horz line

Washing of Montmartre

photo: le consulat, montmartre

Artist's Montmartre on Friday.

Luckliy It Was Raining

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 5. July 2004:– I am a bit dubious about passing on today's forecast. It is not a good forecast because my two sources for it agree which they do not do every day, or even once a week. On top of it, both sources have reduced their forecasting capacity, by adding visuals to make readers and viewers think it is summer holiday weather.

In fact, since the summer began the weather has been anything but holiday–like, so that it's at least possible to say the weather is 'normal' for a change. And this is what bothers me about the weather in the next few days – it looks like it will be even more depressingly 'normal' than usual.

At least tomorrow may be uncharacteristically semi–sunny and semi–warm, with a highphoto: mr lapin temperature of 24. It might be the 'high of the week,' so enjoy it if it turns out to be true. Tonight's TV–weather news showed a thin screen of wispy cloud edging slant–wise from the Atlantic, sort of from southwest to northeast. It didn't look ugly enough to cause our 'normal' weather.

All the same it is supposed to start off with semi–crummy on Wednesday, gradually deteriorating to semi–rainy. But maybe humid too, with a high of 23. Thursday is foreseen as plain all–round crummy with rain in the north, in the middle and in the south – except for the Côte d'Azur, where none of this forecast happens. The high for Paris might be 21 on Thursday.

But, on Thursday, there is supposed to be a dubious finger of good weather poking at France, from the southwest to the northeast. Not that crummy weather in July isn't 'normal,' but it is just possible that this 'finger' will be fatter and longer when it arrives. In which case, Thursday may be something else entirely.

Café Life

Washing Montmartre, Part 2004

Some weeks ago I was doing an update for the events columns and one item really annoyed me. I couldn't find out anything about the 'Lavage du Sacre Cœur.' The Web site for the event was 'in construction.' Frankly, I thought it was a trick to make me put something silly in the column. Why would anybody want to wash Sacre Cœur?

But anything is possible so I wasn't too surprised to see in Saturday's Le Parisien that Sacre Cœur would be,photo: brazilians wash montmartre in fact, 'washed' on Sunday. Since I hadn't added the dubious event to the coming events I felt it my duty to cross town and walk up some hills, to bring you this eyewitness account.

According to the paper, some Brazilians in Paris have made a habit of washing some of the steps going up to Sacre Cœur. Apparently it is a local version of some weird fête for chasing away bad spirits. It is news to me that Brazilians think Montmartre's steps are infested with bad spirits. But, you know, anything is possible.

To get in the mood, I left the Métro at Barbés and walked through the rain to the Halle Saint–Pierre, which is usually earmarked for primitive arts exhibitions. 'Art naive' I think it is. Behind the hall, I could hear some pretty heavy drumming. It seemed to be all over, but coming from up on the flank of the steep hill.

I climbed the stairs of the Rue Paul Albert to the café, then followed the path around the side that leads to the front. This put me on the slope, down a couple of levels from the top, but with a view of a procession climbing up the steps. Everybody was dressed in white, and they were carrying a blue and silver banner on a pole. It was a bit dim on account of the rain, but the drumming never slackened.

Where the stairs split to left and right, the procession took the right and I went up the left. This first balcony was the destination, and already had a drum troop numbering about 20, also all dressed in white. Boom boom boom, bomabomaboma, boom boom boom, bomabomaboma, and the head dude arrives.

The ones carrying the banner climbed a few more stairs, then stopped. A crowd was hanging over the railings above, crowded on the stairs and filling the balcony where I was with the bulk of the drummers. It was too packed to see much clearly, but the Brazilians on the stairs might have carried out some ceremony like 'washing' the stairs. If so, it was over quickly, leaving about 99 percent of the stairs as they were – dirty.

There was some other equally brief chanting, mumbo–jumbo, and then the whole thing began to dissolve. Drummers lifted their big drums over their heads to act as umbrellas, and started down the stairs. It was dark and dim, and they looked a bit like they were coming down a jungle path.

I missed the part where they paraded through the lower part of Montmartre from the Boulevard Clichy at Martyrs, up Lepic, along Abbesses and Orsel. About three hours was allowed for this. Upon reaching the bottomphoto: drums, brazilians at the Rue de Steinkerke, they were supposed to go to the Halle Saint–Pierre, or the Gymnase Ronsard. But they looked like they were going away, using drums as umbrellas.

So I left early, before the after–'washing' ball, which was supposed to go on until midnight, with the Orchestra de Fuba, with samba and Pagodage, Ary Dias, Monica Millet, Deco Rangel, and Ser Souto, direct from Bahia. At the Boulevard de Rochechouart it was raining more than ever, and by the time I reached Barbés, it was pouring.

But the Web site works now, and there's more photos of this rare – and annual! – fête imported from Brazil that 'washes' Sacre Cœur. Check out the 7ème lavage du Sacre Cœur, and be sure not to miss it next year. Four days of drum lessons are offered before the event for only 50€.

Soldes d'Eté
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