Fr Cn De Es Pt It

XIV - Le Ceni's

Painting by Jean-Marc Guéroux

Elisa brought her father here. He had insisted on going to a tourist café. Elisa had never been here, but had seen a few portraitists inside. She imagined that the owner was a generous person who supported the local artists.

The café was empty, but inviting: dark woodwork, bistro chairs and tables, a zinc bar and a lovely barmaid.

For lunch, Elisa had taken her father to the brasserie under the dome of Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann, a beautiful monument of turn-of-the-century architecture with its glass mosaic dome in primary colours creating a prism of the winter sun shining over Paris.

They had a glass of Chardonnay with the sea-bass fillet and caramelised fennel. Elisa ordered a simple potato purée with olive oil. Potatoes were her favourite food, so this “frugal meal” was a real feast for her.

Her father loved the Chardonnay from the Printemps bistro so much that he ordered another glass at Le Ceni’s that afternoon. But the only thing the two wines had in common was their name.

The cheese platter served in accompaniment was a “tourist cheese” selection that seemed imported from England.

Elisa’s father, who had rapidly gotten used to the fine cheeses crafted lovingly by Marie Bocquet on the Rue des Abbesses, refused to take a second bite. Seeing them at a table, two portraitists sat down and started sketching them, despite their refusals.

Elisa recognised Surian, who had drawn her “in the cubist fashion” two years ago, while she was enjoying a café au lait on the terrace of La Bohème de Tertre. In Surian’s portrait, Elisa looked like one of the Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Today, after assuring Elisa that she was even more beautiful than two years ago, Surian proved that Ertann was right once again when he had said: “Surian always makes the exact same portrait for stupid tourists. Only the length of the hair changes.”

Despite this abstraction, Elisa’s father complimented Surian. His colleague, who had also started a sketch in the meantime, had also finished a very abstract drawing.

When Elisa’s father gave them 50 euros to share between them for the non-commissioned portraits, a third man, this time a caricaturist, joined them at their table to start a drawing of Elisa, after assuring her that she would be hard to caricature because she was so perfect. The caricatures of the third man were equivalent, in their genre, to the cubist portrait by Surian, except that Surian’s art was less offensive than that of his colleague.

After demanding his pay for a grotesque drawing of Elisa that her father refused to accept, the caricaturist asked for drinks for himself and another artist who had just arrived.

Elisa thought it would be unfair to leave him with nothing and accepted immediately.

Roudy joined them at Le Ceni’s, ordered a Desperados and sneered at the portraitists who were taking advantage of his friends. He knew most of these men. While all of this was taking place, more artists arrived, asking Elisa to buy them drinks too.

Determined to put an end to their little game, Roudy took up his bottle of Desperados in one hand and the arm of Elisa’s father in the other, declaring: “You’re my pal. Now, let’s get out of here.”

Elisa paid the bill, a bit overwhelmed by the human misery here that hardly flattered the Butte...

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