One weekday afternoon, Corinne took a few of us americains on a walk through (or rather up) Montmartre in Paris’ 18th arrondissement. As we dismounted the bus at the bottom of the hill, my ears quickly adjusted to the calm lull of the neighborhood, quite different from the bustling, crowded district just below. There is a feeling of being slightly outside the city, of being removed but still able to access all that one needs: boulangeries, fashionable bistros and cafes, and infinite real estate offices. The only thing that is missing is shopping, but perhaps that is one reason why Montmartre residents like to live here: they are not constantly tempted by store windows. They must be visiting Printemps at some point, though, because many Montmartre residents are fantastically chic and model-esque. The neighborhood reminds me of the West Village the way it used to be: lots of tall, beautiful people. Now I am sure that Parisians say the same thing about Montmartre: it’s not what it used to be. It is not the stomping ground of the rowdy impressionists complete with undisturbed ancient charm nor does it evoke the same hole-in-the-wall bohemian atmosphere that it could once afford before ‘Amelie’ catapulted the village into heightened discovery. Charm and character remain, but in very petit doses.
As we climbed the butte and approached the famous windmill, I found myself wondering why anyone would bother living in Montmartre with the hoards of tourists infiltrating the area, destructing its solitude and charm. I would quickly sicken of the cameras, the sneakers, and the lines of red t-shirt wearing group tours following the heels of a flag-carrying group guide. If all you want to do is take your photo in front of the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, then you will have to follow the herd through the narrow streets of keychain stores and overpriced, beyond touristy restaurants serving bottom of the food-mill fare. You may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about in this Disneyland-like area, which is why I suggest staying as far away as possible from the Basilica, a tactic I can only assume the residents regard as gospel.
The Clos Montmartre Vineyard is on the way down the hill, and every Autumn it hosts a wine festival where hundreds of bottles of wine are auctioned off. Farther down the hill is the Bateau Lavoire, once home of Picasso’s studio and the temporary residence of struggling 20th century artists. The village is certainly worth a visit by any Paris tourist, but I wish I could have seen it in its day (its day being when it was Lautrec and Monet’s playground), before the sneakers and the flag-following tour groups.
For an exceptionally knowledgeable and fun-loving guide, contact Corinne Preteur, owner of Lifestyle Vacations France.