Hora fugit - Un peu de Paris
First, some memories...
Though horribly touristic, the old village of Montmartre is much dear to me as a big part of my childhood when it was less impacted by mass tourism.
Each day I could see theS acré-Coeur church rising above rue des Martyrs like a giant creamy Pavlova dessert.
As soon as the spring days were arriving, Montmartre was one of our favorite places where to go on Sundays. First, we were climbing the rue des Martyrs up to avenue Trudaine where we were reaching the Anvers public garden, and after having crossed the boulevard Rochechouart, we were entering in a different village than mine. We were climbing the rue de Steinkerque which at that time was crowded with colored stalls of fabric shops, now replaced by gift shops.
If I was walking with my mother, we were slowly climbing through the Sacré-Coeur garden with its strong box wood scents.
If I was walking with my great grandmother or my dear Suzanne, it was instead a cool and easy climb with the funicular.
Later as a teenager, with my friend Sylvie, we were going up once a week to attend Jacqueline Robinson modern dance school at avenue Junot.
Now, the stroll ...
We will start from boulevard de Clichy where we will pass-by a symbol of Paris: le Moulin Rouge.
Then, we will climb the rue Lepic, so lively with all the cafes, restaurants and shops which remind me the atmosphere around rue des Martyrs. We will see there the two Moulins de la Galette, the only survivors of many mills which were standing on this windy hill.
When at the top of the hill, we will walk in streets immortalized by many painters and artists from Montmartre. We will enjoy the view above Paris from the Sacré-Coeur square, the highest spot in Paris before walking down to boulevard Rochechouart.
The photos taken byAtget convey what was Montmartre in his time, a village with old rustic houses both close to and far from Paris. At this time, it was a wild and shaped place quite different from the place today, a little bit fake and like a museum piece for tourists.
Let's get off from metro station Blanche to start our tour boulevard de Clichy.
Boulevard de Clichy and boulevard de Rochechouart (which is a little bit further towards rue des Martyrs) were built where Parisian walls existed in the past. Though the large central part of the boulevard has been accommodated with trees, benches and bike ways, these noisy lanes convey the crappy and shady atmosphere of the sex-shows and shops around Pigalle.
We will leave it just after le Moulin Rouge, an attraction for many tourists, either just taking a photo or attending the evening show.
Opened in 1889, le Moulin Rouge was decorated by Willette who was honored by having his name assigned to the Sacré-Coeur public garden until 2004 when his name was replaced by Louise Michel, a revolutionary figure.
World renowned Moulin Rouge has been immortalized by many paintings and movies. Everybody keeps in mind Toulouse-Lautrec paintings and Jean Renoir's movie showing French-Cancan dancers with evocative names: La Goulue (The Glutton), Valentin le désossé (Valentin the boneless), la môme Fromage (Kid Cheese), Grille d'Egout (Sewer Grate), Rayon d'Or (Golden Ray) …
Later, famous music-hall artists like Mistinguett, Joséphine Baker, Line Renaud performed as well on Moulin-Rouge stage
86, bvd de Clichy
Atget – 1910/1912
On our way down the boulevard that we will leave on the left rue Coustou, there are many sex-shops hidden behind heavy curtains. Sometime the sex-business is replaced by other business like this supermarket Monoprix, which is standing where in the past were two cabarets destroyed in 1950: Heaven and Hell.
In Heaven, the Customers were welcomed by monks and angels, then seated in the banquet room to drink a sacred cup of bier or cherry brandy. Then, at the first floor, they were enjoying a “divine” hot show.
In Hell, the next red tavern, the customers were swallowed through a giant devil mouth. Seated in a cave, they were drinking a beer or other “poison and magical drinks”, then taken to Devil's room to enjoy demoniac shows …
Now let’s see a real mill, le Moulin de la Galette! To go there, let’s turn left in rue Coustou and then rue Lepic.
We walk by the Café des 2 Moulins – 2 windmills, where several scenes of the famous movie Amélie were shot. The name of the café is referring to the two mills of Montmartre: le Blute-fin (Fine sieve) and le Radet which both got successively the name of Moulin de la Galette.You will find them at the top of the long rue Lepic which has many shops and artistic references. If you prefer, you can take a shortcut via rue Tholozé when you arrive rue des Abbesses. RueTholozé,you will pass by an other movie reference; Not only Amélie Poulain as she goes every Friday night to Studio 28 and also because the film makers Jean Cocteau and Abel Gance were the godfathers of this lovely movie theater.
