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This article is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

Paris, France: an afternoon with Mavis Gallant Iain Bamforth

At her suggestion we met up on the terrace of Le Dôme. In several years in Paris, I'd never been there. Too much the mythic sanctuary perhaps, too obviously smart-set these days to attract a novitiate. Climbing up the stairs at métro Vavin just outside the café, it occurred to me that there couldn't be too many writers left in Paris bold enough to be so obviously literary. It was clearly a refuge for Mavis Gallant; one of her press photographs shows her sitting with a demi-tasse in front of her. The lettering on the cup says it for Le Dôme. And once inside, I could see it was a strategic choice - a neutral zone just round the corner from her apartment in the sixième with a view down the boulevard Montparnasse, an area of Paris which serves as setting for several of her stories. Choose a coffee-house and you announce to the world what you think of it: Le Dôme's fame started back in the 1910s, when the patron of the nearby La Rotonde refused to serve a young American woman who was self-possessed enough to sit hatless and smoke on his terrace. Before the first world war it had been one of Apollinaire's haunts; the early dômiers were principally German painters, Französlinge, and as he noted in his Paris-Journal, the café's name to 'tedescan' ears has the sonorous boom - der Dom - of an actual cathedral.

Mavis Gallant was gazing out through the ...

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