One of those things which is just as hard in the morning as you’d envisaged it would be in the evening is waking up at 7 AM after you’ve consumed copious amounts of French rosé. Also, let me here mention the fact that I belong to the Jeremy Clarkson school of thought which considers rosé acceptable and forgivable only and exclusively when in France.
And thus the rosé was drunk, yet next morning I stood firm in my resolve: the only way I could get a decent glimpse of Montmartre was getting there before the hordes did, and that meant setting out into the balmy summer morning at an hour when the metro normally only contains insomniacs and the zombie faced survivors of last night’s parties.
Navigating the Paris metro network does feel like a proper wake up workout, mind you. I sometimes have this feeling, as I am roaming through ever expanding and ever more convoluted tunnels, that the bulk of movement happens when you’re getting from one line to the other through the maze, and then there’s the short respite of sitting in the carriage waiting to set out into more tunnels, or a tremendous number of steps if you happen to surface at the Abbesses stop.
I decided that the lift is for the weak, and bravely soldiered upwards, passing a father trying to have his son come to terms with all the climbing by scientifically informing him that he is in the city’s deepest metro station- situated at 36 metres below the surface in the belly of the Montmartre hill. Science has never been great at appeasing tantrums, so the child was somewhat nonplussed by this. The Abbesses station is also famed for one of the two remaining original Hector Guimard glass entrance kiosks, and for having been extensively featured in Le fabuleaux destin d’Amélie Poulain, though it’s a slight humbug that due to filming constraints the scenes were actually shot at the Porte des Lilas station.
Though I usually prefer to roam around such historic neighbourhoods aimlessly, this time around I had some sort of a purpose. The purpose, though, since I must stay true to myself, was born somewhat randomly: about a year ago I entered the Massolit bookstore and cafe in Budapest and felt one of those ridiculous urges to buy books for no good reason. One of the books I ended up purchasing was Dan Franck’s Bohemian Paris, although at that time I had no clear plans of visiting Paris any time soon. Then it turned out that Paris had other plans for me, and I decided to read the book during the trip, which was very fortuitous, as it gave me the opportunity to visit the places mentioned by the author.
His main topic is the world of artists gravitating around Montmartre and Montparnasse in the early 20th Century. Although the book’s main characters, if we insist on picking some, are probably Picasso and Apollinaire, I was more excited about discovering the fact that I had been wrong about Matisse all my life- he was somehow bundled into a non-definite group of post-impressionists whereas the man was seriously cool, a real hipster avant la lettre- just look at this beauty right here.
Coming back to our original muttons- I planned my itinerary so as to pass by the Lapin Agile cabaret, still standing on a leafy corner, though perhaps (definitely) not as groundbreaking as it used to be, and Utrillo’s pink house. I am a sucker for these things, I won’t deny it: I like to stop in my steps and imagine how the great artists of the past roamed the very same corners of the town, in search of inspiration, pretty often money, which was lacking, and usually unknowing of the fact that they are writing history. Except Picasso, I am sure Picasso was vain enough to be certain of his genius- mostly, he was right too.
Once done with the reverie, I also paid a little attention to today’s Montmartre, although the scarcity of people and the eerie silence made me think I might still be in the dream. Some terraces were being opened, all sort of messy mutts (the French seem to be super fond of the indeterminate mid-sized furball dog) were escorted on their morning walks, several people were doing running rounds- my eternal respect to anyone deciding that running up the steps towards Sacre Coeur is the thing to do early on a Sunday morning.
A lady watered her balcony plants- and then I noticed the building she lives in, perched on the side of the Montmartre hill, with the windows on the other side most certainly with a view of Montparnasse. Yes, I was a bit jealous, just a little. I was then slightly horrified to see people exiting the nearby school, only to realize it was election day when a father, armed with a pram, a mercifully sleeping child, and the compulsory furry dog told his friend over that phone that he’ll vote, since the polling station is anyways on his dog’s ‘pooping itinerary’.
I ended my morning odyssey with a descent towards the Moulins- the Moulin de la Galette and the Moulin Rouge, but by the time I got to the second one the sun was high, it was getting hot and selfies were being staged and taken at an alarming pace. It was therefore time to make my retreat back into the metro’s labyrinthine world, but the dreamlike atmosphere of the empty Montmartre lingered on long afterwards.