MONTMARTRE REVISITED


On the Boulevard de Clichy were the absinthe-drinking bohemians of the Parisian Belle Époque once found inspiration and entertainment, you walk today under the neon light of the numerous sex shops. Place du Tertre is crammed and souvenir shops seem to push out each other. Montmartre (la Butte) was certainly considerably more idyllic when Toulouse-Lautrec characterized the debauched life of Place Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge. After years of my self declared velvet ‘boycott’, again I walk through the up- and down running streets of the neighbourhood and I rediscover the hidden charms of the trampled down Parisian area. Montmartre revisited. 
Le Moulin Rouge

Café des 2 Moulins is a place that clamps you longer than one espresso. The authentic Parisian café at la rue Lepic (nr 15) became world famous through Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, a French blockbuster movie of Jeunet. It 's my first stop along the climb to la Butte. I receive the fairy tale atmosphere from the movie on top of it, at the wall a life-size picture of Amélie laughs to the regulars. A bit further along the street (nr 54) a small sign on the wall discreetly begs for attention, if we want to know if Van Gogh once lived here. Why not? Ages ago la Butte was a notorious cave for artists and bohemians, of which also higher up along the street le Moulin de la Galette is still a witness: gloriously immortalized by Renoir. A walk along la rue Lepic ends up at Place du Tertre, about the most famous square in Paris. The crowds of tourists who jostle each other mercilessly are a contradiction to the serene place it once was in less hectic periods: the abbey of Tertre. 
Place du Tertre


The souvenir industry is operating at full speed; against payment you can be portrayed by a fake bohemian with a sagged artist beret. Children love it. The charm of the square can especially be discovered by the subtle but photogenic details of the facades around. A commemorative sign states a memorable day in December 1898, when Louis Renault for the first time with a petrol car – and with success – made a ride. Although downhill, the French car industry only went up since then. The Sacré-Coeur basilica, once renamed laconically by Parisians as ‘la tarte’, is standing at 130m (427ft) and is therefore the highest point of the city. From the terrace I enjoy the second most beautiful panorama across Paris, for the especially most breath taking one you have to go to Belleville. La Butte does not appear to have changed since ten years, but I have to admit with such an interval it is quite fun again. 
Subtle details with a story at the facades of Place du Tertre

Yes we can can. Difficult to imagine, though Montmartre was in more romantic times a rural retreat full of windmills and vineyards. The Parisian bourgeoisie – yes indeed – came to pick-nick here and shook off their daily life worries at the rhythm of the elegant guingettes. Even today you can still hide away from the busy neighbourhood to relatively remote corners. Behind the Sacré-Coeur Montmartre seems completely different, less busy and you do not find any souvenir shops over here. I can breathe freely again in the charming rue Cortot, the eye-catcher in the street is the museum of Montmartre in a stylish 17th century country house. Famous artists like Renoir and Utrillo once found accommodation here. I do not only admire their work of art, but also the ones of their talented contemporaries such as Modigliani and Toulouse-Lautrec. The splendid view across the final and only vineyard of Montmartre is a free extra. In les Jardins Renoir, the museum garden redesigned with the inspiration of paintings of Renoir in 2012, I hardly have the feeling of being in a busy world city. 
Sexual harassment? 

At Place Dalida a bronze bust statue of the sensual singer adds a playful touch. Apparently it is bon-ton to rub over the firm c-cup of the bronze Dalida through which she seems to be wearing a yellow top now. Sexual harassment therefore, but then they asked for it really.  La Dalida rests at the nearby Montmartre cemetery. The tranquil and charming graveyard is an oasis of calm and well worth the walk. I stroll around arty mausoleums and tombstones from celebrities like poet Heinrich Heine – at the time of the cold war good for a diplomatic riot – and composer Hector Berlioz – still good for a riot. Also musical caricaturist Jacques Offenbach started his decent to hell over here – yes we can can! – into the underworld. 
Rue Cortot: tasting the rural atmosphere of the past

Je t’aime 250 X . At the vibrant Place des Abbesses I am back down to reality. A band of musicians shows me the best of themselves, they easily entertain the many spectators who obviously are having a great time. They can even count on the support of the people at the crowded terraces around. No one seems to be disturbed by the political undertone of their performance because just like in other Parisian suburbs, also at la Butte, some still sympathise with the communards. The eye-catchers of the square are the art-nouveau treasures like Metro Abbesses and l’église Saint-Jean de Montmartre. Metro Abbesses - still one of the two remaining original metro entrances – is the work of the architect Hector Guimard, a controversial figure in his time. Guimard chose for glass and steel materials, the elegant finishing touches with natural elements are a pleasure for the eye. Abbesses is with its 36m (118ft) under ground also the deepest metro station in Paris. The church Saint-Jean de Montmartre – one of the most obvious religious temples in Paris – was designed by Anatole de Baudot. I am especially impressed by the elegant mosaic work of Alex Bigot, the bronze sculptures are from Pierre Roche
Le Mur des je t'aime


At the square Jehan Rectus couples madly in love are taking selfies in front of the Mur des je t’aime, the new Parisian love-hotspot. I can’t remember that it already existed at my last visit. Besides declaring your love you can also test your language skills because je t’aime can be read in more than 250 languages. The red shards on the wall are pieces of a broken heart and symbolise the division in the world. The most famous grocery of Paris, épicerie Collignon (Amélie Poulain) can be found just around the corner at rue Androuet. Actor Jamel Debrouze conquered all the hearts of the whole world as the naïve helper of the grumpy Collignon. The movie gave the whole neighbourhood a new style. 

