Footloose—and footsore—in Paris

I got up at 6:30 today, determined to be out the door by 8. I wanted to visit Montmartre again and I’d heard it’s best to get there before 10, when the crowds aren’t as thick.

That was good advice. When I arrived at 9, many of the streets were desolate. Most of the storefronts were closed, and I could hear the cooing of the pigeons above the noise of the city below. It was a sharp contrast to the scene Chris and I had encountered on Saturday.

Today, I had a long list of “must-sees:”

I wanted to see the Abbesses station and the Café le Métro, where Esteban and I had lunch years ago. Sadly, the café has been replaced by a bank, and the once-lovely shaded square has lost its charm. Next!

But behind the Abbesses station I found the Mur Je T’aime, on which visitors have scrawled messages of love in every conceivable language:

I was also in search of one of Jerôme Mesnager’s wall paintings. I love his distinctive, disarticulated human figures, which he surrounds by flying birds. Unfortunately, the painting I found has been defaced by taggers. I did spot some other fun graffiti, though, including a superb little fresco of Olive Oyl in a kimono.

In need of a bathroom, I ducked into the Montmartre cemetery. The bathroom had no toilet paper and the guard had no maps, but I still managed to find the dancer Nijinski’s tomb. The statue of him as Petrouchka struck me as creepy. I did meet lots of cute stray cats, though — and the sweet, talkative homeless man who feeds them. I gave him some money for tuna on my way out.

I also spotted the corner market from the movie Amélie (Au Marché de la Butte), the only remaining windmill in Paris (Le Moulin de la Galette), les vignes de Montmartre (the only remaining vineyard in Paris),

… the oldest sundial in Paris (dating from the 1600s),

… la Place du Tertre, where painters crank out kitschy Paris scenes and draw tourists’ portraits — and where I was shooed off like a fly for taking photos,

… and of course, Le Lapin Agile, one of the original cabarets that gave Montmartre its seedy reputation.

In the end, I was underwhelmed. There is little left of the real Montmartre. Like a mini Epcot Center, it has been reinterpreted for the tourists’ amusement. The piano bars now sell crêpes sucrés. And instead of serving drunkards and artists, the cabarets now cater to wealthy, middle-aged Americans.

I suppose that sums of the irony of Montmartre. Its notoriety has become a cliché.

At least the vistas are still spectacular.

By lunchtime I’d had enough. I decided to visit Le Musée de la Vie Romantique, which documents the lives of the writer Georges Sand and her friends. To get there I walked down the hill, past the Pigalle sex district, and into the 9th arrondissement. It seemed incongruous that a museum of the Romantic era should be housed in such a gritty setting. But walking into its courtyard was like entering a different world.

I only needed a half hour to visit the small collection. Of everything I saw, I was most moved by the plaster casts of Chopin’s and Sand’s hands. I stood there for a long time, thinking of the artistic legacy those two hands had created.

Then, I walked to the Galeries Lafayette shopping complex. The stained-glass dome is spectacular — as is the view from the patio on the top floor.

Back on the street, I noticed that a hotel Esteban and I once stayed in had since had a fire. I got shivers at the idea of negotiating the steep, winding stairs amid smoke and flame. I hope everyone got out.

By accident, I found the oldest continuously running confectioner in Paris. As I walked in, I was so smitten by the antique displays that I let the door slam into another patron’s face. “I am so sorry, Madame!” I said in French. She immediately burst out laughing. I joked with her “Pas de chocolat pour vous aujourd’hui! C’est fermé, merci!” (“No chocolate for you! We’re closed. Good day!”) I turned to see the shopkeeper glaring at me. Yikes.

I continued my walk through several of Paris’ old “passages,” Victorian remnants of the indoor galleries where the fashionable went to see and be seen.

… and along the way, I paused a few times to wax artistic.

All told, I think I walked at least 10 miles today. I’m dog tired. Time for bed … more adventures await tomorrow.

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