Letters from Paris: Montmartre

Letters from Paris: Montmartre
To find out the full story of Montmartre, and to walk its every nook and cranny, look up Around and About Paris/Volume III, published by Iliad Books, and Romantic Paris, published by Arris Books. Both books were written by Thirza Vallois. To order your copies of Around and About Paris and Romantic Paris: http://www.thirzavallois.com Unfortunately, I live on the wrong side at Paris, as far as Montmartre goes. At one point I owned a flat on the quiet, exquisitely untouristy rue Caulaincourt. In those days I used to get there more regularly and would hang around the neighbourhood, shopping and lunching with regulars in its unfussy, excellent restaurants. Then I sold my flat, (and that’s a story or a book in itself), and my Montmartre escapades petered out. Nowadays, I only visit Montmartre for specific reasons, often when visitors are in town, providing me with a good excuse to take a holiday from Paris, whilst remaining in Paris all the same. Paradoxically, Montmartre is at once the most quintessentially Parisian part of Paris, yet worlds apart; at once a miniature Paris, within Paris, yet way outside, a village within the big "village" and excitingly above. You don’t just go to Paris from Montmartre-you go down to Paris, always reluctantly. I much prefer it the other way round, when the thrill of anticipation makes up for the exhausting climb up the appropriately named rue du Calvaire, for instance, an interminable steep flight of steps rather than a street. True, Montmartre is an exaggerated, picture-postcard, bigger-than-size Paris, a mythology fabricated by Hollywood (and now also by Amélie). My one-time rue Caulaincourt is the very one that contains the bridge by the same name, where Irma La Douce sang "There is no cure, for l’amour, on the bridge of Caulaincourt". Contrary to what I had believed as a romantic teenager, when I knew little about Paris, the bridge doesn’t span the Seine at all, but the unlikely site of the Cemetery of Montmartre. Inaugurated in 1888 by the Paris Prefect, Monsieur Poubelle (the inventor of the dust-bin, who also bequeathed to it his name), it was a major event which opened up the hill to the rest of the city lying below. Today it still provides one of the two main accesses to Montmartre, if you are driving. Forget about the Sacre Coeur (other than the stunning view from its foot), and the mobbish place du Tertre and thereabouts (forgive me for sounding snooty); "shuttle" instead between the rue des Abbesses/rue Lepic for your foody bustle and the vineyard/Musee de Montmartre/le Lapin Agile area for bucolic serenity. Each is wonderful in its own way. My Montmartre walks in both Around and About Paris and Romantic Paris take you practically to every nook and cranny on the Butte. And if you choose to explore the hill on an early morning of spring or summer, you will be thrown back to the times of Renoir, when he lived with Aline and the children in the secret hideaway of le Château des Brouillards, "a paradise of roses and lilac". Renoir’s studio was in the little house that now shelters the Museum of Montmartre. It was in its charming garden that he painted The Swing. The first of my two most recent escapades took me to Coquelicot, at 24 rue des Abbesses, a boulangerie/café/eaterie, where everything is as sunny and bright as a poppy, and touched by a subtle air of Provence. I would have never got there if it hadn’t been for Erica, my friend from California who was visiting me and is poppy mad. Erica’s other passion being chocolate, it is thanks to her that I first discovered Denise Acabo’s treasure trove, A l’Etoile d’Or, on rue Fontaine, across the Boulevard de Clichy from the Moulin Rouge. Faithful to its name, Coquelicot had poppy decorations everywhere, and a stunning bunch of them, which had been rescued from Kenzo’s promotional campaign for that recent scent. The weather being as bright as the poppies, we settled on the sunny terrace for the sake of the congenial bustle on the street and the freshness of the food served. Not to mention the crusty bread. You can choose between breakfast, brunch or any light food à la carte, which I chose to wash down with fresh fruit juice and finish off with a delicious tarte à la rhubarbe. My only regret was to see it disappear from my plate, which had very few crumbs left by the time the table was cleared for coffee. Be warned: the pavement being narrow, there are few tables outside, and since the food is excellent, and reasonably priced, finding a place in the sun is not guaranteed, and almost impossible at peak times. From rue des Abbesses to rue Lepic is but a stone’s throw. At the bottom of the street is the famous Moulin Rouge, at no. 54 lived Van Gogh and his brother Theo, and even if the greengrocer’s in Amélie is not one of those that line the bottom of the street, the feel is exactly the same. Having bought a heap of cherries for roughly half the price of what I paid for them yesterday on rue Mouffetard, I made my way home, heavily loaded but pleased with my bargain, yet, as usual, a bit sentimentally sad to leave the hill. I always am. Though this time not for long. Within a few days, a new bunch of visitors was in town, providing me with a renewed excuse to retrace my steps to Montmartre, but to the countrified pocket by the vineyard…
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