6.
Montmartre

I care not for my spirits if my legs were not weary.
- William Shakespeare,
As You Like It, II, ii


Believe it or not, this is a subway station; one of the art-deco Metro stations, of which I believe only a couple of others are left. This is the station at Place des Abbesses, up in Montmartre: the big high hill on the north side of Paris, the highest part of the city and traditionally a center of human creativity and human vice, not necessarily in that order.

With one day left in Paris, I had to see Montmartre. All those movies, if nothing else....


I liked Montmartre immediately; as soon as I got off the Metro and climbed to the surface, I knew this was much more my kind of place than any other part of Paris I'd seen so far. Maybe I'm just a sucker for picturesqueness, narrow cobblestone streets and old houses and Utrillo views; but maybe, too, I instinctively feel better when I'm on top of some kind of hill or mountain. Given my upbringing, that would seem highly likely.

Montmartre used to be noted for its windmills; being the highest point in the area, it was the natural place to catch the wind. The one at the top of the photo is one of only two left. This is the other one:


Neither, of course, is now in use; this one in fact has been turned into a restaurant.


Standing on holy ground, now...Number 54 Rue Lepic is where Vincent Van Gogh and his longsuffering brother Theo lived from 1886 to 1888.


This rather disconcerting sculpture commemorates the author Marcel Aymé, who lived in this neighborhood until his death in 1967. One of his best-known stories was about a man who had the ability to pass through walls, until one night he got stuck; his ghost could still be heard crying out from within the wall.


Farther up and around on the flank of the hill, tucked away in the bend of a narrow street, is the tiny and beautiful Place Dalida, a memorial to a French singer - not well known in the US, but extremely popular in Europe in her day - who lived nearby until her suicide in 1987.

Montmartre is a popular area with tourists and they congregate in places like the Place Tertre, eating half-assed overpriced food and getting suckered by third-rate "artists"; but it is possible, by choosing the more obscure streets, to avoid most of that nonsense. And in the process to stumble over unexpected joys like the Place Dalida.


There must be one hell of a view of Paris from here on a clear day. But of course this wasn't one; it was just as foggy and chilly as the day before, though at least the wind wasn't blowing.


The trouble with taking pictures in Montmartre is that they always wind up looking like Utrillo prints. This is no coincidence; Utrillo lived hereabouts and these street scenes served as models for his pleasantly corny paintings.


There is no ignoring the Basilica du Sacré-Coeur; for better or worse, it is one of the most prominent Paris landmarks - like the Eiffel tower, an esthetic disaster that somehow has come to work, after a fashion, in the place where it is.

It isn't particularly old - it only went up after the Franco-Prussian War, after the archbishop decided Paris needed to do something to "atone" for the sins of the Commune - and its pseudo-Byzantine design is pretty awful; Emile Zola advocated dynamiting it. All the same, it doesn't seem entirely out of place in Montmartre, where the grotesque does have a certain tradition.


And there was a nice little park or garden around back that made a fine place to have lunch. This time at least I'd had sense enough to dress a bit more warmly.

After lunch I worked my way back down the hill to the notorious Boulevard de Clichy and walked along the sidewalk for a few blocks, past one sex-show joint after another, while touts called out from doorways. In front of one place a really beautiful woman came up and held my hand tightly and gazed into my eyes and gave me a long spiel about the erotic delights to be seen inside; I held still for her, since I was enjoying having my hand held and my eyes gazed into by a lovely woman, but it was still not difficult to tell her gently, "Non." Not that I don't enjoy a good skin show, but I couldn't see spending my time and money to see something I could easily find, cheaper and probably better, in Tulsa.

I did, however, go into the Museum of Erotic Art, and was glad I did; it was genuinely worth seeing their collection of erotica from all sorts of places and times, including some really amazing Aztec sculptures. Photography wasn't allowed, and in any case I couldn't show it here, but for anyone who is interested they've got a website at www.erotic-museum.com.

One more item was left: the Eiffel Tower. You have to have a picture of the Eiffel Tower or nobody will believe you've really been to Paris. I didn't really want to see the damn thing close up - Maupassant was right, it really is an eyesore - but I figured I better do the expected. So I took the Metro down to the Bir Hakeim station.


When I got off I found myself looking at something that took all the silliness out of the day. A group of Jews were holding a ceremony which I'd never heard of, but which was terribly easy to understand: they were reading the names of those murdered in the Holocaust. Candles were burning and an old man in a yarmulke - a rabbi, I assumed - was reading name after name, taking his time, the syllables ringing out across the street like bells tolling. I suppose they must have been working in relays.... I don't mind admitting that I broke down and lost it completely, and stood there for a long time crying like a fool.

Finally, though, I blew my nose and walked away and went down and took the God-damned picture of the God-damned Eiffel Tower.

Then I went back to the hotel to pack for next morning.

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