The spot where I meet my groups for the start of my “Lost Generation” Montparnasse walking tour is at the foot of Auguste Rodin’s mighty, larger-than-life bronze statue of Honoré de Balzac. This walk is about the expatriate writers in this part of Paris of the 1920s, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and others. That’s what my walkers are here for. But before we move off on the walk itself, everyone wants to know about this statue -- and rightly so. It is a very strange sculpture with a very strange history to match.
In 1891, Emile Zola talked the Société des Gens de Lettres, of which he was the president, into commissioning a statue honoring the founder of their literary society, Balzac, who had died forty years earlier. Rodin, a great fan of Balzac’s writing, was awarded the commission. He promised to deliver it in eighteen months. After missing several deadlines he finally came up with a model that pleased him: a squat barrel of a Balzac exploding with raw vigor and, other than a band of cloth covering the massive bulge in his crotch, utterly naked. “Indécent et hideux” was the judgment of the literary society.
So Rodin went back to his studio and eventually created the final version: the giant Balzac we see today with the famous monk’s cowl he wore when he was writing cloaking his body from shoulder to foot, a blur of a face, and deep, dark pits for his visionary eyes. Rodin exhibited the work in a full-sized plaster model at the Salon of 1898. The critics threw up their hands. They called it “a colossal fetus,” “Balzac in a bag,” “an obese monstrosity,” “a snowman” … Zola liked it, but he was no longer president of the society, and his role in the Dreyfus case (1898 being the year of “J’accuse”) made him too controversial to be any help to Rodin. The Société des Gens de Lettres rejected the statue.
Four decades later, on July 2, 1939, the statue, now cast in bronze, was installed here on the leafy traffic island at the central crossroads of Montparnasse, the Carrefour Vavin, where the Boulevards du Montparnasse and Raspail intersect, facing the Café Rotonde and Le Dôme. Another bronze casting of this Balzac statue stands in the garden of the Rodin Museum on the Rue de Varenne in Paris, and inside the museum is the “indécent et hideux” version which was so shocking to the literary society.
David Burke is the author of Writers in Paris, Literary Lives in the City of Light, and the personal tour guide of David Burke’s Writers in Paris Walks. To learn about the book and the walks and the writer go to www.writersinparis.com. David is also a documentary filmmaker and former 60 MINUTES writer/producer who came to Paris for what he thought would be a year, but turned into more twenty. He now divides his time between Paris and New York.
My Apartment for Rent
I am renting my fabulous one -bedroom apartment from November 1- November 16 in the heart of the Marais near St. Paul. For more info email me at email@example.com
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 210 euros for up to 3 people, and 70 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com
Click here to watch a video of our famous Marais tour
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am happy to announce the sale of a new set of prints of my Eye Prefer Paris Photos. I am offering 20 of my most popular and iconic images for sale including my doors, architectural details, statues, and monuments. They will make great gifts for all your Francophile friends, relatives, and colleagues but don't forget to buy some for yourself.
Click here to see photos and for full details including sizes, prices, and shipping. Here is a sample of some of the photos.