Sunshine On Montmartre

photo: view from montmartre

Near the top of Montmartre, all Paris is at the feet
of these visitors.

Summer Visit To Old Favorite

Paris:- Friday, 13. August 1999:- After Wednesday's special-effects celestial events, after all my own special events in July, I think it is time to get back on the road of walking around Paris.

It is still summertime, so this is not going to be serious. There is this magnetic effect though - I can't walk my new neighborhood into familiarity in the first four weeks - this has to take its time, and there is going to be plenty of it.

I have a feeling that I am being pulled to see what it looks like up on Montmartre. I know what it looks like on Montmartre, but every day is a new day, so I will see what it is like today.

Last night's TV-weather forecast had a north-central-France triangle of a window of fair-weather opportunity, for the morning only. This morning's Le Parisien's weather map has no such window at all. It's the same for Saturday and Sunday.

Regardless of weather maps, when I go out to get the paper the sunny triangle-shaped good-weather window is over Paris. For how long? With so much pessimism, I better get going.

It is not hot. As they say, it is a bit 'below normal.' I wonder what 'normal' is - 'normal' for where? Glasgow? I dophoto: upstairs to montmartre not even consider taking the bus. As it is, this fine, but cool weather-opportunity, may be short. Even riding the métro, it may be over when I get up there.

Ah, the richness of the métro. I can take line 4, direction Porte de Clignancourt; to change at Montparnasse to line 13 - direction Porte de la Chapelle - or take the line 4 up to Marcadet-Poissonniers and catch line 13 going the other way, coming down to the Butte by the back door.

Of the two-dozen ways to the top of the 'Butte,' this is one of them.

This is the way I decide to go; I don't feel like changing at Montparnasse today. By going up past Gare de l'Est and Gare du Nord, I'll see everybody heading for the trains. It's the mid-August going-home weekend.

As it turns out, the few people with bags and packs get off at neither station. Some got off at Saint-Michel and Châtelet, leaving even fewer heading north.

This line 4 goes through Barbés-Rochechouart. It occurs to me there might be something to see of the renovation of the métro line 2; and there's always something going on at Barbés. I get off at Barbés.

Coming out underneath the overhead line 2, there is tremendous noise. There are provisional barricades everywhere and provisional direction sign to the provisional substitute bus that is supposed to fill the gap in the métro line. On the Boulevard de Rochechouart the sun is still operating and there is a clot of people provisionally waiting for this bus.

The shoppers are as thick as ever around the boulevard and all its textile shops. I vaguely remember there is a diagonal street going up to the Halle Saint-Pierre, but I have to walk around a bit before finding the Rue d'Orsel, which I find is called Rue Livingstone at the top end by Saint-Pierre, by coming up the Rue Seveste.

For years I've had the intention of going through all the textile places around Barbés. I feel thatphoto: rue maurice utrillo there are things to find out in them. Rue d'Orsel bends and crosses over to the Rue de Steinkerque, and the textile shops are everywhere. You can get dish-towels, sheets, curtains or wedding dresses.

The Halle Saint-Pierre is closed. It has low-key exhibitions; usually of a naive character - often it is interesting stuff. Open or closed it is a good landmark, because it leads to the bottom of the stairs of the Rue Ronsard - often photographed in winter or fog.

At the top there is an irregular place where the Rue Maurice Utrillo joins it, plus the Rue Muller and the Rue Feutrier. There are normally three cafés here, but today the oddest-shaped one is being renovated. The one in shadow at the top of the stairs is getting ready for lunch, and at the one in sun a few people are finishing their breakfast cafés.

I go up the Rue Paul-Albert to see if the place near the top looks as deserted-village-like as last time. It does, because its café is between owners. It is a very sunny place, with the morning sun. From it there is a steep stairway going down and east to Rue Ramey, called the Passage Cottin.

Across the Rue Lamarck and up another set of stairs, the Parc de la Turlure is on the right. From it, to the east, there some chimneys in front of the east Paris skyline and to the southwest there is the back of Scare-Cúur and its spacy bell-tower.

Although the park is not big, it has great views and is very calm, with plenty of benches and a sort of arbor for sitting under the shade of leaves of vines of some sort.

A gong from the bell-tower rattles the neighborhood. I go around the back end of the church past the school and all of a sudden it is the Montmartre of the postcards and of the people who buy them; stuck in a bunch in the Rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre - watching one of the countless immobile human statues.

