The Beatniks of the Beat Hotel
The idea of the artist as someone who spends his life in shabby circumstances, outwardly neglected and caring only for the purity of his art, to find fame only much later, preferably after his death, is one of the great Romantic myths. (It is, of course, the story of the ugly duckling in all but name.)
In truth, for every van Gogh, there are at least a dozen Picassos and Matisses whose geniuses are detected at a fairly early stage and who spend nearly all their lives in great material comfort.
Truth, however, is not something that myth has ever been greatly concerned with.
Circumstances do not come much shabbier than the old Beat Hotel on the Parisian Left Bank, and geniuses not much more self-conscious than William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg who lived there for a while in the late 1950s (together with Gregory Corso and some lesser lights of the “Beat” poetry scene).
A new documentary just released (read a review here) retraces their steps, refreshes their legends and restages some of their antics.
is the name of a novel by Harold Norse who joined the party in 1960: the actual hotel on 9 Rue Git-le-Coeur (between the Quai des Grands Augustins by the Seine and the Rue Saint André des Arts in the Latin Quarter) never traded under that name.
Actually, it never traded under any specific name, apparently considering names – and quite a few other things besides – a flippant luxury.
The “Beat” was a “category 13” hotel on the official list of the French tourism board, quite literally “off the scale”, with 42 rooms but only a single bathtub that needed to be booked and paid in advance, including a surcharge for warm water. Bed sheets were changed once a month, the curtains – in theory – every spring.
The building still exists, and it still houses a hotel – which, incidentally, prides itself on its literary heritage, adding the sobriquet “The Beat Hotel” under its name of Le Relais du Vieux Paris.
I suspect, however, that the Vieux Paris, a four-star bijou hotel, is far less keen on continuing some of the other traditions of the Beat Hotel, and that the hotel’s guests – at a price of € 189.00 per night (cheapest double) – expect hot water to be available not just on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
(You obviously would want to plan a better holiday for yourselves than end up in a hotel like this on your next trip to Paris.)