Writers at the Movies Extra: ‘The Café Lumière at the Hotel Scribe’ by Clive Sinclair


Place de la Concorde, Paris. Photo CC Roger @ Flickr.

[While we’re on the subject of Writers at the Movies, the theme of our new special issue, here’s a bonus internet exclusive to Contrappasso from Clive Sinclair, one of the issue’s contributors (see Custer of the West). It’s a brief reminiscence of Paris and a place central to the earliest days of cinema.]


I first experienced Paris in 1963, when I was fifteen, and more plain gauche than Rive Gauche. But I was crazy about Toulouse-Lautrec. So my parents booked a tour to the Moulin Rouge. What they didn’t know was that the tour also included three strip clubs: the Gay Zodiac, La Boule Blanche, and Le Caveau des Oubliettes. In the first a woman undressed behind a back-lit blind, revealing nothing but her silhouette, until she stepped out from behind it stark naked; in the second women disrobed while the band played ‘Blues in the Night’; the third I mention only because of its name. Proust represented one sort of Parisian, but Paris is also a city dedicated to forgetting, to hanging the self on a hat-stand, be it in a nightclub, or that other caveau des oubliettes, the cinema. It so happens that the hotel in which we stayed, the Scribe, was where the whole business began, where the Lumière Brothers first demonstrated their new machine, the Cinematograph, on December 28, 1895. Back in 1963 the Scribe still handed out those oval labels for steamer trunks, and its fin-de-siècle corridors had about them an air of intrigue, even espionage; today the atmosphere is more spa than spy. And its Salon Indien, the room chosen by the brothers to premiere La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon, is now a café named in their honour. The room’s former bombast has been lightened by the ace interior designer, Jacques Grange, and a glass roof. A handsome double portrait of the café’s honourees hangs above a sleek mantlepiece, but it has to compete for attention – at least in the après-midi – with pâtisserie displayed like crown jewels. Beneath a glass bell are brioches and madeleines, and in a glazed cabinet are pink and red mousses, and golden tartlets. Then there is the chocolate. The ganache comes like some sort of sacrament: dark chocolate, warm and molten, fills one-third of a glass; frothy milk sits in a silver jug; and pastries invite dipping and consumption. Popcorn will never do after tea at the Café Lumière. [see The Hotel Scribe, Paris]



CLIVE SINCLAIR began his career as a writer in 1973. In 1983 he was one of the original Twenty Best of Young British Novelists. So far he has produced fourteen books, which have earned him the Somerset Maugham Award, the PEN Silver Pen for Fiction, and the Jewish Quarterly Award. His latest book of stories, Death & Texas, was published in 2014. He lives in London, with the painter Haidee Becker. His son, a film-maker, lives in Los Angeles. Matthew Asprey Gear’s interview with Clive Sinclair appeared in print in issue 2 of Contrappasso and is online at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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