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George Plimpton

(Page 2 of 7)

"As they turned into their quarters across the street, their horses' hooves clattering on the cobblestones, they would glance haughtily from under their brims of their plumed helmets at the editors . . . as if a decent of cat burglers, their legs flailing briefly as they dropped from the facade of Edition Plon, was beneath their dignity to do anything about."

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Plimpton, alternatively referred to in the history as GAP, or The Editor, added in his Los Angeles hotel room, "The office was so small. You couldn't fit more than two people in there at once. We had one woman who weighed almost 400 pounds and when she was in the office we spent a great deal of time at the Cafe de Tournon."

The Tournon, just around the corner, was where the editors spread out their proof sheets, read new manuscripts, and discussed plans for the next issue. It was a slightly seedy establishment, but comfortably removed from the crowded cafes of St. Germain-des-Pres such as the Deux Maggots where tourists went hoping to glimpse Jean-Paul Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir.

"I remember sitting in the Cafe de Tournon afternoons," Plimpton says. "It was where everyone collected. Very smoky and very bright. There wasn't a dark corner in the place. I remember two pinball machines by the front door and an Irish setter named Arnauld."

The former literary beehive is now a working-class cafe. Arnauld is gone, and so is the marmalade cat who once lived across the street in the Hotel Helvetia. Most of the trappings of the Paris Review days have disappeared. There are no singing Brazilians or would-be novelists scanning the ceiling for inspiration. The proprietor, M. Alezard, sold the cafe three years before; Charles the infamous waiter has been replaced by Annie. The literary types have given way to ruddy-faced workmen in sooty overcoats and soggy boots who order grilled sandwiches variees.m The flippers on the pinball machines by the front door are in constant use.

Following a lait chaudm at the Tournon, I stopped by 8 Rue Garanciere, looking for the cubbyhole the Review editors had worked in. At the offices of Plon, now long since taken over by a publishing conglomerate, an editor in white sailor trousers informed me the building and business had been totally revamped since the Review moved away. Not only had the building been gutted and remodeled, but also, my informant confessed, she had never heard of the Paris Review.

"Everybody left, as far as I know, that used to be in our crowd," Plimpton says. "Mostly because of the expense. I don't know of any American colony in Paris today. My sister is a painter and writer living there, and she doesn't know of one either. It all seemed to move to New York and San Francisco to a certain degree."

Why had so many young American writers flocked to Paris in the '50s? Were they looking for the "movable feast" of Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald?

"I don't remember going there trying to emulate [the Lost Generation]. That would have been too pompous and pretentious. A lot of us were on the GI bill after the war and had money to continue our education and apprenticeship as writers. Paris was extremely inexpensive. One dollar would buy a dinner of biftekm and pommes frites.m Rent for a room in the studnt quarter was $15 a month, " recalls Plimpton, who bedded down in everything from a cat-infested toolshed to a spider-bitten Left Bank Hotel.

"It was the greatest city to be 20 in there was in the world."

When the Review published its first issue in the spring of 1953, it was a radical departure from its political predecessors. It was a time in Paris when "You were not considered serieuxm unless you were politically engage,"m recalls one staff member of the Review, which gave wide berth to words such as "Zeitgeist" and "archetectonics."