Monday, September 14, 2009

Would You Eat at The Two Maggots?

In St Germain, we ran across the following cafe located prominently on a corner in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area (a very nice area, by the way, that we must return to):

Hmmm... why would anyone eat at Les Deux Magots - "The Two Maggots?"

Well, they wouldn't.

As it turns out, the café's name (pronounced le dø mago) comes from the two wooden statues of Chinese commercial agents (magots) that adorn one of the pillars which are a reference to an early 1800s play (the cafe was opened as a drapery store in 1813) called "The Two Magots of China:" (image from Wikipedia)

However, when I did a translation of the word magot with Google Translate, it returned baboon, which I suppose is a little better than maggot as the name for a cafe but rather insulting to Chinese businessmen!

Indeed, this Wikipedia reference gives two definitions:

- The Barbary Ape
- A fanciful, often grotesque figurine in East Asian style rendered in a crouching position

Hmmm.... that doesn't help much.

Further research indicates that it colloquially can mean loot as in a stash or hoard of money, which I suppose could be an oblique reference to commercial agents. Other sources indicate it might be an old french term for "Chinese commercial traders" or "Confucian wise men."


It wouldn't really matter I suppose if this was some obscure cafe in an obscure corner of an obscure little french town but it just so happens that this is one of the most famous cafes in all of Paris:

It once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city. This derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway. Other patrons included Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso.

In fact, the square that it is located on is now called "Place Sartre-Beauvoir":

It also has provided the Duex Magots literary award to a French novel every year since 1993. (Click the link for list of winners)

Perhaps it doesn't really "mean" anything anymore... Les Deux Magots is simply recognzied as the name of a famous cafe.

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