After the attack in Paris I, like many around the world, have been thinking of that city. This post describes our trip there, fifteen years ago. Part of this post previously appeared in http://www.europeupclose.com
On a cool, sunny winter solstice morning, my husband and I disembarked at the Place des Abbesses and gasped with delight. One of eighty-seven Art Nouveau métro entrances in Paris, consisting of lacy iron filigreed flowers and figures, ushered us onto the streets of Montmartre.
The village, built on the side of a hill, is the highest point in Paris. The thing to do is to take the funicular up to Sacré-Coeur basilica (http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/) at dawn and watch the sunrise over Paris. We did not make it up there that early, but it was still a stunning view with Paris at our feet.This village, was the first home to many artists from around the world and where the Impressionist movement started. It had cheap rentals, cheap food and cheap wine, and was away from the restrictions of the art establishment in town. Picasso, Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Utrillo and many others lived, painted, ate and slept in Montmartre, yet few tourists visit this area. Instead, they visit the Louvre and think they have seen all the art there is to see in Paris. However, these and other artists have their work scattered like colorful confetti in museums and galleries around Paris.
The Musée de Montmartre (http://www.museedemontmartre.fr/) is located in the heart of the village in a charming 17th century country home with a designated area known as the poets’ garden. From 1850, it was a gathering place for artists. It is now a historical museum for the Montmartre area. As we wandered through the rooms, we saw a model of the village, paintings, lithographs, drawings and a fine collection of posters. We read wonderful stories of scandal and misbehavior among the tenants and their friends. For example, who was the father of artist Suzanne Valadon’s son Maurice Utrillo? Valadon lived at 12 rue Cortot (now the Museum) and her neighbors were Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas, who encouraged her to become an artist. Renoir, who had a studio in the house, was rumored to be Maurice’s father. We enjoyed the paintings of Valadon’s nudes and I loved Maurice’s impressionistic watercolors of Montmartre scenes.
After taking in the view and watching tourists, lovers and mimes,
we wandered outside to find somewhere to eat. Just around the corner and up the hill, at number 2 rue de l’Abreuvoir (which means “water trough” in French), we saw a pink building with green shutters, and colorful window boxes. It stood on a corner of two lanes and looked like a painting. Apparently, many artists thought so, too. Picasso painted a portrait of Germaine Gargallo, the woman who lived in the house for forty years. We went into La Maison Rose as it is now called and were as charmed by the inside as the outside, with its tiled floors and yellow walls. We enjoyed a meal of foie gras, walnut and blue cheese salad, duck confit, and of course wine, while watching the waitress put up Christmas decorations. We ended the meal with crepes. Sitting in that bistro, one notices the light that brought artists to this village. Although I cannot paint it made me itch to pick up a paintbrush.
After lunch, we strolled past the cabaret Lapin Agile— French for “the agile rabbit” (http://www.au-lapin-agile.com/). It started out as a coach inn in the 1800’s and took its name from a pun by a sign painter – the agile rabbit jumping out of the cook’s pot. Picasso and the other young artists like Utrillo and Modigliani, joined local residents there for folk songs, poetry readings, cheap meals and wine, and raucous conversation.
In 1904, Picasso began a painting for and about the Lapin Agile. In the painting, he is dressed as a Harlequin standing next to a friend, Germaine Gargallo who incidentally lived in La Maiso Rose for forty years. Picasso gave it to the manager Frede, who is also in the painting playing his guitar. It was probably in exchange for food and wine. In 1912, as Picasso was becoming famous, Frede sold this painting. In 1987, the painting fetched forty million dollars in auction. It hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A quirky little fact-the only surviving vineyard in Paris is across the road from the Lapin Agile. It is about the size of a Minneapolis backyard.
Our visit to Montmartre, an area so rich in history and culture, gave us a much wider appreciation and interest in the artists and their art. Paris, a vast city became smaller and more intimate by allowing us to go deeper into her treasures.
On another day we visited Sainte Chapelle which was built as a private chapel for Louis IX. It is close to Notre Dame Cathedral which I found too large and crowded. I fell in love with this smaller rectangular building. The guide book describes it as “a marvel of the Gothic style, light and radiant with wonderful stained glass.” This is a picture of the side windows.
The Rose window is over the alter.I sat there that day looking at the windows and the paintings on the upper walls depicting the old testament stories. I felt such a sense of peace and quiet. I hope it is serving that purpose now for the people of Paris.
Going through the pictures we took on that trip I found this one, which is so relevant today.
Paris, the city of light is filled with even more light in December. The boulevards, restaurants, shops and monuments sparkle, creating warmth no matter the temperature.
On our last evening we took a riverboat cruise on the Seine. It was a wonderfully quiet, peaceful and romantic way to enjoy the river and to see landmarks on the banks.
The trip ended, where it started at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. As we glided up to it, the sun was setting and the bottom lights went on.
As we watched from the deck, cuddled in the warmth of our coats we watched it light up and shine in the night sky.
A memorable trip, in a memorable city.
Peace in Paris. Peace in the world.