Monday, February 06, 2006
NO ONE Eats in Montmartre
Thirty-two years ago, my father was on business in Paris staying in an extremely smart hotel. I was a student in a less salubrious part of town. Very kindly, Dad suggested that I choose a part of Paris I wanted to eat in, and he would find a slap-up spot for a fine dinner. I chose Montmartre. After all, I was there to study Art History and so it made perfect sense to me.
“But Monsieur, NO ONE eats in Montmartre” was the response of the rattled Concierge. Not fazed one bit, my father insisted (what a great Dad) that a table be booked. Thirty-two years later, I returned to Montmartre.
Yes, I realise that Montmartre is one of the main acts in Paris’s tacky tourism show, but I have also read that one need only wander two streets back from the Sacre Coeur or Place de Tertre to find a delightful village well worth the detour. Plus, I’m a sucker for the movie Amelie. Of course I am too worldly to think that Montmartre could be anything like the film and the fact that I spent a year living near Salzburg, had nothing to do with the Sound of Music.
So off I went to see if any of Montmartre’s anti-bourgeois past could still be found. I arrived by Metro at the Abbessese Station, a fine example of the classic Belle Epoque style of Paris stations. Inside, be sure to use the stairs and not the lift to see an astonishing display of graffiti which the numerous Japanese tourists found quite exciting. Outside, I should have seen the Bateau-Lavoir, the atelier of Picasso, Juan Gris, Modigliani and other artistic giants, but I missed it somehow. Never mind, the real thing burned down several years ago. What stands today is a reconstruction.
From the Metro, I walked up the hill to the Sacre Coeur , dodging the joggers who use the steps as their personal gym. They’re not as sadistic as the serious guys who run you over in the Luxembourg, but it pays to stay out of their way. There is a funny funicular for the less fit, and I’m sure that any child would relish the chance to ride a ski lift in the middle of Paris. I had a quick peek in Sacre Coeur and it’s really not too exciting. I did read an interesting fact about the place. For the past 110 years, men and women have been holding a 24/7 prayer “relay” to purge the sin of humanity. I’d give them an “A” for effort but a “D-“ for impact.
Going from one tourist trap to another, I wandered over to the Place du Tertre ( the place where my father convinced the concierge to book us a table). My God, it is awful, rather like Marrakesh after a bus load of unsuspecting tourists has been dumped into the Souk. The “artists” are giving a super hard sell to the tourists and the tourists wander around searching for something that hasn’t been there for the last 100 years.
From this tourist horror, I flew over to the small and very charming Musee de Montmartre which can be found at 12 rue Cortot, in a pretty 17th century house. Some of the famous residents who lived and worked in the house include Renoir, Dufy and Utrillo. I liked this small museum tremendously. The staff where remarkably solicitous, the collection exuded the village/bohemian atmosphere that made Montmartre famous and the view of Paris ( and its last remaining vineyard) out the top windows is particularly lovely.
My next stop on my search for bohemian Montmartre was the Montmartre Cemetery and here I found the most vivid example of the romantic, anti-establishment quartier of my imagination. The cemetery is a peaceful green haven, below street level frequented by lots of feral looking cats, schoolgirls smoking cigarettes, families tending grave and a smattering of tourist on the prowl for the many resting luminaries. If the permanent residents of this place were to rise up, what a party it would be. Here is who I found: Edgar Degas, Gustave Moreau, Berlioz, Alexandre Dumas, Stendhal, Offenbach, Nijinsky, Francois Truffaut ( the French New Wave filmmaker), and my favourite, Louise Weber, the creator of the French cancan.
From the Montmartre Cemetery, I walked over to have a quick look at Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge. It all looked very sad and tired. If I were you, I’d give it a pass. At that point, I hopped on the Metro and headed home, the same Metro station that I introduced to my father thirty-two years ago when we were unable to secure a taxi back to his hotel after our fine dinner. Seeing as it was his first ride on a Paris subway, he took great interest in how the whole thing worked. Being an engineer by training, he appreciated the scale and efficiency. Well Dad, the Metro is still efficient, I’m still searching for my anti-establishment past and the Concierge is still right – NO ONE eats in Montmartre.
12 rue Cortot
Open everyday from 11 – 6 except Monday
Fee: Eur 5.50
Metro: Abesses or Anvers
Bus line 64, 80
37 Avenue Samson
Open Monday through Friday 8 – 6
Saturday 8:30 – 6, Sunday 9 – 6 ( 5:30 in winter)
Metro: Blanche or Place Clichy