At the top of the hill over the end of rueTholozé,you will see the windmill named le Blute-Fin, built in 1622. Later in the 1870s it was used as a ball room; this is this old windmill that Renoir represented in his famous painting Bal du Moulin de la Galette that you can see at Orsay museum.
A little bit further, at the corner of the streets Lepic and Girardon, you can see the other windmill, Le Radet, built in 1717. During the week, it was used as a windmill and on Sunday it was a ball room where flat brown cakes (galette) were sold, hence its name Moulin de la Galette.
Now we take Rue Girardon to Rue Norvins on the right.
Let's go around the vast building where the writer Céline lived from 1941 to 1944. Let's go up the Norvins street.
On our left, at the place named after the writer Marcel Aymé, we can see a nice statue of his character, the man who could walk through the walls.
A little bit further, at the level of the folie Sandrin, we can see the dome of the Sacré-Coeur behind the buildings.
For lovers visiting Paris, Sacré-Coeur looks like the Taj-Mahal.
For Catholics, it is an important pilgrimage place.
Either way, it is the Paris second most visited church after Notre-Dame cathedral.
Officially, the construction of the basilica is linked with a national vow made in December 1870 after the defeat against Prussia to have Paris be delivered from the Prussians army.
More contested is the choice of the hill of Montmartre as the location for the basilica, as for many it would have been linked with the will to establish a “moral order” after the Paris Commune events which were precisely initiated at Montmartre, March, 18, 1871. A revolt started there when the French army came to get the cannons back. Rapidly the revolt was spread in Paris to other popular districts. The Chief executive Thiers and his government who left Paris and set in Versailles was joined back by Parisians from wealthy districts. The political turmoil was being increasing and finally after the Commune was proclaimed, get organized. On its side, the army led by Thiers went into action and May, 21, the army entered Paris. This began the “bloody week”, which terminated the Commune in a terrible oppression. During this week, many Parisian buildings were burned out and destroyed like the town Hall and the Tuileries Palace.
On May 1873, Mac-Mahon's government enforced public morality and with this background of “moral order” the National Assembly passed a law July, 23, 1873 to build a basilica devoted to the Sacred Heart on the hill of Montmartre.
The writer Emile Zola reacted to the moral order and the national vow in 1893 in his book Paris. Guillaume Clement, one of the characters of the novel, is expressing his discontent:
"Ah! they chose a good site for it, and how stupid it was to let them do so! I know of nothing more nonsensical; Paris crowned and dominated by that temple of idolatry! How impudent it is, what a buffet for the cause of reason after so many centuries of science, labour, and battle!"
Now let's take ruedesSauleson our left.
In his memoir titled Montmartre à vingt ans (that I would translate into a twenty year old in Montmartre), the writer Francis Carco was describing his friendships with the young painters and poets with whom he was sharing the same fraternal misery.
Quite often, their group was meeting at the cabaret Lapin Agile and as soon as the weather was permitting there were gathering on the small inn terrace around a large table under the shade of a locust tree.
In this book, Francis Carco is telling how the Catalan painter, RamonPichot was able to buy this small house sitting at the corner of rue de l'Abreuvoirand rue des Saules:
: “ With his long and lean figure like a genuine Quichotte, Pichot showed up wearing white espadrilles: In an antique shop, he found a painting by Zurbaran and sold it at a very high price. Without being that much surprised by his luck, he bought a small house at the corner with rue de l'Abreuvoir and painted its humble facade with a bright candy pink paint. “
Still today, much to our delight, we can enjoy this candy pink house which inspired Utrillo in 1909.