Art-nouveau at Place des Abbesses: Eglise-Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre and Metro Abbesses

Rouge light district. Along the Parisian sexodrome, the Boulevard de Clichy, forbidden fruits can still be picked off the trees. The prostitutes that approached me ten years ago might have disappeared; flashy sex shops are still big business. A pushy doorkeeper – I bed he works on commission – does everything he can to seduce me into a lap dance club, a picture book with scanty dressed girls should help me to be convinced. No thank you, I do not have to come to Paris for that. The Moulin Rouge, the undisputed icon of Gaie Paris remains the absolute box-office draw along the colourful boulevard. I walk to the Musée de l’Erotisme where the bold curator Alain, a retired porno-actor, welcomes me. In the seventies he participated in more than one hundred hard-core movies. ‘Because I wanted to have a lot of sex’ he smiled. ‘Montmartre has been linked with sex from the 16th century, back then you could make love against payment in plenty of windmills around here.’ 
Boulevard de Clichy

Alain started with the museum himself in 1997 and only since a couple of years it has been taken out of the marginal list and put on the official list of Parisian museums. Across the seven floors of the museum you come along a collection of erotica art and similar objects from all corners of the world, from all centuries. I cross over to the busy Place Pigalle and walk along godforsaken streets to a museum of a different calibre, Musée de la Vie Romantique. Along the small passage I arrive at a cosy courtyard with flowering rosebushes, the hectic city is far away. In the lovely 19th century Italian style manor, which was once the holiday cottage of the Dutch painter Ary Scheffer, everything revolves about romantic art. In its heydays celebrities such as Berlioz, Chopin and Delacroix came along. Also writers such as Charles Dickens and George Sand passed by. At a cosy terrace at the old orangery I catch my breath after my long walk. I can only conclude that diverse Montmartre is a fun neighbourhood. 
Musée de la Vie Romantique

© W.G. - DICHTBIJ & VER WEG 2014


MONTMARTRE PRACTICALLY:

Info about France: www.rendezvousenfrance.com
Info about Paris: www.parisinfo.com

Discovering Montmartre: preferably with the help of a map, you can buy a useful map of la Butte at the touristic information office at Place du Tertre. For those who want to discover Montmartre peacefully can do this best in the early morning, especially in summer when the sun rises early.


Guides: my regular guides for Paris are the lovely ladies Anne en Angenic of Paris Par Rues Méconnues. They guide me with a lot of knowledge through the famous and less famous parts of Paris and open – sometimes literally – closed doors: www.paris-prm.com


Transport: I went fast and confortable with Thalys from Brussel to Paris: www.thalys.com. From Gare du Nord (terminus of Thalys) you can walk easily to Montmartre or you can take the metro and get off at Abbesses, Anvers, Blanche or Pigalle.


TO DO:

Musée de la Vie Romantiquewww.vie-romantique.paris.fr

Musée de Montmartre: www.museedemontmartre.fr

Musée de l'Erotisme: www.musee-erotisme.com 


Espace Dali: admire the enormous collection of sculptures and etchings from the excentric Spanish artist, 11, rue Poulbot (near Place du Tertre): www.daliparis.com


La Fête des Vendanges: festival in October around the wine of Montmartre that yearly attracts 400.000 visitors to the neighbourhood. The wine is no big hit; it is all about the atmosphere and concerts, parades and a lot of music.

Café des 2 Moulins, rue Lepic

FOOD & DRINKS:

On boit, on mange, on sympathise? Let we be honest, in Montmartre it is full of tourist traps, don’t be misguided by them and watch out where you will spend your hard earned cash. My recommendations:

Au Clocher de Montmatre: rue Lamarck 10, qualitative French bistro cuisine, honest prices. Lunch: from 10 - 19 euro, Dinner: from 20 - 34 euro: 
www.auclocherdemontmartre.fr

La Cantine de la Cigalle: Blvd. de Rochechouart 124. Bistronomy in a warm and open setting. The specialty of the chef is Basque cuisine. Lunch/dinner: from 20 to 39 euro: 
www.cantinelacigale.fr

Café des 2 moulins: also known as the Café d'Amélie, from the same movie. 15, Rue Lepic.


WIJ ZIJN SOCIAAL 

MONTMARTRE REVISITED

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