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Paris-Day 5: Montmartre

Originally a notorious cabaret,
Chat Noir closed in 1897 .
The name and heritage
of the once famous nightclub
now graces a small hotel

Despite the fact that my limp is getting more pronounced from all of the walking we’ve done, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Paris but it is today that I have been looking forward to above everything else we’ve done. Today, when Maggie gets back from the last morning session at her conference, we’re off to Montmartre and if the Latin Quarter is Maggie’s favourite section of the city, Montmartre is mine.

In a city that measures its history in terms of centuries, Montmartre is old and has seen war and the arts in equal measure. Montmartre became known as the bohemian part of Pairs and was home to writers and famous artists like Lautrec and Cézannes.

It is dominated by the Basilica of Sacre Coeur and is the highest part of Paris offering panoramic views of the city.
Like everything else, Montmartre has become more commercial but it still retains much of its historic charm and if there are no budding Cézannes or Latrechs now, there are still plenty of artists clustered in the streets, selling their art and creating new paintings while you watch.
Basilica of Sacre Coeur

No canvas is too small and the palette knife is the preferred instrument for applying paint. For most of these painters, brushes take too long. There is every conceivable style of painting from abstract and impressionist to classic realism, from quite good to abhorrent. It is a blaze of noise and colour that matches the canvases of the artists in the street.

Most of the paintings are fairly mundane and are of the most well-known tourist attractions including the Eiffel Tower, The Arch de Triomphe and so on. Some are street scenes of people walking by brightly coloured cafes while others are highly stylized abstracts of God knows what.
Montmartre is still the outdoor studio to dozens
of artists who work while they try to sell
their paintings.

Interspersed between the scenic painters are the portrait artists. Some have a small stall where you can sit and pose while they render your likeness on paper; others wander the streets, pad in hand trying to entice tourists into stopping long enough for a quick sketch. The wandering artists tend not to be very good. We watched one particularly aggressive artist draw the portrait of a little girl and when he was finished, we wondered if we had been looking at the same little girl he was looking at.

There are the usual cafes and souvenir shops scattered around the streets and like the Latin Quarter there is music and laughter and crowds of people.
You’re kidding, right?

We wonder over to Sacre-Coeur and Maggie runs up the stairs to go into the basilica while I rest my leg by sitting on a convenient cement traffic barrier at the base of the steps. When she returns we decide we will need more cash but can’t find an ATM anywhere. In spite of my sore leg and back, I’m prepared to wander around until we find one because I hate asking for directions. Maggie is more pragmatic and asks someone for directions which initiates the great expedition.

There are no ATMs in Montmartre apparently and we are told that we will have to go down to the city below where there is one at the base of the stairs. Stairs? Are you kidding me?
Ah! The funiculaire, a  more
civilized way to travel up and down

Fortunately, there is a cable car, or funiculaire as it is called in Paris, that will carry us down and back up the side of the butte. We buy tickets, enter the cable car and descend. Sure enough, there is an ATM in a store right at the bottom of the hill and, sure enough, it is out of service. (I am convinced more than ever that Air Canada has its fingers in many operations)

We ask where there might be another and are pointed to go down more stairs, which we do, only to find ourselves in the garment district. Virtually every store sells cloth of some description or another. If either of us sewed, this might have held some interest for us but it tended to remind us the old garment districts in Montreal and Toronto so we weren’t all that interested. Besides, all we really wanted was to find an ATM, withdraw some cash and get back to Montmartre.
A view of Paris from Montmartre

We wander up and down side-streets with Maggie asking for directions at various times only to be always told that there was an ATM just around the corner. It became clear that ‘which corner’ was never actually established. I would have like to have stepped in to ask for directions but I’m a guy and we don’t ever ask anyone how to get anywhere. It’s not just a point of principle, it’s genetic.

Eventually, we do find an ATM, withdraw some money and start to retrace our steps. The temperature has dropped and Maggie’s feet are cold in her sandals so now we have to look for a store that sells socks.

Good luck. Scarves abound, socks are nowhere to be found.

We walk back to the funiculaire buy two more tickets and cable car it back up to Montmartre. My cane is getting a real workout so I find another cement traffic barrier and sit down while Maggie wanders off to look for chocolates for her colleagues back in Canada. It’s amazing how the little things intrude on those great moments.
Walking in the footsteps of famous artists,
singers and writers

We wander back into artist’s alley, as I called it, and watched a few more street artists at work. We had a café crème and, of course, bought some more scarves. I was no longer concerned about buying another suitcase to lug them all home, I was working in my head on a business plan to open a small shop in Canada that sells scarves.
Back in the Cambrone neighbourhood where our hotel is located, we have dinner. I start mine with an incredible French onion soup followed by a somewhat decent steak. Maggie has chicken and more café crème. We travel home tomorrow so we head back to the hotel earlier than usual to pack or more accurately, so that Maggie can pack. I like to save mine until the morning just to give her something to worry about.
Once the bohemian centre of Paris, Montmartre
is now a major tourist attraction

When we go to bed, Maggie is asleep in moments while I lay awake wondering how Air Canada will screw up the next day. It’s like anticipating a violent storm. You know it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about and you have no idea how much damage will be done. You just know it’s not going to be pleasant.

My last thought, which I confess is a touch incoherent, is that Air Canada is a pretty poor representation of our country and maybe Maggie and I would have more enjoyable trip if we traveled home on a beaver.
A beaver? I begin to think that either my mind is going or I am suffering from sleep deprivation.


Paris – Day 1: Les vaches disent moo!

Paris-Day 2: Cultured and Assimilated

Paris-Day 3: The Fleas

Paris-Day 4: Just Being There – The Latin Quarter

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