Parisians Celebrate Revival Of Guinguettes

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Traditional French restaurants, where people would come to dance and enjoy lunch along the banks of the Marne River — are back in fashion. Gomgiettes were first made famous by the Impressionists, most notably by Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party."


Let's go, now, to a sun-dappled river bank outside Paris to dance the day away. It's a centuries old pastime that lives on in restaurants known as guinguettes. These dancing establishments had their heyday in the early 20th century when Impressionist painters caught them on canvas. And here's Eleanor Beardsley offering a taste of that world today.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Its Sunday afternoon at a guinguette called Chez Gegene. It lies about 20 minutes outside of Paris on the willow-lined banks of the Marne River.�Chez Gegene opened its doors a hundred years ago and not much seems to have changed since then.��The decor is fin de siecle, the atmosphere convivial. And the crowded tables are covered in wine bottles and traditional guinguettes fare like fried fish and rabbit fricassee.�

(Soundbite of music and singing in French language)

An organ grinder warms up the crowd with some old French classics. Octave and Edna Blanchard are regulars at Chez Gegene.

Mr. OCTAVE BLANCHARD: (Through translator) We love the guinguette tradition and we come often. We dance everything. The waltz, the tango, the passa doble, the Charleston.�

Ms. EDNA BLANCHARD: (Through translator) And we met at a guingette, in 1970.

Mr. BLANCHARD: (Through translator) Yes, that was 40 years ago.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: As the five-piece band takes the stage and begins to play, diners swarm onto the dance floor. The Blanchards and dozens of other couples glide and sway to the sultry sounds of an accordion.�

Guinguettes originated in the 1700s, as places to sell the inexpensive white wine known as guinguet, that grew along the banks of the Marne River. The establishments became extremely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just as the working classes got a day off and the industrial age made it possible for people to get transportation out of the city.

Parisians donned their Sunday best and headed for a day of boating and dancing along the river. The new fashion caught the attention of the Impressionist painters. Pierre Auguste Renoir captured the carefree revelry of an afternoon at a guinguette in his "Luncheon of the Boating Party." Michel Devoucou plays the accordion in the band.��

Mr. MICHEL DEVOUCOU (Accordion player): (Through translator) If people came back from that time they wouldnt be lost at all. Theyd feel right at home. All the songs we play existed 70, 80 - even a hundred years ago. The difference is is that people drank a lot more back then because they didnt have to drive. The horse knew the way home.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: There were once more than 400 guinguettes along the Seine and Marne rivers. The guinguettes survived both World Wars and remained popular up until the 1960s, before dwindling. Today, only a handful remain, but many say theyre making a comeback.�

While the crowd today is mostly seniors, 26-year-old Nicolas Ferrer is one of a growing number of young people now going out to guinguettes.��

Mr. NICHOLAS FERRER: The orchestra is very good, the music is good, the food is good. And everything is good. Good ambiance and good dancing. Come in guinguette Paris.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in French language)

BEARDSLEY: The older patrons are hoping that Ferrer and others from the younger generation will continue coming to the banks of the Marne and keep the guinguette tradition alive.�

For NPR news, Im Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.�

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

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