École de Paris & All that Jazz

by Maria Koby

Imagine Paris circa 1920. Montparnasse. You are a young promising artist from Eastern Europe. Someone like Isaac Pailes or Jacques Chapiro, en route from Kiev via Constantinople to the city of love, snails, chevre, wine, fashion and art. Your curiosity is insatiable, and like a hungry wolf you’re devouring Montmarte, small brick streets and its amusing peculiar inhabitants. When twilight breaks, you walk in Cafe de la Rotonde. The smoke of tobacco cigarette, dissonant chords, and scattered beats envelope you from head to toe. Up on the stage, a tall exotic creole creature undulates intensely, au naturel. That’s Josephine Baker. Welcome to the Jazz Age!  Spontaneously, your legs start swinging too, but a pleasant exhaustion takes over; you find a garcon and order a glass of absinthe. You’re looking for an empty spot at the table. Alas, all seats are taken. But suddenly, out of the tobacco haze, someone waves at you amicably. You walk towards the table behind the center stage. Three friendly faces greet you affectionately. It is a common thing that at the place like that artists are never treated like aliens. Come and meet your friends, Picasso, Modigliani and Leger! You are discombobulated and overwhelmed by such a rapid turns. “Relax.” Leger instructs. “Here, a man relaxes and recaptures his taste for life, his frenzy to dance, to spend money…An explosion of life-force fills the world.” You get it alright. The bits and pieces of conversation blends with absinthe, jokes and dances. Soon Oscar Wilde joins your small party. Soon Josephine Baker asks you for a dance. Soon absinthe kicks off. Soon a green muse visits you and in your head you start drawing various sketches. Cubism, expressionism. Soon the night will end and all broke you might head to la Ruche where you will perhaps share a studio with Amadeo. It’s going to be a prolific experience. A lot of art work, lots of wine, snails and chevre, and occasionally absinthe. Men and women, lovers and friends, chaos and brawls. Sometimes peace. Imagine..

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