There have always been a few of these around - at Palais Royal and on the Pont des Arts when the sculpture show was on it - but there has been a vast increase in their population this season.

They just have to stand very still for long periods, wearing some sort of a costume, and people tossphoto: montmartre train money at their hats. On the Rue du Cardinel Guibert beside the church, there are three more of them, plus a mime; each with a fascinated audience.

The little train runs up from the métro at Pigalle.

Visitors are littering the steps of Scare-Cúur and all of the many steps leading up to it from the Square Willette. They are doing what they usually are doing - resting after the walk up, catching the sun on the steps, photographing each other or looking out over a big view of hazy Paris.

It is a bit like watching ants; they are all so busy - except for the few who are having a big sit-down - who are probably wondering 'what it all means' while I am wondering if they are wondering this, instead of wondering 'what it all means' myself.

Since the eclipse on Wednesday, I have been trying to figure out why I am not being philosophical. Maybe just wondering this is being philosophical - or it is a double-negative - as in, I am not being not philosophical.

Maybe I am never philosophical; maybe it is just August and I have a fried brain even though I am not laid out like a grilling sardine on a Spanish beach.

Around the corner of the Rue Azaïs and up the Rue Saint-Euthère to the place in front of the church, I pass a pair of 'living statues' - posing as Elvis Presley's marriage to Bobby's wife in 'Dallas.' Or was that some other lady?

Anyhow, they've gotten themselves up as a wedding-cake-couple, with frilly platform and a bower looping over them. They've gone to a lot of trouble with the costumes and the decor, but the guy looks more like a tall Jack Kerouac - maybe it's not Elvis at all?

A lot of them do it as Egyptian mummies, so this is quite a wide departure from the standard fare. Imagine, a pair of mummies named Presley, on a wedding cake, on Montmartre.

The Place du Tertre is its usual semi-hectare of terrace cafés - with only a few diners - with its fringe of artists for 'local color.' The Rue Norvins is plugged with people - as usual.

They've been here for over a hundred years; but now they are dressed more informally and more of them are speaking Spanish. These are dressed more formally than many others, but about as they would be dressed in Madrid at this time of year.

In the Rue Lepic it is like August in the rest of Paris - closed shops and cafés, and few pedestrians. For years I have wanted to walk its whole length, but part of it zigs off as a marché street. I either do it and get no further than Rue des Abbesses, or I do the curving top part like today, and continue along Abbesses instead of going down the marché part.

It is always further from the downturn of Lepic to the métro Abbesses than I remember. The stretch is less marché; more it is a series of lively cafés. Justphoto: montmartre cafe after the métro exit, Abbesses turns down too, but becomes Rue des Martyrs until it hits the junction of the Boulevards Clichy and Rochechouart.

There are the cafés in the Place du Tertre, and there are others just around a corner.

I stop in the last bar on the left to offer myself a drink. It comes with ice, which I offer back. A long, narrow bar, with a serpentine zinc top. On the Rue des Martyrs side, the Divan du Monde is across the street. 'Bab El Baraka.'

Towards the intersection, as a client leaves, I think for a moment that there should be bat-wing doors. That there isn't, reminds me the forecast 'triangle' of good weather is lasting a lot longer than its prediction.

So I follow the boulevards towards the Place to Clichy - past the music dealers, the underwear dealers - latex! - and all of the peep shows; with maybe the biggest single concentration of daytime neon in the city - past the Moulin Rouge and two dozen less well-known cabarets. Even the pharmacies look racy.

This last part is a strolling search for the week's posters. It is a pretty thin week for them, although I could get a half-dozen Morris-columns - all the new French movies seem to be advertised on them instead of the sidewalk poster displays.

If I had known the weather was going to hold, I could have done something more ambitious. But it is summer in Paris; what's the hurry?

At Clichy, I take the métro line 2 to Etoile and change there for line 6 to Denfert. I get a window seat on the left side of the train. Just before it leaves Etoile I am surrounded by Chinese from somewhere; about a dozen of them, wearing badges saying 'Jet-Tours' or something..

They take photos of each other sitting in the métro wagon as the train waits at the Kléber station like usual. As the train later leaves the Passy station I stand up and poke the camera out of the open window top.

I have time to squeeze off two shots aimed at the Tour Eiffel. Luckily no train is coming the other way. It is something I've been intending to do for years. Weather, and the right seat, permitting.

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