Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Corner in Montparnasses

For the reader, the delight of a walk in any direction in central Paris is coming upon a street, a building plaque, or a café that notes its association with a writer. A walk in Montparnasses is a reminder of American writers in the 1920s who often met in the cafés there. Since the 1400s when Francois Villon, considered the first author in Paris, wrote “The Ballad of the Hanged Men” while in his jail cell—he was convicted of murder—Paris attracted disaffected and unconventional artists from around the world who wanted space to exercise intellectual freedom. Before 1900 writers came from America, many of which are chronicled in David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. Woody Allen’s movie, Midnight in Paris, imagines a contemporary aspiring American novelist, Gil Pender, time-traveling to the 1920s. In the 1920s, American writers who came to Pairs often met at cafés in Montparnasses.

At the beginning of the 20th century to escape the tourists and the mafia, artists from Montmartre on the right bank began to migrate to Montparnasses on the left bank. The opening of a metro line in 1910 between Montmartre and Montparnasses hastened the departure of many artists from the right bank, but also kept the connection between the two artists’ enclaves.

In the 17th century, Montparnasses, named for the home of the god of poetry, Apollo, was a ruble heap that attracted university poets. The following two centuries the area was ignored by most artists. Chateaubriand and Balzac, who because of their financial woes, did choose to live in this cheap neighborhood. Today, Rodin’s Balzac overlooks the intersection of Blvd. du Montparnasses, Blvd. Raspail, and Rue Delambre in Montparnasses. The intersection is known as Place Pablo Picasso and can be accessed from the No. 4 metro line at the Vavin station (named for Alexi Vavin, 1792-1865, a statesman who opposed the coup of Napoleon III). Here in the heart of artistic Montparnasses several eateries dominate the corners. At these cafés, writers met, wrote, and explored ideas and tourists swarmed to get a glimpse of them in the 1920s.

Le Dôme
The oldest café and restaurant at this location opened in 1898. Le Dôme, when facing northeast toward the Montparnasses Tower, is on the left. From the beginning, this café attracted bohemian artists and models and until WWI, German and northern Europeans. After WWI, Americans came attracted to Paris because it was cheap, liquor was available, and its lack of priggishness. Le Dôme’s huge terrassa, now mostly glassed-in, became the “home” for American writers, artists, and journalists. The regulars, writers many of whom already had achieved some success, were terrible snobs. An often repeated encounter at Le Dôme happened one night where Sinclair Lewis, then "a hugely successful author of Main Street and Babbitt, was overheard boasting about one of his books on the terrace, [when] someone at a table shouted, 'Sit down, you’re just a best seller.'" One of the habitués was American writer and publisher Robert McAlmon, best known as publisher of Hemingways’s first book in 1923, Ten Stories and Ten Poems.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Escape the Ordinary: OCP

Local Hero Ron Copeland and a Brief History of Our Community Place

This year’s adult summer reading program theme is Escape the Ordinary. Massanutten Regional Library will host one extraordinary local resident on Monday, June 8 at 1:00 p.m. at the Main library in downtown Harrisonburg.

The early days

Ron Copeland bought The Little Grill in 1992 at the age of 24. As the story goes, he underestimated the appetites of the JMU homecoming weekend crowd, and with nothing to cook on Monday, he stayed closed. It was so nice, he stopped opening Mondays. A few weeks later, when a man turned up at the locked door looking for food, Ron let him in. The Grill’s weekly Soup Kitchen was born. "It bothered me to live in a poor neighborhood, where there was a certain segment of the population that couldn't eat in my restaurant," Copeland said. But "a soup kitchen can only do so much. ... The loneliness [among the poor] is incredible."[1]

Recognizing the need for building community as well as filling stomachs, grassroots organization Our Community Place (OCP) was formed by Soup Kitchen volunteers in 1999. As early as April 2000, the Daily News-Record was reporting on OCP’s plan to purchase a city building to create a community center, which would expand upon the civic-minded mission of the Soup Kitchen. In addition to the weekly meal, they planned for free classes, study groups, 12-step programs, a community garden, and more. "I want to become reliant on the people in my geographic community for my happiness and well-being," Copeland said. "I want to be involved in the lives of my neighbors no matter who they are."[2] The group hoped to break down social barriers through cooperative community meals, shared activities, and work.

OCP bought the former Salvation Army chapel on the corner of Johnson and Main in January 2001. Though they had considered purchasing the building for several years, they were spurred into action when the City announced plans to turn the adjacent stretch of Blacks Run into a concrete culvert. Since then, taking care of the creek has become just another facet of OCP’s neighborly work. Throughout 2001, the group raised money through “monthly dinner shows, yard sales, a spring festival and the oft reliable jug-on-the-counter at the Little Grill.”[3] To make up the rest of the funds, OCP solicited small loans from many local residents, rather than one large bank loan. On January 2, 2002, they were able to cut a check for the full amount of the mortgage and start renovations with zero debt.