Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat and Mahler’s First at the Met-May 31, 2017

Thenceforward, fused in the poem, milk of stars,

Of the sea, I coiled through deeps of cloudless green,

Where, dimly, they come swaying down,
Rapt and sad, singly, the drowned;

Where, under the sky’s hemorrhage, slowly tossing

In thuds of fever, arch-alcohol of song,
Pumping over the blues in sudden stains,
The bitter rednesses of love ferment.

Arthur Rimbaud, Le Bateau Ivre

Le Bateau Ivre

230 East 51 Street

New York, New York 10022



It is a curious synchronicity that I have been working on a photography project based upon Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat and I find myself in a bistro of the same name after seeing the Irving Penn Centennial at the Met. It was a show of 200 photographs which the Penn Estate had bequeathed to the museum. I was impressed by Penn’s range and the perfection of his images from a compositional and tonal point of view. The Vogue fashion images are iconic, of course, but I did not know that he photographed still life compositions, cigarettes, flowers and images of urban trade workers. The first display in the show was Penn’s camera in a glass case. It was a Rolleiflex-the same model that my father used throughout his life and that I heartlessly and regretfully sold thinking that I would never shoot film. As a photographer witnessing the brilliance and perfection of Penn made me want to cry.

For several years I have been photographing dead boats in the canals of Amsterdam. These are boats that are abandoned, decayed, lost, useless, lying dead in the canals. They collect trash and debris thrown from the sidewalks above. Rope lines curled and tangled, reflections of clouds in the oily water, weeds growing in the algae pools collected in the bottom of the boats. These boats are unseen. It is a project to defeat the tyranny of the banal images of red brick and white trimmed canal houses, bridges, bikes, trams and tulips. Rimbaud’s Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) is a source of inspiration for the images. As is Godard’s film Socialisme.

After the Penn show my plan was to attend a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony at Carnegie Hall. I decided to dine at Le Bateau Ivre which was more or less between the Met and Carnegie Hall.

Rather than a traditional bistro, Le Bateau Ivre is a  French wine bar. A bistro a vins. It  opened in January 1999. It offers more than 250 varieties of the French wines. Unlike Parisian wine bars that typically only offer light snacks, Le Bateau Ivre has a traditional bistro menu.

The appetizers are old favorites such as asparagus with hollandaise sauce, burgundy snails, french onion soup and a sushi grade tuna. There is a selection of familiar salads. There are oysters, shrimp, clams and lobsters. The mains are lamb chops, steak frites, salmon, skate and mussels. The seafood is reasonably priced but the meat offerings are expensive: lamb chops are $33.50 and steak frites are $35.00. The deserts are traditional: a cheese selection, creme brulee, chocolate mousse, and a tarte tatin. 

The wine list is huge and the servers are very knowledgeable. They offer a wine tasting every day at 6:00.

The space is small and inviting. There is a red awning over the sidewalk tables, and the walls are lined with wine bottles in wooden racks. A light after work crowd began to arrive ordering the first glass of wine and then the second talking and enjoying the end of another work day with the long evening ahead. For some it may be a potentiality, who awaits, and for others a predictability, like falling asleep in front of the ball game on TV.

The high point of Le Bateau Ivre was the staff. They were charming, friendly and literate about the wine list, even though the list was extensive. Even though they were very casual their timing was excellent. I asked my server for a wine recommendation and she suggested the Chateau de Bouchassy Lirac Rouge. It is a Rhone wine and was excellent.  It is a GSM wine which means that it is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  It is a specialty of the southern Rhone Valley.

Curiously, even though the bistro is named after a famous poem by Rimbaud there was no reference to it in the bistro. It would be interesting to have a card with the poem placed on the tables. Considering the radical imagery of the poem, it would be  an excellent conversation piece.

My starter was the Salade D’Endives (with apples, walnuts, and roquefort cheese). My main was the skatefish with asparagus and potatoes with the grilled Brussels sprouts on the side. For dessert I had the chocolate mousse and an espresso. (This was my first chocolate mousse since I started my Crossfit training in January to prepare for my mountain climbing expedition to Mera Peak in Nepal. We successfully summited the 22,000 foot peak last month. )

The dinner was without distinction; however, it was uplifted by the bistro’s positive energy, the staff, the wine and the excellent mousse!

After dinner, I walked to Carnegie Hall. In the words of the program notes: “Mahler’s First offers  both a bold continuation of the symphonic tradition pioneered by Beethoven and a poetic evocation of the landscape of Central Europe, albeit with a vein of nostalgia.” I found the performance by the Met Symphony to be magnificent.


Staff-9 (Friendly, casual and knowledgeable about wine; good timing)

Archetype-8 (The red awning, the wooden tables and chairs, and the menu reflect the Archetype )

Food-6 (Good but not creative; the bread failed. The wine was excellent)

Energy-7 (Comfortable space, windows open to the street; red banquets, bookcases of wine bottles, and large wood bar)


Are Parisian Bistros Finished or Just Getting Started? (Good history of neo-bistros)


The Best New Paris Bistros


Where To Experience the New Wave of French Food


The Cave a Manger



Samuel Becket’s Translation of Rimbaud’s Le Bateau Ivre (analysis of the poem)


Irving Penn Centennial


The Met Orchestra-Carnegie Hall-Mahler Cycle