You may know Montmartre from Amelie’s scenes, her creperie was a the foot of the Butte Montmartre (the hill) that overlooks Paris, from which you see that lovely panorama (the same you can see from “my” forest, but at a different angle, and…closer. It’s in the 18th “arrondissement”.
Paris is a fantastic organisation of circular quarters, (thanks to Baron Haussman who “redid” the city in the 17th century–I think and may be wrong, but we owe him some landmarks, like the arrondissements, and l’Etoile) starting from the centre, on an island in the Seine. This island is better known for Notre-Dame cathedral, in front of which lies a star, the origin of all of France’s roads (“point zero de toutes les routes de France”). All the quarters sort of follow each other from that one, clockwise, in a sort of spiraling snail, that coils along on top of each other, to the outskirts of the “Peripherique” to make up Paris intra-muros, inside the walls. The real city, not the suburbs. There is a distinction, mind you. Along the “wall” are doors that lead to Paris, and have beautiful names. “Porte Doree”, “Porte de Bagnollet”, “Porte de Vincennes” Porte Maillot, Porte de la Chapelle, Porte d’Orleans…there is a bus that goes around all the doors, and isn’t THAT interesting, other than for a documentary purpose, or to get from one to the other. I took it once, with a friend, some bread and cheese, I think about 5 years ago.
So each quarter has a bit of it’s own feel. The 34d-4th is pretty historic on one end, and Jewish in one part, and commercial in another, it’s the only pre-revolutionary part left, I think of Paris, and is called “le marais”,the swamp. This is where Bastille is. The 5th and 6th are called the Latin Quarter, very hip, this is where Sartre and Hemingway starved and wrote, mostly fueled by (then)cheap coffee and thousands of cigarettes. Etc. The 20th (where my monthly Classical music appreciation takes place, and is a PHENOMENAL, and hilarious experience, given by a very popular young French prof) is the youngest of the arrondissements, and was traditionally more working class, and has more recent architecture.
The 18th was a bit of a painter’s neighborhood. Picasso et al had their studios here, and it’s very touristy, but pretty. The cobblestone streets are small, cute, and mind-boggling, there are outdoor terraces, and great painters in plazas, but it’s more interesting in winter, when there’s no one here because it’s so cold, and the place has a more tangible atmosphere. I took some photos of the basilica that I posted a long time ago in black and somewhere “down there”.
It’s next to the red-light district and the Moulin Rouge, in the same neighborhood.
Two very very good friends recently came to Paris and we went to Montmartre, bought a baguette (which, as I was scolded by the salesman, was a shape and size known as “bread” or “pain” not “baguette, which are thinner and longer–ooops) some stinky cheese, cold cuts, and drinkable vanilla yogurt and we sat on the steps of the park under the basilica, and ate one of the best meals ever. We were in heaven.
It made me realize how fantastic it is to finally live in a place, where I can be as difficult as I want with food, and still be able to eat, well, and happily. Food is good here. Or maybe I just have a French palate, but I keep getting confirmations from visitors. You buy bread and cheese, and it’s a fantastic, flavorful meal. We went out for pizza twice, and it was gourmet pizza, finger-licking good.
We sat, there, perfectly contented, watching the third musketeer guzzle down the last Dr. Pepper in Paris. Literally the last, since they were unfindable after the contract was cancelled off last month. Dr. P must have had un-French conditions or something.
It was a wonderful afternoon, and we walked until our feet nearly came off, found a bus that dropped us off in the Trocadero area and walked around the 17th quarter (very posh) before finding a cafe to park ourselves, to talk, eat rhubarb tart and wait for evening to settle so we could find a place to eat a nice, cheap dinner.
It was so nice to have friends here. It was so nice to speak English…I missed the taste of the language on my tongue. It just rolls off like honey, effortlessly, none of those hard vowels to puncture the fall, and spike it, spice up the flow of words. English is so interesting.
That evening, we sat around, listening to our friends play guitar, and sing their songs, listening to their fingers, run along the strings to find old melodies of their college days, perfectly contented, in from the cold.
I miss them already…
But we’ll always have “Paris”….