s in Europe and the United States. Photographer, Ed van der Elsken, made Vali the main subject of a series of photographs documenting bohemian life in postwar Paris published in the book ‘Love on the Left Bank’ in 1956. She was acquainted with many celebrities and creatives including Tennessee Williams, Salvador Dalí, Django Reinhardt, Jean Cocteau, Patti Smith, Jean Genet, Sam Shepard and many others.

ELSA SCHIAPARELLI, Detail of the fashion design icone apartment, 22 Rue de Berri, Paris, France, 1969

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Times of the Day. 1899. Alphonse Mucha.

Each: 14 ½ x 40 ½ in./36.7 x 103 cm

In subdued pastels, this “quartet of barefoot young ladies represents the different times of the day. The borders are decorated in identical patterns … and the crisscross areas at the top have different floral panels. Each girl appears in an outdoor setting, with slender trees or tall flowers emphasizing her slim figure … The borders are worked out in such an exquisite pattern that each picture appears to be mounted in an elaborate frame of its own, or else seen through a decorated window. Quite possibly Mucha’s whole concept for the series was that of gothic stained-glass windows” (Rennert/Weill, p. 232). This larger-format variant does not include the bottom text indicating the individual time of day.

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“I haven’t met many Romani people in New York yet. In Paris, the scene was rich and flourishing. The audience was captivated by this culture and you could see it inspired the way they dressed and the music they listened to. There is a bohemian quality to Paris that invites the people there to take interest in such things, but New York is very modern and business oriented. Most people don’t even know about the Romani culture. It’s funny though how jazz and Romani culture always seem to intertwine in my life: one important Romani figure I have met here and who has helped a lot with my career is patron of the arts Michael Katsobashvili, originally from Georgia, who launched the very first New York Hot Jazz Festival in a now legendary club called Mehanata. He also introduced me to a fabulous place called Drom, where I recorded part of “Music Explorer” and where many famous Romani bands from around the world have come to perform.” - Source