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The Lost Generation

The Left Bank

References to the Left Bank have never lost their power to evoke the most piquant images of Paris. The Left Bank's geographic and cerebral hub is the Latin Quarter, which takes its name from the university tradition of studying and speaking in Latin, a practice that disappeared at the time of the French Revolution. The area is populated mainly by students and academics from the Sorbonne, the headquarters of the University of Paris. Most of the St-Germain cafés, where the likes of Sartre, Picasso and Hemingway spent their days and nights, are patronized largely by tourists now. Yet the Left Bank is far from dead. It is a lively and colorful district, rich in history and character. To the south, dwarfed beneath its 59-story Tower, lies Montparnasse, the bohemian center of interwar Paris.

During the 17th century, students from the Latin Quarter had jokingly given this area the pompous name of Mont Parnasse (Mount Parnassus). It developed during the 18th century into a center for popular entertainment, as bars, restaurants and cabarets -- which were at that time just outside the city boundaries -- could serve tax-free wine. That tradition survived even after the district became part of Paris during the latter half of the 19th century. While the area of Montmartre had been popular in bohemian circles through the 1890s, during the period immediately prior to World War I, artists and poets suddenly moved to Montparnasse on the Left Bank, thereby bringing it into the limelight and attracting painters and composers as well. Even Russian political refugees such as Lenin and Trotsky became a part of the intellectual community whose social life centered around four cafés on the boulevard Montparnasse -- la Coupole, le Select, la Rotonde, and le Dôme.


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