A French writer, Pierre Mac Orlan, who had a passion for cinema and photography, lived rue de l'Abreuvoir. I cannot help, but think, to this writer who wrote the following in 1930 about Atget:
"Once by chance I met le père Atget.He was at that moment selling some pictures of boutiques and prostitutes to serve as documents for artists. This old man of the theatre was impenetrable. In the first place because no one or either him sought to understand the profound value of his work. Atget was a man of the street, an artisan poet of the Paris cross roads. He did not announce his work by a song, but one saw his upright silhouette, a little stooped, carrying a camera on tripod, there between the greengrocer, the chair caner and the goat herd and his Pan pipe. The models were welcoming him with friendship. He was working and was enjoying the sight of his work with a tenderness which could be compared with Douanier Rousseau's, allowing that, however, Atget was a man of education, which means fully aware of resources of the instruments and technique he was using (…). For most of us, Atget's Paris is now a memory with already a mysterious sensitivity. He is worth all the books written on this matter. Probably, he will allow others to be written."(Atget's seven albums – Molly Nesbit).
At the end of rue de l’Abreuvoir, we arrive on the small Dalida square, where a bronze bust of the singer is attracting the hands of passers-by, either convinced to get from it some magical power or otherwise getting the illusion to caress the tits of a star …
Let's stop on this square, in front of Chateau des Brouillards (Castel of Mists). In the past, there were mists formed by steams coming out of the surrounding springs at the contact of fresh air. This suggested to the writer Mac-Orlan the title of his novel “Quai des Brumes” (Port of Shadows) located in Montmartre, notably at the cabaret Lapin Agile. The novel was later adapted by the filmmaker Marcel Carné who transposed the Montmartre setting to the port city of Le Havre.
Now let's walk down the stairs of rue Girardon which leads to the Constantin-Pecqueur square.
From Constantin Pecqueur square, we will turn on our right in rue Saint-Vincent.
When walking up rue Saint-Vincent, you will see the cabaret du Lapin Agile in front of you at the corner with rue des Saules.
You cannot miss this country house with the green fence. In 1880, the caricaturist André Gill painted its sign board which shows a cheerful rabbit jumping out of a pan. From initially le Lapin à Gill (Gill's rabbit), the name of the cabaret attended by all the bohemian artists of that time became le Lapin Agile (the agile rabbit).
Initially, it was a small bar which successively got two suggestive names: Au rendez-vous des Voleurs (the thieves den), then Cabaret des Assassins (the murderers cabaret). It became better known when it was bought by the singer Aristide Bruant who put in charge Frédé, a cabaret artist too. Until the first World War, this place became the favorite spot of all the local painters and poets, like the artists living and painting at the Bateau-Lavoir: Picasso, Juan Gris, Braque, Max Jacob, …
However,lets' not imagine a sweet country place; at this time, Montmartre was an underworld of ruffians and gangs. Frédé's son was shot dead behind the bar, reminding the first spooky name of the cabaret. Hence, in his memoir book, the writer Mac-Orlan gives a long list of murdered cabaret regulars.
The large garden around Aristide Bruant's house, behind the high wall on Atget's photo was later replaced by the vineyard. From the portrait painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, we can easily imagine him walking in this street, his large boots treading the cobblestones and standing in front the Lapin Agile, wrapped up in his large black cloak and his red scarf, with his large wide brim hat.
Atget – 1899
Today the vineyard of Montmartre has replaced his garden. Next the vineyard there is the garden Saint-Vincent, more a wild place than a city garden, with a pond home to toads, tall and wild grass and understory vegetation. May be on misty winter evenings, it is visited by the ghosts celebrated in Bruant’s songs, like some bohemian artists, or poor boys and girls:
She already worked to live
and on frosted nights
in the dark and freezing cold
her little scarf on her shoulders
she returned home by Saules street
Saint-Vincent street – Aristide Bruant - (translation Zathan)
In front of us at the corner of rue des Saules with rue Saint-Vincent, the vineyard of Clos Montmartre, created in 1933 is sloping down between the Musée de Montmartre and le Lapin Agile, where, in the past there was the large garden of the house where Aristide Bruant lived, at N°10-12, rue des Saules.
Of course, this North facing slope was not selected for its exposure to the sun, but is rather resulting from an action against a real property project. Under the influence of Francisque Poulbot with support of the Republic of Montmartre, it was decided to plant vines in order to perpetuate the old wine growing tradition.
The last time I was walking there, three employees of the city department in charge of the gardens in Paris were pruning the vine, put under the control of an oenologist and a wine grower. When it is time to harvest the grapes of Gamay and Pinot noir, they are taken into the basement of the 18th district city hall where the wine pressing and bottling are done.
Now let's take rueCortot on our left.
On the left in the the old house there is the Musée Montmartre about which I have read many lukewarm reviews.
