Monday, April 16, 2012

Mystery Tramp Diet

Étant donées, photographed by Marcel Duchamp in his studio at 210 West 14th Street, New York City 

          "I knew Duchamp casually, beginning in the early 1940s. in New York City, in the French Surrealist milieu. Later in the decade, we used to meet when I was working on vexing questions that arose while I was editing my Dada anthology.  We met once or twice at the dusty New York studio he had for years (on West Fourteenth Street, I think), but more often at a little downstairs Italian restaurant, where he invariably ordered a small plate of plain spaghetti with a pat of butter and grated Parmesan cheese over it, a small glass of red wine, and expresso afterward.  In those days his lunch must have cost seventy-five cents or less." 

        -- Robert Motherwell

Marcel Duchamp in his studio at 210 West 14th Street, New York City

"There is no solution because there is no problem." -- Marcel Duchamp


NOTE:  For some reason (I’ll expand on this sometime; it’s been a perilous week), Robert Motherwell’s recollection of Marcel Duchamp’s frugal, but still appealing (almost luxurious) sounding daily lunch reprinted above came to mind today.  

I think I was wondering about simplicity, balance and relaxed discipline.  Researching a source for the quote I found (not entirely unexpectedly) that it stuck in other peoples’ minds also.   I would have loved to include a photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s 14th Street Italian luncheon spot, but have no idea what it was called; it certainly no longer exists.  

Neither, sadly, does Larré’s, pictured above, which operated on West 56th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues at least through the 1970s.  My mother and my aunt first introduced me to it when I was in college.  It was a simple, quite inexpensive but traditional French restaurant that I later learned was a frequent haunt of the French Surrealist group (many of whom relocated to Manhattan after fleeing Paris) during World War II.  

Never fashionable and plainer even than Le Veau d’Or, probably the plainest, least pretentious of the genuine French restaurants that still survive in Manhattan (there aren’t many), it most certainly felt like a home away from home for these artists, and walking along 56th Street my head is always filled with visions of André Breton lecturing someone or other about something and Yves Tanguy enjoying a quiet lunch with Kay Sage.  Marcel Duchamp was also an habitué, as I would be today if time and tide in Manhattan weren’t so severe on everything.  This is climate change I’m willing to acknowledge.


  1. Larre's favorite of Frank O'Hara, too.

  2. I wish it were still there. That and The French Shack and Cafe 58, etc. Larre's wasn't the greatest but it had a certain something and it really was very inexpensive and real. Curtis