Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55

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After midnight, existentialists hide in the Tabou. The Tabou is the true sanctuary of the new generation. It is an old bistro in the Rue Dauphine where the local deliverymen drink.

These days there are two different Tabous, one above the other. On the ground floor, the bar: Swedes, Communist Americans with guitars and GI glasses, English queers, and so on. In the basement, the cellar.

The cellar is a most unwholesome place: a kilo of bread fresh from the oven is left at midday on a table and by six in the morning is reduced to a state of mouldy pulp. At about 2am it is a hell-hole. The tavern is so smoky that one would think a train had just passed through, leaving its vapour behind.

On certain nights the existentialists, who you can barely see through the fog, throw themselves screaming into frenzied jitterbugs and boogie-woogies. But mostly they sit staring fixedly at their glasses of tepid water. It is shocking to see their pale young faces and drooping air and the hopelessness of their gestures. Most of them have not eaten.

From the newspaper Samedi soir, 3 May 1947, quoted in Boris Vian, manuel de saint germain des pres edited by Noel Arnaud (Chene)

(Research: Kate Oldfield)

Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery until 5 September.

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