The Montmartre Wine Festival

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When I woke up last Saturday, feeling tired and lazy, I was considering giving the Montmartre vendanges a miss. But when I saw the glorious golden morning that made “my” park look even more stunning, I brushed away my reluctance to cross the city and climb those steep flights of steps that take you to le Clos de Montmartre, the little patch of vineyard bounded by rue des Saules and Saint-Vincent, opposite the famous Lapin Agile cabaret. By the time I got there, an equally golden autumnal afternoon was beginning to set, making everything look exquisitely pretty, and so “far away” form Paris. I hadn’t been back to the Montmartre vendanges for several years, and was delighted to see that they had not become touristy or kitschy. This is still a local, Parisian affair, or even better, neighbourhood affair, (which should not make you shy away – quite the contrary – you are more than welcome!). Like in the old days, when officialdom was present, the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoé, made an appearance at the vineyard (which, by the way, is the property of the City of Paris), radiant and shaking everyone’s hands. A few hours later, whilst he was about to shake other Parisians’ hands at the Hôtel de Ville, on the occasion of a new nocturnal feast he had initiated, the creative Mayor of Paris was stabbed in the stomach and rushed to La Salpêtrière, the very same hospital where Princess Diana died in 1997. Quite amazing when one remembers that as recently as last Bastille Day, someone tried to kill President Chirac. From the outset, Le Clos de Montmartre was set up as a charity, whose proceeds went to the children of the then destitute village of Montmartre. The painter Francisque Poulbot, who loved Montmrtre’s children – nicknamed after him les petits poulbots – backed the project. Poulbot even set up a playground for them in his garden (detour past his house, at no. 13 of the neighbouring avenue Junot). He also set up a dispensary for them in the backyard of the restaurant La Pomponnette, at no. 42 rue Lepic, where you can have a wonderful, homely French meal, surrounded by Poulbot’s artwork (tel 01 46 06 08 36, closed Sundays and Monday lunch). From the outset too, the vineyard was part of the eccentric life of the hill, which “seceded” from Paris in 1929 and set itself up as a “Republic” and a free commune, with its own independent Mayor. The idea was Poulbot’s yet again, who was fighting off property developers and managed to save the patch of land that was soon to become the famous vineyard. The president of the otherwise larger French Republic, actually attended the first vendanges in 1934. At present, it is still the Republic of Montmartre that presides over the celebrations with fun songs, colourful costumes and festive brass bands. All this motley world marches and dances through the streets of Montmartre in a procession that disbands in front of Le Lapin Agile. The neighbourhood’s children, les Petits Poulbots, opened the procession, followed by wine-growers from different parts of France, and elsewhere, in their traditional, colourful costumes: wooden clogs from Burgundy, dainty, lacy headdresses from Normandy, kimonos donned by the staff of the wine museum in Osaka, tartans donned by the order of the taste de whisky… Above all, some mindboggling dancers, dressed in striking black and yellow costumes, who glided gracefully on slender stilts down the steep, cobbled rue des Saules. This year Toulouse-Lautrec honours the 2001 vintage, on sale throughout the year at the Mairie of the 18th arrondissement, on place Jules Joffrin – 40 €, if you buy it in its lovely wooden case; and remember all proceeds go to charity. Meanwhile the Museum of Montmartre, round the corner (12, rue Cortot), is devoting a temporary exhibition to the painter. Make sure to visit the museum next time you’re in Paris, even if Toulouse Lautrec is no longer on display. It’s a heartwarming little place which brings alive the same spirit of the good old days, which you can also enjoy nightly at Le Lapin Agile. For more on Thirza Vallois see her biography. Copyright © Thirza Vallois To order one of Thirza’s books, or to correspond with her, please send email to: BonjourParisFr.
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