Some Singing In the Rain

photo: parade's pink cadillac

The parade's marshal always rides up in the pink Cadillac, but not always with water up to her ankles.

Especially After the Grape Test

Paris:- Saturday, 2. October 1999:- While doing the 'one and two years ago' for this week's Metropole's 'Café' column, I see that it is the weekend of the Fête des Vendanges on Montmartre and the Prix de l'Arc at Longchamps on Sunday.

Throughout the week the TV-weather news has gone from unpromising to dismal. For some odd reason, the nightly predictions have proved correct. The weather-lady looks apologetic just before she says it will be a teeny bit colder, and at daybreak it is.

This is probably my fault. In all of the years that I intended to go to Longchamps on Sunday, it never rained. If cloudy, the sun always managed to peek out during the afternoon. One year, when I did the Vendanges on Montmartre too, it only rained on the Butte a little bit, once.

Last night I heard raindrops falling like frozen peas into the courtyard outside my window. This is what I heard this morning too.

I didn't go to Longchamps last year; and I don't intend to go tomorrow. The high will be 10 degrees centigrade, itphoto: waiting at the vignes will be breezy and it will rain in the afternoon. If you go there, I'm sorry I've ruined your day. I'll go on the first fine day next spring; buy the racing paper 'Paris-Turf' and pick some winners.

Citizens and visitors wait for hours for the parade to arrive at the vineyard.

On account of the week's nearly non-stop rain, I have no philosophic 'tour' of autumn parks in Paris to turn into an 'Indian Summer' feature. This is the one year out of seven that it has been de-programmed.

It's a shame too, because the trees still have most of their leaves. If the sun does make a surprise appearance, they will be spectacular. The Mr. November inside me says this won't happen and the leaves will fall off, heavy from soggy damp.

I am inclined to write 'the end' right here. But weather forecasts are not perfect, so I cross the usual two fingers and dive into the métro, hoping the sun will be showing when I see the sky again up on Montmartre.

At Lamark-Caulaincourt, frozen peas are bouncing off the pavement so I un-cross my fingers and shove them into a deep pocket.

On Rue Caulaincourt there are no signs of any parade either. A lady cop at the corner of Rue Saint Vincent pulls her Vendanges program out of her cap and we give it a hard study. I think it is upsidedown. As she tells people not to go up Saint Vincent, I see that I've turned the map upsidedown.

The parade doesn't begin at the Mairie ofphoto: tino valentino gets a cafe the 18th arrondissement as usual, but down on the Boulevard de Clichy, at the Moulin Rouge.

I go up the steps to the Rue de l'Abreuvoir and over to the Rue des Saules where a lot of people are under umbrellas behind police barriers by the vineyard. I expect a lot of rum will be added to hot tea later on.

Tino sings solo while audience gets up the courage to toss coins into tin pot.

Over at the corner of the Rue Cortot and Mont-Cenis nothing is happening as usual, except for people who haven't found their way to the police barriers yet.

In the past I've spent hours behind those barriers waiting for the parade to arrive; but in this weather it is better to walk towards its vanguard.

At the place where it opens out in front of the Saint-Pierre de Montmartre church, Montmartre's resident entertainer - Tino Valentino! - is telling the shifting audience to sing louder because this will help to wipe out the Social Security's deficit.

All the foreigners around do not appreciate this form of Montmartre social wit; and not knowing the words either, do not sing. Gene Kelly's 'Singing In the Rain' might have got some takers. Maybe they sing it later after I've left.

The stands and booths that used to be further down under the trees in the Square Nadar, start at the church and line the Rue Saint-Eleuthère down to the corner of Rue Azaïs. There are more of them, and they have more regional specialties than hot dogs this year.

Last week's brochante sausages from the Pyrenees are replaced by similar ones from Savoie this week and they smell wonderful. So do the cheeses.

I have picked up a program with the parade route from the Syndicat d'Initiative in the Place de Tertre, butphoto: samplers of regional specialties I guess the parade will come along the Rue Saint-Eleuthère. As soon as I turn its corner, I hear booms.

Everything is 'more' this year, including the regional tibits and drinks.

Near the top of the stairs that wind up the Square Willette below Sacre Coeur, there is a gang of marchers - possibly from the Goutte d'Or - who have added some Jamaican touches to their powerhouse drumming. Oh yes! This is carnival trying to happen in Paris again. This beats 'techno' by a continent.

The rain gets more serious and I move back to find cover. When I look around, all of the Goutte d'Or paraders are under the marquee of the Funiculaire, mostly hidden behind the umbrellas of civilians.

There they wait until some more paraders catch up. The rain gets harder, slanting from the northwest. When it's time, out they come and after a boom-boom tuneup, waltz back into their Rio rhythms and samba off towards the direction of the rain.

A parader wearing a horse's head vaults the fence behind me to look for a toilet 'au natural' up the slope in the trees behind. Ever alert kids get their mothers' attention to point this out. Some of the marchers are carrying wine objects, and so are some of the spectators - but none are carrying any public facilities.

One lady near me, under the dripping branches, has a bottle, a glass half full of red, a long, thin cigar and is enjoying herself hugely. How she leads applause for the paraders, I don't quite understand, but she does.

The following paraders are bravely marching upstream against the current of the weather. Yes, 'brave' is the only word.

They've come most of the parade's route at this spot - after their tour up Lepic, along Abbessesphoto: marching band, goutte d'or into Orsel, left-turn in the Goutte d'Or, past Saint-Pierre and with a loop eastward to avoid the stairs on the Rue Paul Albert.

This group gives Montmartre a samba-shuffle Rio sound in spite of downpour.

The gentlewomen 'official' ladies go past and I hope they'll get their hot teas full of rum soon. The Republic of Montmartre boys and girls rata-tat their drums as they pass. The pink Cadillac d'honneur convertible comes past with the roof open. The stilt-people pass. The rain is very serious and everybody marching is very brave.

Even if they haven't got far left to go, they'll be clogged up around the vineyard for hours. I remember it from other years when it was bright, but cool after the sun dipped below the surrounding houses.

The user manual for my new camera says it might blow up if it gets wet, so I leave my overhanging tree and cross between paraders, to go and look for the métro at Abbesses.

This year's Montmartre vendanges are the last of this millennium and it looks like there is more support, in the form of sponsors, than in other years. The Moulin Rouge cabaret is having its 110th anniversary, and it has kicked in something besides being the starting point for today's parade.

As usual, Montmartre's 'Clos Montmartre' wine is for sale to the public. Republic oblige - you can deduct 40 percent of what you pay for it as a charitable donation.

Practically all of the advertisers and sponsors displayed in the program are Montmartre firms, except for Gaz de France.

One, a wine bar called Le Dépôt des Photographes, is new. Its 'vernissage' is this weekend, withphoto: grape carriers a competition called 'Le Vin et Ses Ivresses.' This is a novel idea; a place for tipsy photographers to show their fuzzier photos. Only on Montmartre.

Many parade groups from around France traditionally bring their own grapes.

Despite a whole arrondissement having a party in the pouring rain, this evening's TV-news does not feature it. No wonder Montmartre is a self-contained Republic.

What is featured, are the newsmen at 'Paris-Turf' - all giving different tips for tomorrow's Prix de l'Arc winner. This is followed by the weather-lady, forecasting extra heavy rain and maybe lightening for tomorrow afternoon.

Montmartre's wine goes on sale Sunday at 9:00, in time for breakfast, in front of the Saint-Pierre church. And, as the program says, the festivities continue on the Butte de Montmartre.

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