Taking a Long View

photo: montmartre, from terrace samaritaine

Montmartre heights, from the terrace café on the
roof of Samaritaine.

On a Clear Day

Paris:- Wednesday, 26. June 2002:- There are days when being low down in the canyons isn't going to cut it. Look at it - it's a sunny day with a bit of breeze and it is pretty warm. It's a day that requires the sky for a hat, and for the eyes it looks perfect for seeing a long way.

There is lots of sky if you park in front of Marie's house in the Luxembourg, but it is kind of low and if you look the wrong way the Tour Montparnasse is hanging over you like a blunt sword. This is hard on the head-room area of being high.

Okay. The local joke is that the only place you can't see the Tour Montparnasse is to be down in the métro or on its top. I've been up there - its top is really like a parking lot for helicopters. It's not what you could call a cozy corner of Paris. If you have to be on a roof, there are better ones.

Another thing I'm thinking of, isphoto: bus stop, m utrillo, sacre coeur the opposite of being high - of being someplace relatively low that gives a good view of 'high.' For this I am not thinking of Montsouris, which isn't too high and when you are 'low' on it, there isn't a big difference. But for a minor high, the pastoral Montsouris is pretty good.

A closer view of Sacre Coeur, from the Maurice Utrillo bus stop.

Throughout Paris there are other minor hills too, but most of these are so built up that the 'looking down' part of them is more imaginary than real. The Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève, just behind the Panthéon, is an ancient high ground were the good saint fought off Attila's Huns - oh, a long time ago. There are views, but most of them have masonry in them.

The edge of the parvis at Trocadéro, overlooking the Tour Eiffel, has a lot of sky if you don't mind lacy iron towers right in the middle of it. A lot of people think this is Paris' best view and it probably is number one. So much so, that many see no need to actually go up the tower to get high, higher or as high as you can get.

There are three reasons why I'm not going up the Tour Eiffel today. I got some photos of it last week, while not looking for people on the grass of the Champ de Mars. I was also looking for VW Beetles to see if any were being used as mobile hotels.

The other reasons are that there is no 'Paris,' other than overhigh pigeons, really handy up on its top. And, I'm looking for 'free' highs today. For this last reason I am not going to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, or ride up to the lookout on top of the Grande Arche at La Défense.

Nor am I going down to the Parc André Citroën to be lifted up in the tetheredphoto: cafe consulat balloon there - although a lot of people have told me this is quite an experience. Another thing I am not going to do is stand in line for a long time, to pay to climb slowly up any 387 steps inside one of Notre Dame's towers.

Montmartre offers many up and down views.

I suppose you've already guessed I'm out for a free high today. But I'm not going out to the Buttes-Chaumont park or Belleville where there are peek-a-boo long views because I've figured out another angle for the enterprise.

To get to the top of Montmartre there are two métro stops, one of them more or less underground than the other, with both of them being the most underground in Paris. I prefer Lamarck-Caulaincourt one to begin with, probably because it is sort of the back door.

Halfway up, by the vineyard, it is already possible to get long views to the north. But these are through the slices made by streets angling downhill.

On the top of the 'butte,' looking for long views, I don't particularly notice all the people looking at other people looking at the art market circus in the Place du Tertre, even though I walk right through it.

By the south side, before getting to the place, there is a wonderful café with a terrace that has only one fault - there is a house between it and any view. On either side of it, there are views - of Montmartre spilling down its hill, and of steep steps climbing up it.

The big view is just in front of the white domed Scare Coeur birthday-cake of a church, but there are other views before you get to it, and others on the other side.

The main view is a huge one. It must be about 150 degrees wide. It is also from down below, up to aphoto: paris, from montmartre distant horizon, with most of Paris in this band, and then there is the big dome of the almost perfectly-blue sky riding over the whole thing. The westerly breeze makes it perfect.

Half of Paris at your feet - is a bit too much to see at one time.

Looking at it carefully, with gentle swivels from east to west and back again, I feel my eye muscles stretch a bit. Then up and down, like an ice-cream scoop. The thin clouds are the whipped cream on top.

It is quiet too. The roadway in front of the church has been blocked off, so no occasional cars pass. There are not very many people around. They must be down there, somewhere in the maze, wrestling with one another over the treasures of the first day of the 'soldes' d'été.'

Being on the stairs of the church will give another couple of metres in height, but I don't feel this is necessary today. After a long scan, which way to go down becomes the question.

Straight down is too easy, and a little boring. Going over to the west beyond the funicular and taking the stairs there is one good way. Going to the left and taking stairs called the Rue Maurice Utrillo down is another good way, and If I do this and cut across the bottom of the hill's park, then I get back to where I would be if I took the shorter route.

Then there are the side-hill streets on the way to the métro Abbesses, but these are notphoto: pont neuf, from terrace samar really up or down or views and are simply interesting to traverse - always trying to memorize them for later visits.

I take the métro, which also downs downhill, but I switch before it goes under the Seine at Concorde, and exit at Louvre-Rivoli. Since it is not club day, I give La Corona a pass.

From Samaitaine's terrace, toy cars on the Pont Neuf.

Part of the Samaritaine department store is being remodeled into something else, but the main building facing the river is unchanged. Well, the elevators have been altered, and I fail to notice that one has been put into express service for the top floors, and take the 'local' instead, and walk up the final four floors.

The store's terrace café is open. It has the same sky and the same breeze. At the rear of the terrace I see Montmartre's cookie-jar on top, and everything in between, climbing gently up there.

On other sides, there is the Seine below, the Pont des Arts, the Pont Neuf, towers, cupolas, churches, the Tour Eiffel, the Centre Pompidou and many other domes, roofs of all sorts, chimneys.

The Tour Montparnasse, just over two kilometres distant, seems very high and very close in the clear air. Another blot is the tower at Jussieu, and fringes of them are on the horizons in the lower 13th and along the river in the 15th arrondissement.

When I was on Montmartre I looked for Samaritaine's terrace but couldn't make it out. Montmartre, in contrast, isphoto: pont des arts, tour eiffel perfectly clear from the terrace. The next step is to gaze down at the tip of the Ile de la Cité, and this is no effort at all.

Out of 33 long-view photos today, not one is of the Tour Montparnasse.

But when I get down there, by the stature of Henri IV and look back and up, Samaritaine's terrace seems far off and impossibly high. So high that Montmartre is hidden.

It is odd, because up by Buttes-Chaumont, I'm sure there are views there that show Montmartre being closer than one would think. Another one to try is the restaurant on top of the Institut du Monde Arabe. I think I've been told there's an open terrace there, or at least, the view is pretty good.

But here, on the Pont Neuf, it is the end of a day of long-views. It has been perfect for it. The views have been worth it. I hope they don't wear off too quickly.

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