Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Café Tournon

Ayanna and Char across the street from the Café Tournon
© Discover Paris!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of providing the two lovely ladies pictured above with a private walking tour of the 5th and 6th arrondissements.  Our topic was Black Paris after World War II, and the final point of interest was the Café Tournon (visible in the background).  I talked at some length about the African-American expats who hung out at the Tournon during the walk, so by the time we arrived, Ayanna and Char were ready for a couple of stories that unfolded at the café.  These epitomize the humor and drama that characterized the relationships of the men who comprised the group.

I read a passage from William Gardner Smith's essay "Black Man in Europe" from Return to Black America, which describes the camaraderie of the group.  It included Richard Wright, Ollie Harrington, Chester Himes, and many others.  Smith described Harrington's keen storytelling ability, and spoke of the "raucous laughter that reverberated from the room" when Harrington told a joke.  He indicated that conversation often drifted toward the race problem in the U.S., and whether or not France was any better in this regard.

I then relayed the story of the "Gibson Affair," a tale of conflict, deceit, and accusations of espionage that proves the old adage that "truth is stranger than fiction."  Richard Gibson, a journalist at Agence France Presse (where Smith also worked), and Ollie Harrington had an altercation about Gibson's sublet of Harrington's apartment.  The two argued, and even fought publicly, over this issue.  But the underlying story of a plan to support the Algerian effort in the Franco-Algerian war that went awry, involving Gibson, Harrington, Smith, and others, marked a turning point in the relations among the African American expats of the era.

Café Tournon is well aware of its connection with African-American history in Paris.  Once, a waiter brought over a photo of Duke Ellington and Beauford Delaney seated in the café to a group that I led on a Black Paris walk.

Duke Ellington and Beauford Delaney at the Café Tournon
Photo from Paris Noir by Tyler Stovall

The Tournon's Web site acknowledges this history on a page entitled "Historique," which is complete with photos.  It also mentions the literary group Paris Review, founded by George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, Howard L. Humes, and others in 1953, that met regularly at the café.  William Gardner Smith (top row, second from right) and Wilma Howard (bottom row, first left) were members.

1954 Paris Review
Photo from the Wall Street Journal (obtained from the Morgan Library)

The façade of the café has changed a few times over the past ten years, and the interior has been refurbished.  But the "hideous paintings of the Luxembourg Gardens on the walls," described by William Gardner Smith in "Black Man in Europe," are still there!

Café Tournon
© 2001 Discover Paris!

Café Tournon
© 2005 Discover Paris!

Café Tournon
© 2009 Discover Paris!

Café Tournon interior
© 2009 Discover Paris!

Cafe Tournon
18, rue Tournon
75006 Paris
Metro: Odéon (Line 10)

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Entrée to Black Paris! is a Discover Paris! blog.


jojo said...

Check it out -->

About Beauford Delaney said...

I agree that it's a great Web page, Jonathan!