For me, even though the paintings do not reach the quality that you can get in other famous Parisian museums and even though some rooms may have a limited interest to distinguished learned people, I find it rather attractive in the way it tells about the life in the old Montmartreand its artists.
You will find some pictures about the Paris Commune in 1871, great photos, an old bistro from rue de l'Abreuvoir, the Chat Noir Theatre shadows, the studio apartment where the painter Suzanne Valadon lived with her son Maurice Utrillo. Many other artists like Renoir, Raoul Dufy lived in this old house. You will also enjoy the peaceful and charming garden above the vineyard.
Atget – 1899
The musician Erik Satie lived for eight years, between 1890 and 1898 in this house on the left, where he composed several pieces of music, like the Gnossiennes.
Very likely because of his short and stormy passion with her neighbor Suzanne Valadon,he wrote Vexations, an incredible piece: a repetitive theme to be played 840 times in succession which according to the speed at which the pianist is playing can last between fourteen and twenty-four hours!
At the end of the street the strange crenellated building is in fact a water tower, the second one built in Montmartre in 1921; the first one was built in 1835 rue Norvins is today the Commandery of Clos Montmartre. Its architecture, like the water reservoir built in 1887, goes well with the architecture of the basilica. The power station on Saint-Pierre square at the foot of the stairs leading to the Sacré-Coeur, is supplying the water reservoir with a capacity of eleven thousand cubic meters.
It is nice to take a break at the small public garden around the water tower where you will mainly meet employees of the Paris Water department in charge of the control and maintenance of the water tower. The public garden is in honor to Claude Charpentier who played a key role in the protection of Parisian historic districts as part of Malraux law. In 1978, he led the restoration of the Bateau-Lavoir after its destruction by a fire in 1970.
In 1921, five years before its destruction, Atget photographed the yard of the house, presumably Mimi Pinson's house.
The small house captured by Atget from the street Mont-Cenis in 1899 was painted several times by Maurice Utrillo. The house easily recognizable with the two garrets was standing right next to a high house where lived the musician, Hector Berlioz.
A modern building has replaced the house where Berlioz lived; The bas-reliefs on its facade want to show the house where the musician lived between 1834 and 1837 with the one deemed to be where Mimi Pinson lived. These two houses have been reproduced on several paintings by Maurice Utrillo.
Mimi Pinson is the character of a poem and tale written by Alfred Musset. She is a poor and pretty young woman, a grisette, who in the 19th century was usually working as a seamstress and was wearing grey (gris) dresses.
Did she really exist? Did she really live in this house? On my side, I do not care … I rather like the idea that Musset was inspired by a free young woman living in Montmartre, like the one in his poem, a republican taking part to the three days of the second French revolution, quite a symbol for this Parisian district …
Mimi is no vulgar soul,
From the heart she is republican:
During the three days, she was fighting,
Just wearing a blouse.
For lack off a halberd
She was standing guard
With her punch needle.
Happy the man who will put his cockade
On Mimi Pinson's cap!
Let's go on in rue du Mont-Cenis up to rue Saint-Rustique, built in the 10th century.
According to the legend, Rustique and Eleuthere were the two companion martyrs of Saint Denis … that would have given the name to Montmartre: Martyrs Mount (mons Martyrium).
Still it is quite controversial, as the name could also come from mons Mercurii (Mercury's mount) or even from mons Martis (Mars Mount); two temples consecrated to these two divinities were standing at the top of the hill during the Roman occupation. A crypt was built at the top of rue des Martyrs, n°11 rue Yvonne le Tac, the location where would have been beheaded Denis, Eleuthere and Rustique.
It is also in this crypt that August 15, 1534, the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignace de Loyola, pronounced his vows.
Atget – 1899
Let's continue in rue du Mont-Cenis up to rue du Chevalier de la Barre on our left.
Just in front of us the white cupolas of the basilica. On our right, the bell-tower of one of the oldest Parisian churches, Saint-Pierre de Montmartre; Its entrance is close to Place du Tertre, n°2 rue Mont-Cenis.
Young twenty year old Chevalier de la Barre was tortured for having a disrespectful religious behavior. Montmartre is a strange place, indeed: the Commune revolutionary Louise Michel is honored with a public garden at the foot of the basilica; and this young noble, tortured, beheaded and burnt is honored with a street in front of a church and with a statue in the close public garden Nadar.
