Montmartre Kicks Out Jams, Stomps Grape

Marchers in the vineyard
Guess how many 'regions' of France can be put in one little vineyard.

On the Side - a Bit of Clog-Dancing Too

Paris:- Saturday, 4. October 1997:- If it wasn't for the amount of stairs at métro Lamark-Caulaincourt, it would be really dumb to wait for the elevator-ride to the top. The waiting part takes ages.

There's not much sign of anything happening with the elevator, except people looking around, wondering if they should walk up because the thing's broken. Finally some people disappear - although the steel door in front of me looks the same - and when I look around a concrete corner, there is another doorway, the entry to a huge elevator.

The ride up takes about 30 seconds instead of the half-hour I was expecting, and it is no wonder people are disoriented after they get out of the big steel vandal-proof box. I beat them all through the chicane and the tunnel to the street.

The whole trip has been long and I need a jolt, so I go in the nearest bar; the last one I was in on Wednesday, 'Le Lamark.' There is no mini-tuba on the floor and no guy with a rope around his collar for a tie. I have my café, get my essential supplies and go.

In Montmartre, 'going' means going up stairs when it doesn't mean going down stairs. There's not much level 'going.' Back in the village, I am at the bottom and everything else is 'up' and I guess this is what I have in common with the citizens of this 'republic,' except in reverse. They go down to Paris and I go 'up' to the train to get to it.

I have been at this annual Fête des Vendanges in Montmartre before. The 60 times it happened before my first time, couldn't be much different from my last two times; but the fact that it is largely ignored by the rest of Paris makes it an attraction for me.

The papers I got from the city hall say it is a symbol of Parisian gaiety. Paris responds by sending the first-deputy-mayor as a token representative of the greater world.

The City of Westminster has sent its Lord-Mayor, the ultra-honorable Raymond Cox, and the 'republic' of Montmartre - motto: 'Faire de Bien Dans la Joie' - is represented by its President, Mme Suzon Denglos-Fau and her Ministers; its Queen Renault 4CV of the Vendanges, Mlle Fleur Houdinière; the 'god-mother' of this year's 'Cuvée Dalida,' the actress Sophie Marceau; its Mayor and national 'Minister charged with relations with the Parlement,' Mr. Daniel Vaillant; and the President of the Committee responsible for the whole affair, Mr. Gilles Guillet.

As various mayors look on, various personalities emerge from liitle cars.

A great many residents of this little-known republic have also turned up to see the festivities of the parades passing the reviewing stand, which is set up to face the vineyard, at the corner of the rue des Saules and the rue Saint-Vincent.

Besides residents, there are foreign visitors and foreign-correspondents and their video crews. There may even be a few Parisians from outside the 18th arrondissement too, but it is hard to tell, because all these people I see here have 'joie' on their faces.

All of these honorable people are either jammed into a reviewing stand or the sidewalks of streets with maximum widths of 10 metres and 6.7 metres respectively. The centres of these two streets have to be kept clear for the parades and marching bands and there are a large squad of police, plus Mr. Gilles Guillet taking care of this.

Despite 62 years of practice, we wait a long time for anything to happen. The Mayor, Daniel Vaillant, arrives soon after I do and he waits a long time too. It is a good thing it is a 'Golden October'' afternoon. It is a good thing we brought our 'essentials' and blue smoke wavers through the still air.

In the rue Saint-Vincent, beside 'Le Lapin Agile' cabaret, there is a band-stand and a jolly fellow on it makes announcements, sings 'musette' songs and introduces musicians and a good lady singer named 'France' who does a couple of Dalida's songs and bust of Dalida also a couple of Piaf's, and some of the crowd sing along, kind of 'sotto voce.' At least I think they do; the vineyard has about six or eight Bose speakers, set on pedestals.

Dalida, who has been dead for ten years, lived in Montmartre and is the 'image' of this year's version of this Montmartre tradition. You must be deaf if you never heard of her.

This stature of Dalida, was done by Alain Aslan.

Dalida was born in Egypt with an Italian name, recorded nearly 500 songs in French, 200 in Italian, and another 200 in German, Spanish, and Japanese - among other languages, but English is not mentioned as being one of them.

These recordings sold 120 million copies, and her latest CD to come off the presses is the re-release of 1969 recording of 'L'An 2005,' re-produced by her brother, Orlando, who is on the podium of dignitaries.

Today's stand-in singer, France, does Dalida's 'Mon Age à Moi,' and she may have done 'Gigi d'Amoroso' and 'Il Venait d'Avoir Dix-huit Ans,' but I can't be sure. The third one sounded like a Piaf to me.

All the same, in a 1988 notoriety poll commissioned by an encyclopedia publisher, Dalida - nickname: 'Dali' - came second after Charles de Gaulle, and ahead of the Pope and Mother Theresa.

As these songs end, Orlando is discovered sitting at the rear of the podium and he is brought forward to sit beside the Mayor. Mr. Cox, the Lord-Mayor, takes a few snapshots with his compact camera. He is quite young-looking for a Lord-Mayor.

