Sunday, 28 May 2023

Forgotten Paris - the Lapin Agile (Dreamhounds)

 My own memories of Montmartre concentrate in the Lapin Agile. It is a broken-down shanty. Once it was called the Caberet des Assassines. One may roughly translate its current name as the Skittish Rabbit. But in reality it should be called the Lapin a Gill - in reference to the rabbit which Gill, the caricaturist, who was once the owner of the little maison de campagne, before the builder had made modern Montmartre, painted on the door ... Famous as this tiny place has grown, it is not altogether spoilt. Its habitues are still the true Montmartrois, who are just amusing themselves. They drink beer and munch plums soaked in eau-de-vie, and listen to each other's poems and songs. A dog sleeps in the middle of the floor, only wakening at the end of each contribution to bark loudly by way of applause. Within the decaying walls of the Lapin Agile the conspirators, sat on bottomless stools and boxes which served as chairs, planned all the farces at which Paris used to chuckle.    

It's a bit cheeky to call forgotten something that still stands today but I thought it would be interesting to talk about Dreamhounds. The text is from Sisley Huddleston's 1926 work Bohemian Literary and Social Life In Paris, which isn't a bad resource for Dreamhounds assuming that you can find it in a second-hand store somewhere. I got mine for a buck at a house clearance sale. Worth paying attention to, those sales.

Image sourced from Wikipedia

The Lapin was formerly known as the Caberet des Assassines because it had portraits of famous murderers sketched on the wall, some of which probably still existed (faintly) in 1930. Gill's caricature wasn't the only famous art showing the Lapin. Picasso also created a painting of a night at the Caberet, At the Lapin Agile, in 1905. He created it after his friend the Spanish artist Carles Casagemas killed himself during a drinking bout at the Hippodrome, when his lover once again refused to marry him. The painting hung on the wall of the cabaret for many years and is now held by the New York Met. Both Picasso and Casagemas were very young men at the time and Casegemas' lover Germaine Pichot is pictured in the Lapin Agile. She and Picasso would go on to have an affair. 

Steve Martin would later write a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, featuring the artist, Albert Einstein and several others, including a time traveler with blue suede shoes.   

Long Wharf Theatre production

With all that in mind:

Strange Rabbits

A new talent, unaffiliated with the surrealists, has captured Breton's attention. This minor painter and photographer, Jacob Burri, has appeared at the Lapin regularly and verbally sparred with Picasso there. Breton wants to know more about this mercurial Swiss and gets the Hounds to check him out.

It's difficult to trace Burri's whereabouts. He must have rooms in Montmartre but nobody knows where they are. The only thing definitely known about him is that he always visits the Lapin from about midday till at least 3pm, sometimes later. He seems to know a great deal about the present and hints at knowing even more about the future. How does he know these things?

Why is he only ever seen at the Lapin?

  • Burri is a hollow shell, piloted by a Bulbhead who has learned the trick of navigating from Dreams to Paris as the Surrealists do. The Bulbhead is using this shell to explore the waking world and determine why it is that dreamers have such influence over the dreamlands. It's a bit like using a diving bell to explore the depths, and just as hazardous for the Bulbhead. However, the Bulbead lacks nuance, and its erratic behavior is bound to attract attention.
  • Burri is a future dreamer from the 1980s who has found his way to 1930s Paris in an attempt to get to the Lapin of 1904. He gets to that place the same way a blind man plays darts; he makes his shot and hopes for the best. Somehow he keeps ending up in the 1930s which for him is hell, since he's trying to get to the Dreamlands that exists before the Surrealists muck it up and he's having no luck getting past the oneiric walls that the Dreamhounds have built.
  • Burri is a would-be cultist, a novitiate of the occult group CS who has gone about as far as they can go, in their current field of study. Burri wants to progress but is being held back by the cult's higher-ups, so Burri is looking for a short cut. Burri thinks that the shortest cut of all would be to infiltrate the surrealists and learn their secrets but is conscious that, if CS were to find out about the risks they are taking, it would all be over. Variant - Burri is actually Liserl Einstein.
That's it for this week. Enjoy!

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