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Grand Literary Cafes of Europe

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    TEMPTING VISITS TO MEMORABLE CAFES

    While it's always exciting to visit one of the many beautiful cafes in Europe, there's an added rush when one knows that Oscar Wilde once sat in the same room or that Picasso regularly ate where you are now ordering lunch. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all go on a grand tour to at least have a cup of coffee at the 40 cafes featured in this gorgeously illustrated volume? Since that's probably not in travel plans for most of us, 'The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe' is a delightful armchair visit. Author Fitch, an award-winning biographer and scholar on foreign artists in Paris, presents fascinating cultural histories of each café, while the photographs by Andrew Midgley are absolutely stunning (60 in black and white, and 90 in color). Following a brief history of coffee and the coffee houses, we visit the Café De La Paix in Paris's Grand Hotel. It is one of the 'last remaining cafes of the Belle Epoque,' and hosted Flaubert, Maupassant, and James, each of whom remembered the café in their novels. On to the center of Vienna and the Café Central, which was a favorite of Trotsky's and described by the poet Alfred Polgar as 'a place where people want to be alone, but need company to do so.' In 1900 the 16-year-old Pablo Picasso exhibited his art for the first time at Café Els Quatre Gats (the four cats) in Barcelona. At that time the walls of this café were covered with paintings as the owner tried to emulate Montmartre. After closing in 1936 the café reopened in the 1970s with regular literary meetings being held there since 1995. All of the cafes included in this unique volume, whether in Padua, St. Petersburg or Paris (which boasts 10) may be visited today. After leafing through 'The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe,' you may want to start packing - enjoy! - Gail Cooke

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