Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur

Montmartre, (The Mountain of Martyrs), is a large hill that makes up Paris’ 18th arrondissement. The bustling mix of the diverse cultural influences are easy to spot with the people you see and all of the ethnic restaurants and shops from Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East. This is where I first had couscous, in 1977, and other ethnic dishes, whose names have long been forgotten. We were hungry after spending the morning at Musée de l’Orangerie, so we stopped right away for lunch at Cafe Le Saint Jean. I had been yearning for the typical Parisian steak poivre (pepper sauce) and frites and was not disappointed with it or the house red wine. An interesting Swedish/American was sitting next to us and asked what a government shutdown meant. In conversation, we found out he was a perfumer and when we checked him out on the web, found out he is the creator of the terribly expensive perfume, Wilhelm.

All 3 of us are shoppers and librarians and can rarely pass up a bookshop – or any charming shop.

I was really intrigued with some local art work in a small gallery we found and was so sorry neither my luggage nor my wallet were big enough for the lovely pictures.

Antique perfume bottles with atomizers caught our eye. Thank goodness the shop was closed.

Montmartre is well known for its artists’ colony, that has endured for a couple of centuries, and many of the very famous artists whose masterpieces we saw in museums, lived and painted here for a time. In addition to street-side artists, one will find an abundance of little cafes, caberets, and cute little lanes with colorful houses. It does feel like “old Paris,” full of authentic charm, and in the little square Place du Tertre, musicians play and artists sit or stand at their easels, ready to paint anyone’s picture or caricature.

It was fun watching the artists sketch portraits in charcoal or pastels or water colors and listen to the singer/guitar player who had drawn quite an audience and a large donation of coins of appreciation, in his open guitar case.

This area is also famous for Sacré-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) and we opted on taking the funicular up the steep hill to the massive, white basilica. There was a good size crowd, surprising for a rainy, Saturday afternoon in January, taking in the magnificent views and touring the church.

Sacré-Coeur held its first mass in 1881 and has been open, perpetually, day and night for prayer, since 1885. It is the second highest structure in Paris (the Eiffel Tower is first) and so impressive that I bought a small booklet about it, since we had not arranged for a guided tour. I was most impressed with all of the massive, magnificent mosaics, with such brilliant colors, and actually mistook the choir mosaic for a fresco. The interior is light in color, awe inspiring, has beautiful statues and a beautiful monstrance above the white and gold high altar. I was so glad to revisit Sacré-Coeur and definitely have more appreciation for it now, than I did in 1977.

We meandered down lanes, choosing ones that struck our fancy, to make our way down the Montmartre hill. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a fascinating sculpture of a man walking through a wall – a scene taken from a famous French novel, Le Passe-Muraille. The story, by Marcel Aymé, is about a man named Dutilleul who discovers that he can walk through walls.

Continuing downhill, we passed through neighborhoods with inviting fruit stands, boulangerie, patisseries, wine shops, and really, any and every kind of shop a neighborhood needs.

Locals filled the shops as it was late afternoon and time to buy for dinner. Sidewalk cafes were starting to fill up and as we had almost finished our descent, the lane that had given way to a street, now crossed a wide boulevard and we spotted the famous Moulin Rouge. An icon of Paris, this cabaret, built in 1889, is considered the birthplace of the can-can.

This, like every other day in Paris, was a good one and is sure to be memorable, despite the gray skies and clouds over Paris and the rains they brought off and on all day. We were all wise enough to bring wet weather and cold weather clothes – so no hindrance to our plans, experiences, and fun – today or any day.

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