No, Chevalier de la Barre was not born at the time of the Inquisition, he was born at Férolles in 1765! Motherless when he was nine, then fatherless when he was seventeen, he moved to Abbeville, where lived a cousin, an abbess. His judgment, quite in the middle of the Age of the Enlightenment? “Convicted of letting pass twenty-five steps of a procession without doffing the hat on his head, not genuflecting, singing an unholy song, and making reference to infamous books, among which can be found Mr. Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique".
In 1885, the municipal council of Paris decided to name the closest street to the Sacré-Coeur in memory of the young man …
Let's now enjoy the view over Paris from the Sacré-Coeur square. Even though the risk of smog can prevent getting a good view over Paris, it is nevertheless a great sight over the city; depending on the light of the day, Paris seems to be a sea, a sea of roofs, either grey or blue. When some monuments can be easily recognized from their roofs and domes, it may be more difficult for some others.
Let's come back rue du Cardinal Guibert and let's now go Place du tertre. For that, let's take rue Azaïs,then on the right rue du Mont-Cenis and then on the left rue Norvins.
" The Place, which, planted as it was with a few scrubby trees, and edged with humble shops,- a fruiterers', a grocer's and a baker's,- looked like some square in a small provincial town.
Paris– Zola (Delphi Classics)
It still appears like a small provincial square on the photo taken by Atget in 1924. This gentle atmosphere is gone. The area is daily mobbed by tourists. The humble shopkeepers described by Zola, are replaced by restaurants and cafés with crowded terraces. Ugly, gaudy terraces, with huge circus tents, set up on the square where the painters once stood. Only a few of painters can stay on a small area around the square, all devoted to mass consumption. Atget's photos appear especially moving.
Let's go around the square up to n°11 where we arrive on Place du Calvaire, the smallest square in Paris.
« A street, which is simply a succession of ladder-like flights of steps.”
Indeed, going down the street will be easier as going up can be lived as ... a calvary. However, let's not figure out that this difficulty had given its name to the street! the name is due to the presence of a calvary in the close Saint-Pierre church.
In the past it was the steepest path of the Montmartre hill and this is in 1845 that the stairs were constructed.
House, 2, rue du Calvaire
Atget – 1921
( Musée Carnavalet)
When compared to Atget's photo, the street today looks more rural and charming due to the vegetation of the gardens climbing over high walls.
When down, let's take rue Gabrielle on our left, then the stairs of rue Drevet, then on the left in rue des Trois-Frères up to rue Dancourt and place Charles-Dullin where is the Atelier Theatre.
When Atget photographed the square in 1900, it was then called Dancourt square and the theatre, founded in 1822 was then the Theatre Montmartre.
The artist Seveste who could tell the king Louis XVIII where were secretly buried the king Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, got the privilege to have theatres in villages out of Paris. He created several theatres which still exist today, like the Montmartre, Montparnasse, Batignolles, Belleville and Grenelle theatres.
In 1957, the square got the name of Charles Dullin in honor of the director who took over the theatre in 1922 that he renamed the Theatre de l'Atelier.
Now, let's come back rue Dancourt and let's continue up to boulevard Rochechouart.
Along this part of the boulevard Rochechouart up to the Metro station Anvers, one side is bordered with cheap tourist shops and the other side with the Lycée Jacques Decourt.Together with the boulevard de Clichy that we took at the beginning of our tour, it replaced the wall enclosing Paris (Mur des Fermiers Généraux), used as a toll on goods entering the city. Oddly enough, even though there is no more a wall, I have had always the feeling to cross a sort of border. Not only because the boulevard is an administrative line between the 9th and the 18th districts and also a physical limit between Montmartre and Paris, but I have had always the feeling of a clear separation between two different worlds.
At n°80, the Trianon lyrique theatre replaced the gardens of the near Elysée-MontmartreTheatre. This theatre, located at n° 72, was one of the oldest ballrooms in Montmartre where famous French cancan dancers, like Grille d'Egout and la Goulue performed here first before Moulin Rouge. It is precisely to compete with the Moulin Rouge that the Trianon Concert was created. Both theatres are very well restored, Le Trianon and Elysée Montmartre are nowadays modern concert halls.