Ah, the Twenties! (Always “roaring.”) We are in Montparnasse, with its “winking neon signs” and “heavy gothic gloom”. The district had taken over from Montmartre as Paris’ new bohemian locality, where “eighty thousand artists are neighbours”. Mark Braude, in his lively study of the model, chanteuse and celebrity Kiki de Montparnasse, portrays a time and place where “isms grew like weeds” — cubism, dadaism and surrealism.
Braude describes an evening with the beret-wearing mob, after they had watched a surrealist performance: “The audience left confused, electrified, heated. Seats were ripped and splintered, broken glass littered the floor. Filing out, they hollered slogans, esoteric chants, and rude songs . . . Simmering resentments came to a boil. Fistfights spilled out onto the narrow street.”