Reaching the Sky

photo: place du tertre montmartre
Not the quietest place, but the place du Tertre
is not as crowded as usual either.

Up On Montmartre

Paris:- Wednesday, 24. June 1998:- While everybody is sitting on the Champs-Elysées waiting for four various World Cup matches to start this afternoon, I am getting close to the sky up on top of Montmartre.

It is a great 'sky' day for it too. It is not as hot as last week and there is a bit more wind, which is pushing a few white fluffy clouds around, just enough to keep the sky from looking blankly blue, like a doll's china eyes.

As I toil up the stairs of the rue Girardon, which splits after the first flight into a sunny side and a shady side, I am looking forward to seeing the place du Tertre absolutely chock full of football fans killing time in a useful way by being tourists and ogling the sights.

In the place at the top of the stairs, there is a painter under the trees and a young lady is looking down the stairs. The bust of Dalida is looking at nothing in particular.

In the rue de l'Abreuvoir off to the left, I look for a sculpture emerging from a wall, but it must be on another street. The pink café on the corner of the rue des Saules only has a few people on the terrace, but they have a lot of sun.

In the rue Cortot, I stop in at the Musée de Montmartre, to find out what they've forgotten to tell me. The quiet museum with its country garden, only has all of its entire collection on display. Thisposter: musee montmartre is called 'Flaneries au Fil du Temps' - which I suppose shows all of Montmartre, by all of its artists. This show continues until the fall; according to one guide, until the end of December.

On these streets there are not many people about. It is the Montmartre 'village,' which does not know about the place du Tertre or about any football championships. There is light and shadow and stone paving and some breezes, and a great deal of quiet.

At the rue du Mont Cenis there are some people looking down the stairs and off to the north. In the other direction there are not many more until I get to rue du Chevalier. Merchants are standing around wondering where their trade is. The café terraces are not full.

A bit further on, at about the level of the rue Saint-Rustique, I can actually see the opposite souvenir shops; there seems to be fewer visitors here than there were on New Year's Eve.

For the first time I notice the gates of the church, Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, are open. To tell you the truth, it is the first time I've noticed this church here. Inside the gates there are a lot of cobble-stones and a couple of trees, and some boys kicking a mini-football at the fence. The courtyard looks like some public- assistance location.

In 1133, Louis VI - the 'Big' - ordered the building a religious establishment here. As the local population was not great, the church, divided in two, served for the religious orders, and the locals. Completed in 1147, this is Paris' oldest church. It has even older bits in it, dating tophoto: place tertre the seventh century - and a lot of other details have been added as well. Louis XIV had the facade fixed up during his reign.

Part of the place du Tertre, when it is almost deserted.

The church had a double consecration; the first was done on Easter Monday, 21. April 1147 and the second was 40 days later, on 1. June. Pope Eugène III did the honors on both occasions, with assistance from Saint-Bernard and Pierre le Vénérable, Cluny's abbot.

Since then the church has had a considerable history of various bells, a telegraph tower, several fires, the Revolution, and a time in 1814 as a Russian wheat depot. It was fixed up a bit in 1834 and 1845, but became a munitions warehouse during the Commune.

It was about to fall down on the heads of the faithful in 1899 when a group of Montmartre artists bribed the Socialist and notorious anti-clerical municipal councilman Eugène Fournière with a fancy dinner, and obtained the credits necessary to rebuild the entire church, stone by stone - which took five years - and it was reopened in 1908.

I won't go into who is buried here or for how long, except to mention Queen Adélaïde of Savoy who died in 1154, 17 years after 'big' Louis VI. For 'sights,' Saint-Pierre de Montmartre does not get top marks, but I give it four stars for age alone.

In front of the church, the height is 129.35 metres above sea level, making it the highest point in Paris, and therefore closest to the sky today. The Seine, where it leaves Paris, is 104 metres lower.

From here I can see the place du Tertre is definitely not chock full of visitors. I don't know if the trees are the ones planted in 1635, but if they are and you accidently damage one of them, you could be condemned to pay 30 livres to the Dames de Montmartre. They had people hung here for more serious crimes. A 'liberty' tree was planted in the place in 1848 and it lasted until 1871.

Montmartre's first city hall was, and is, in the place du Tertre. At the time, in 1790, Montmartre was a municipality outside Paris - it had sort of seceded - and the city hall was in the mayor's house, on the second floor.

The mayor, Félix Desportes de Blinval, had his first daughter named 'Montmartre' and was a pal of Bailly, Lafayette, and Danton. Desportes went on to handling diplomatic missions to Switzerland and had various other career ups and downs - including narrowly missing a date with the guillotine - and ended up serving even Napoléon after hephoto: stairs and acrobat returned from Elba. Then the Bourbons returned and Desportes ended up dying in the rue Lafitte in 1849, completely forgotten.

A Japanese video crew finds something actually moving and films the action.

Under the sun, under the parasols, in the shade of the old city hall, painters are painting the scene for the nth time and cartoonists are sketching their sitters - who are serious - and their companions are critically observing the likenesses.

But the place is not chock-full, and there is room - for the first time I can remember - to move around this and see it all easily. When it is more crowded, it is harder to see. The trees are too full and the parasols are too low, to get a photo of the whole scene, no matter which viewpoint I try.

Although there is nothing to it, I always like going out by the rue Saint-Eleuthère, past the last card shop and down the hill to the square Nadar, where only a few people are sitting under the shade of the trees.

Looking up at the dome of Scare Coeur, I see what appears to be someone hanging from a rope. Going up, the hard way? Coming down?

The café by the head of the top of the funiculaire advertises a 'giant screen' and that is it for football's presence on the Butte. Various people in costume are in rigid poses and I often miss noticing these if they have no audience focused on them. I see that these don't. Not seen, maybe they are not here.

No big crowd on the stairs of the church is a surprise and I go up to see what the view is like. It is just as good down at the top of the stairs at the top of the square Willette.

The wind blows an empty and lone cola can off the porch and I watch as it gets pushed, bit by bit, down the stone stairs. The sound it makes draws stares. 'It's not my can!' I should say, as if I am a good citizen.

If I were this, I would... not pick up the can. How else can I see what the wind will do with it? Observe whether the noise of it tripping down the stairs will attract a pick-upper? There is no other litter around; just this one empty, red can, on a vast expanse of big flagstones.

By the top of the stairs, visitors are posing for photos against the Paris skyline, which is shimmering, with points of sparkling reflections from far-away windows. There is a lot of Paris to be seen, even with the whole southwestern part cut off by the trees by the funiculaire.

Down below, the top of the merry-go-round is twirling and colored flags are fluttering in the rue de Steinkerque, and there are a lot of people in there, like little stick figures.

It is a narrow street, leading down the two blocks to the métro Anvers on the boulevard Rochechouart. 'Tati' and all the textile places are in there and there is always a crowd around for them.

Up here on the Butte, the sun is shining and there is a breeze moving the little puffs of clouds across the big sky. A Japanese video-crew has given up looking for subjects and their still photographer is shooting them. At thephoto: place willette bottom of the first flight of stairs, an acrobat moves and they see him, or her, and in a little while, the acrobat is a moving subject.

The merry-go-round, and behind it, the rue de Steinkerque.

It is really quiet. One baby screaming when it is like this, like the single cola can, makes a lot of noise. I think the people waiting on the Champs-Elysées for the next football game are actually waiting on the Champs-Elysées, and not up here, on the Butte of Montmartre.

Musée de Montmartre
12. rue Cortot, Paris 18. Closed Mondays; otherwise open from 11:00 to 18:00 daily. Info. Tel.: 01 46 06 61 11.

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