Fr Cn De Es Pt It

IX - La Bohème du Tertre


Painting by Jean-Marc Guéroux

That morning, Elisa was walking down the Rue Gabrielle to choose the café where she would have her traditional croissant and café au lait (after her dose of noni juice and green tea in the morning at home).

As she passed by No. 31, she heard Tom (Gé) singing some of his own songs. She stopped on the sidewalk, stunned, to listen. They reminded her of certain songs by Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen that go right to your guts as soon as you hear the first chords.

One day, Tom had written her a poem, scribbled out in five minutes before their Christmas dinner. This poem was one of Elisa’s treasures and if she had a safe, she would have kept the original inside.

It was 7 in the morning. Tom had just gotten home from his night watch at the depressing hotel of Porte de la Chapelle and was already offering Montmartre his morning poetry.

A few steps away, some crystalline notes of the neighbourhood’s soprano floated out of an open window. Elisa wished she knew this woman, who offered Montmartre residents “outdoor concerts” in the morning, sometimes Mozart, sometimes Puccini…

She decided to walk up to the Place du Tertre for her coffee. She rarely came to this touristy area. Also, Ertann had asked her not to come there. He would be embarrassed of his work as a portraitist at the square in front of “his chick”.

But Ertann hadn’t come to work for several days. Elisa knew this because the drawing board hadn’t budged from the space under the stairs, where it kept home with a water meter, on Rue Gabrielle. This is where Ertann stored his material.

Elisa always glanced at it as she walked by to see if Prince Ertann was nearby.

He refused to walk around with his drawing board outside of Montmartre. His pride was hurt by the need to solicit tourists in order to draw them.

Elisa had a lot of respect for the portraitists of Montmartre. She didn’t see anything humiliating about their work. But she could imagine how the closed-minded view of so many people could affect their morale. This belittling by the “intellectuals” was compounded by the rough treatment from the cops of the area, who liked to feel that the artists were at their mercy. Elisa thought that the City of Paris should pay the artists of the Butte, because their presence attracted millions of tourists each year.

So that morning, she chose La Bohème du Tertre, at the corner of Rue Norvins and Rue du Mont Cenis, for the perfect view that the bistro terrace offered of the makeshift portraitists. These were standing portraitists who didn’t have a licence for a seated place at the Place du Tertre and who, as a consequence, had to make a run for it when the cops showed up.

Ertann, who wouldn’t take attitude from anyone, had broken a cop’s nose when a group of them had shoved him around one day. He ended up in front of a judge and was given a six month suspended sentence. Each time the cops appeared, he was filled with an irresistible desire to leave the Butte for good.

After a croissant (much better than she had imagined for such a touristy place) and a delicious café au lait (still… it cost 7 euros in all), a portraitist came up to the table. She asked his price. euros 60, but for you, I’ll make it euros 20.”

Alright then. Elisa had told herself she would select the best portraitists in order to promote them and get them appointments. The portraitist’s name was Surian and he came from Lithuania.

Ertann had told her about a painter from Eastern Europe who was one of the most interesting portraitists of the Place du Tertre. He did cubist portraits that truly stood out from the rest. In five minutes, Surian sketched Elisa with a sure hand. The result didn’t resemble her, except for the long hair, but Elisa granted him “artistic licence”.

(Ertann later commented: “What? You had a drawing done by Surian? It’s Magnok you should have looked for, a tall skinny guy with a scar and a pipe.”)

La Bohème was the perfect spot for observing the artists and their interaction with the tourists, but also the comings and goings of the suppliers, the café waiters enjoying the sun… Everyone knew each other here and life seemed very sweet indeed on this particular morning at the Place du Tertre.

A group of Japanese girls, wearing pink and black striped tights and holding multicoloured parasols, walked past the bar. A lovely and picturesque pattern for the artists of the square.

La Bohème:
A very kind waitress, who put up with the fact that Elisa changed her seat three times to avoid the sun on this scorching hot day. The portraitists are allowed on the terrace. The set menus of French cuisine are priced at 28 or 34 euros.

Elisa hadn’t tested the food yet…

Outside, a simple bistro design with burgundy and off-white tones. The interior was very theatrical: burgundy velvet curtains with golden braiding and large frescoes in frames that were gilded and moulded with exuberance. Golden sculptures, a beautiful oak floor… All in all, a welcoming place.

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