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Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery

I call the waiter.

Is that Simone de Beauvoir?

It is, he replies

Her coiffure, a construction. A diadem, her hair scraped back and then drawn up in a curving arc to the middle of her head. She ignores it, as a hommage to her great brow. Her brow: yes, an expanse. I flutter about above it, I bustle around, I have only an hour to live, I've said it, I say it again.

I hide my hands under the table, I see more and more clearly a female writer.

I order a second drink: thus habits are born.

Simone de Beauvoir was writing a book: where? In the same oxygen that I was breathing. About 10 metres separated her hand which held a pen from mine which held a cigarette. A woman, dressed like everyone else, was writing her books in public but did not look about her. She faded into the background in her concentration. No, this was not the cinema.

Further away, on the same row of seats is Jean-Paul Sartre, the waiter told me.

From La Folie en Tete, by Violette Leduc (Gallimard, Paris, 1970)

(Research by Kate Oldfield)

Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery until 5 September. Sponsored by the Independent and supported by the French Embassy in London.

Independent readers can get admission at the concessionary ticket rate of pounds 2.50 (full price pounds 4) on Monday to Friday from 10am-1pm. Discounts on catalogues, some Tate shop merchandise and extended Friends Membership (15 months for pounds 25), are also available at these times. These offers are only available on presentation of that day's copy of the Independent.

(Photograph omitted)