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A Long Walk

photo, square willette

From the terrace on Montmartre on Sunday.


Paris:– Sunday, 2. January:– After a half million fêtards passed from Friday to Saturday, from 2004 to 2005 on the Champs–Elysées, Saturday's gray skies might have been an aftermath of the departed year – so good riddance!

Firmly in 2005 on Sunday, the skies cleared and the dampness dried a bit, and all the Italians visiting the city made their annual trek to Montmartre to join Parisians and the nationalities from 108 other countries, with their heads elevated in the clear air, squinting in the low sunshine illuminating the hill like a celestial searchlight.

I know this because I was dithering about walking down the Rue des Martyrs, down to Notre–Dome dephoto, sacre coeur Lorette, to pick up the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre there and follow it down to the Rue Montmartre, to end up at Saint–Eustache in Les Halles. I couldn't make up my mind whether to start at Lamarck–Caulaincourt or Abbesses, and I didn't know if I wanted to walk all that way.

New Year's Sacre Cœur fans, en masse.

Fate decided it when I got on the first wagon of the Métro. The elevator at Abbesses is near the last wagon, so I saved 48 steps by riding the extra stop to Lamarck and taking its handy elevator up to the surface. Faith in the elevator was worth it even if the wait seemed long. The answer concerning which is the steeper climb – from Abbesses or from Lamarck – remains unresolved after the 35th trial.

While visitors are nearly collapsing from the altitude, I have 'saved' my 48 steps. Also, I am in fine shape because I've done it 34 times before. How heroic I feel! In front of the Lapin Agile cabaret I take everybody's photo, with their cameras with the stuck shutter releases. I can hear them back home already – "Remember that old dude on Montmartre? What a blurry photo!"

I don't bother with the Place du Tertre. From the Rue du Mont Cenis I see that it is plugged with art fans or whatever they are. In contrast, the Rue du Chevalier de la Barre looks like a pickpocket's paradise, plugged too with gawking trinket fans. At the end of the short street Sacre Cœur rises into the steel blue sky like an Ariane rocket.

I can't give the complete and entire history of this today because it's not on 'my walk.' It is sort of a bonus sight,photo, boulanger and quite incredible it is too. Not a sou was spared to build the most wedding–cake–like Romano– Byzantine church in the world that looks like a three–stage rocket ship.

A boulanger in the Rue des Martyrs.

A lot of folks are leaning over the terrace in front of the church, trying to make sense of the vast panorama of Paris strewn across the landscape like piles of gravel with diamonds embedded in it. On a clear day this view is worth three stars and on an overcast 'you lose' day, half a star. But today, worth 15 minutes of anybody's time – worth a trip from Rome.

The low angle of the sun has cast the bottom of the Square Willette slope in shadow. I have to go along to the west, looking for the beginning of the Rue des Martyrs.

The rest of this piece suffers the same fate as this week's 'Café' column. To make a long story short Iphoto, porte, les halles will leave out the tidbits of history I intended to add, assuming there are some. The Rue des Martyrs below Pigalle is more interesting than it seems at first because it becomes a marché street – although mostly closed as I passed through it.

One of the ornamental 'portes' at Les Halles.

It's easy enough to make the transition from Martyrs to the Rue Montmartre, and this is interesting for a while. Some parts look like New York at street level and then it returns to being Paris again the closer one gets to Les Halles.

But Sunday afternoon isn't the best time for this series of streets, except if you like things quiet so you can get a good look at them without being overly concerned about traffic and shoppers. I'll bookmark it for another time.

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