Café de Flore

This café is one of the oldest coffee bars in Paris, a place where I — alas — only peeped into.  The clientele are highly esteemed in the history of the Left Bank of the Seine.  My focus is on three of them:  Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus.

Over these tables in the smoke of cigarettes and a pipe, these three people urged Western thinking into new directions, giving philosophy a new hat :  Sartre with existentialism ; De Beauvoir with feminism and Camus with absurdism.

Sartre and de Beauvoir

In the Second World War Sartre and de Beauvoir were on the fringes of the French Resistance, while Camus wrote regularly for Combat, the underground newspaper of the Resistance.  In these years De Beauvoir made her notes towards The Second Sex; Camus’ literary work The Outsider and the philosophical treatise Sisyphus would earn him the Nobel prize.  It has been said by some that Sartre’s Being and Nothingness may be the most influential of its kind in our time.

In Café de Flore the test flights were done.  Coffee was cheap, but pipe tobacco, Sartre discovered, was expensive.  Thus, before the discussions, he would crawl on hands and knees under the tables picking up abandoned cigarette butts for the left-over tobacco.   Then, through the curtain of smoke, he could plough up  the history of ideas.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2018



Wikipedia : Café de Flore, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus



my drawing







Coventry Cathedral – contemporary sacred art

Coventry Cathedral, a 14th-century gothic church, was bombed during the Blitz in the Second World War.  For me, it was an unusual experience to stand in those ruins which they have preserved.  I can’t express the many emotions I experienced, from anger to sadness, from wonder to inspiration.  The modern cathedral abuts these ruins, almost as if the new has grown out of the old and the building began from 1950.  Amongst the engineers was a team of young Germans.  

                          Cathedral ruins


      Cathedral ruins with reconstructed cross

The modern cathedral, remarkable architecture, is a treasury of contemporary sacred art.  Everything has been carefully considered.  The baptism font is a hollow rock from the hills near Bethlehem.  One chapel is approached through a crown of thorns.  A moving likeness of Christ was made from the torn metal of a car accident.

                               Baptism font


Above the nave is the tapestry Christ in Majesty by Graham Sutherland, one of the largest of its kind in the world.  In every aspect there is majesty, except, for me, in one, which has left me uneasy over the years.  It is the expression on the face of the Christ visage.  Perhaps it is my Rorschach, but for me there is a creeping cynicism in the faint smile.

               The Cathedral nave with tapestry

                              Detail of tapestry

Amongst these art works in the cathedral there is a figure of Christ by Jacob Epstein in the ruins of the old cathedral, sculpture of the 1950s. (Observe to the far right against the wall in the photograph of the ruins.)  This work is a radical departure from the usual portrayal of Christ as a wrung out, vulnerable figure on the cross.

    The Epstein Christ figure

What came up for me was the word primitive, with exclusively positive connotations.  This mode, it seemed to me, takes its cue from the jungle cultures – the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and even Easter Island.  I grapple for words to contain this – winter clouds over night mountain ranges; the deep voice of a coming volcano … This prehistoric figure, I feel, will burst through his bonds and stride the curve of the earth in thunder.  It is sacred art that stirs much in me.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July , 2016






Cathedral ruins –

Altar with nail cross –

Baptism font –

Chapel with crown of thorns  –

Cathedral nave –

Detail of tapestry  –

Epstein Christ figure  –  source lost


Dedicated to my niece Dawn Denton for the support she has given me. 



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