High in a house beside the bandstand, a man in a dormer window is blowing smoke-rings into the blue sky, while a couple of ladies on the floor below overlook the vineyard opposite, which occupies about a third of an acre.

This Montmartre vineyard, loosely dating to before the time of the Emperor Domitian (AD 51 to 96), who ordered it ripped out to reduce Gallo competition with imported Roman brands; has had its ups and downs - and today produces an average of 400 litres of pretty good stuff, considering its unfavorable position facing north, and Paris' usual weather.

The actual Clos Montmartre 'Cuvée Dalida,' now on sale, is the 1996 vintage and there are 800 bottles of it available. I don't remember last year as being exceptional for wine, but it won a first prize 'in its category,' and Montmartre's own 'nose' gives it a 14/20, which is really not too shabby, considering.

As mentioned in last week's 'Au Bistro' column, this years' picking of the grape took place on Thursday, 27. September. Montmartre's wine cellar is in the basement of its city hall, on the place Jules-Joffrin, and that's where their 'nose' stomped on the grapes.

While you've been reading these interesting factoids, the bandstand's master of ceremonies has decided to pass the microphone to singers in the crowd behind the barriers in front of me. I hear the band but not the civilian singers and I wonder if the micro's lack of cable has anything to do with it; but when the man resumes his patter, it works fine.

The first marchers appear, coming down the rue des Saules; and not up the rue Saint-Vincent as I had been expecting on account of the map I'd been given.

These are the Garde Republicaine du Montmartre, with their swords and chromed helmets; and they are followed by a lot of regional groups dressed in regional costumes playing regional brass and marching bands, mixed in with some regional pom-pom girls, and they are carrying various items of regional wine-related folkloric knick-knacks such as drinking cups in a variety of sizes as well as fake vats full of fake grapes.

In a nod to Westminster's Lord-Mayor, there are also two 'companions of the whisky,' wearing kilts and playing bagpipes, accompanied by some thirsty-looking gents.

Some of these groups are large and some are as small as three members, and there are the police - not doing much - and the house on St Vincent organizers, over-doing it to get the groups to turn right into the rue Saint-Vincent, and there are the photographers and me as well, and some other random individuals - so it is a lot going on in a small space.

The vineyard, the bandstand and the house with a view.

On top of it, when the marchers get to where the vineyard ends on Saint-Vincent, they are being directed up into the vineyard, where they are supposed to stand in lines between the rows of the 1,762 vines of grapes.

This is a slow business and since more groups are coming faster than the vineyard can absorb them, they are backing up towards the intersection and it is getting even more crowded.

Between the marchers, there are an intermittent series of notables - the 'President of the Republic,' the 'Queen,' the 'Demoiselles du Moulin Rouge!' - who arrive in a series of antique Renault automobiles.

A Breton group does a dance wearing Dutch-like cloggies, and another does a tricky dance involving sticks and showing off very long and folkloric knickers. These last two seemed to be 'hors-programe,' and we are around the two-hour mark now and very little sun is left in the vineyard.

I look over a fellow's shoulder and see it is group number 48 passing; and there are another two pages-worth of names to go. Nothing is level here and I am getting a bit tired.

So are the marchers. The band-stand man says they've been on the road 'for kilometres,' but I think he means for several hours of kilometres. Some of the marching bands have young members and the pom-pom girls can twirl their batons just so long, so...

I'll probably come to this fête every year, so I don't have to take in its whole annual 48 hours-worth in one go. To tell the truth, I am really here today to get a photo of this year's 'God-mother,' Sophie Marceau.

I don't see her name on the page of the list I can see, but I do see that the 'Demoiselles du Moulin Rouge' are arriving soon. I shift my weight off the bandstand and go over Moulin Rouge girls to the corner, where I should be able to get a good shot of them.

While their car is still halfway up the rue des Saules, the other photographers slink on up there. Only a cop and a small girl in a white dress are near me.

They are not Sophie Marceau, but there are two of them and they are up close.

The 'Demoiselles' - all two of them - are throwing purple confetti about, and their car is followed by another containing the 'stars' of the Moulin Rouge's show - Michou, and somebody something - and they are throwing lots of purple confetti all over the photographers who have mobbed them.

Everybody is in an uproar, and people standing on balconies are slugging down gobs on wine for joy!

This is fine. I will at least get a clear shot of the two 'Demoiselles' when they arrive right in front of me. See it here; this is why I am not a general whose plans work.

It's the last shot in the box. The light is going and so are my legs. I use what's left of them to take me down Saint-Vincent past the old Renaults to Caulaincourt, and down the stairs to the métro.

After buying today's Le Monde, I take a double-café in Le Lamark, but do not see the guy with the mini-tuba. Maybe he is still out at Saint-Ouen, maybe with the lady bass-player.

From Saint-Lazare I take a nearly empty train back to the sticks, joined unexpectedly for the half-hour ride by one of my neighbors. Paris is really just a big village, and Montmartre is one of them.


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