Impression: France - The Paris Portion

Jul 28th, 2011, 01:27 PM
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Just now reading this excellent report. I'm being masochistic in doing so as I had to cancel my planned September trip--the first year in ages I won't see Paris. A couple of things:

I know your angst when you felt responsible for getting your men to the apartment. When I've led the family they always stand around like, "what? Me worry?" while I scramble to get train tickets, find the cab, etc. UGH

I was glad to see you felt that "The archaeological excavations below Notre Dame's parvis were mildly interesting." I thought perhaps I was not in the right frame of mind when I saw it, so I've not recommended it to others. I think you'll also find you didn't miss much in the Deportation Museum. The Shoa was much more moving. (IMHO)
MelJ is offline  
Jul 28th, 2011, 01:53 PM
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ttt 4 later
annhig is offline  
Jul 28th, 2011, 03:48 PM
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thanks Judy...we scoped those out last time but never got around to sampling them; we do plan on taking some of those back to our apt on a day we are over that way...not real close this time but we will visit our old 'hood for sure!
denisea is offline  
Jul 28th, 2011, 03:57 PM
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Denisea & Judy: I guess we can figure that whatever we miss gives us an excuse to return with a fresh list! Those gourmet stores will be at the top for me.

TDudette: Thanks and I'll tell Phil. I saw that photo and said, "What the heck are those?" He said, "They were parts of the boat on either side of the shot I wanted to take, but I decided to leave them in for the colorful juxtaposition." It does kind of set it apart from the usual Eiffel picture.

MelJ: So sorry your trip had to be canceled. I hope you have it on the calendar for next year. I didn't see the Shoa, but will definitely try to get there someday. (Funny how that list starts growing again so soon.)
sap is offline  
Jul 28th, 2011, 08:00 PM
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You are making me so anxious to get to Paris. Only 74 days to go! This will be the 2nd year we've stayed on rue de Bourbon le Chateau and though la Derniere Goutte is just across the street, we never made it there. Will this year, though!
theflock is offline  
Jul 28th, 2011, 09:41 PM
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Thank you, Sap, this is a wonderful, detailed report. I'm especially enjoying it because my husband and I are leaving for Paris in late Sept. for our 25th anniversary and first trip to France, so this is really helping me visualize! We just secured an apartment on Rue Saint Honoré through a site HD found online, after striking out on VRBO. We booked through Kik and Pay and I'm hoping the pictures of the apartment are close to accurate. Any fodorite comments on KlikandPay or tips on breakfast or grocery options near Rue Saint Honore? We'll be going on to Dordogne so I'm looking forward to reading about your time there, also.
ceilifinnigan is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 01:01 AM
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ceilifinnigan, you should start a new thread with your questions, you'll get more answers that way. I hope you have a great trip, I wish I was going, I'm well and truly overdue for a trip to Paris.
cathies is online now  
Jul 29th, 2011, 04:06 AM
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Your DH should enter that shot in a photo competition IMO.
TDudette is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 09:14 AM
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Just getting to this - great lunchtime reading!

Kerouac, you're right. I was scratching my head about no bakeries being open since my husband went out for pastries most days at 7:00ish - but that was in the 18th.

I'm really enjoying your report, sap - great writing. I stayed in an apartment during my college days in Paris, with a courtyard similar to the one you describe. I always felt like I was in the movie, "Rear Window."

Looking forward to more...
YankyGal is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 09:36 AM
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I'm behind now, folks. (I had wanted to keep a week ahead on my writing in the event I got bogged down with work & life.) After today's Day 5 post, I'll split Paris Days 6 & 7 into two sections each to stall for time. (They're so darn long anyway that you'll probably appreciate that.)

Ceilifinnigan: I haven't come across KlikandPay and am not completely familiar with the Rue St. Honore area myself. TDudette's advice to start a new thread about that is a good idea.

YankyGal: Rear Window is exactly right!

Glad you're all enjoying my reflections. Gotta keep going while they're even remotely fresh in my mind. . .
sap is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 09:40 AM
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Saturday 6/11/11

Continuing with the food analogy, we now arrive at an enormous buffet laden with desserts of every imaginable kind: mile-high cakes and exotic tarts, mille-feuille, madeleines, profiteroles and eclairs just bursting to the brim, meringues and souffles, savarins and sorbets -- all as thick, gooey, rich as Joe's chocolat l'Africain. Versailles, you know, can be magnificently sickening.

By half past eight, we had boarded Victor, walked to the shining gold gate called the Grille d'Honneur and were second in the passholders' line. It was a Fountain Spectacle Saturday and I didn't want to take any chances. When we noticed that the garden entrance was still wide open and free until nine, Phil took the opportunity to shoot crowd-free photos of the Southern Parterre in the morning light while I held our spot out front.

Before long, a large and quintessentially American group of kids from the University of Texas had somehow wrangled the privilege of cutting past everyone else to enter the roped space in front of the doors. The little bearded French guide behind me with his own small group was apoplectic with rage. Sporting a captain's hat and navy, double-breasted jacket as he bounced on his feet and muttered, "Les Americaines!" repeatedly under his breath, he looked like a ruddy-faced skipper who had just steered his yacht down the Seine. I did have sympathy for his legitimate frustration, though.

The Marble Courtyard was an impressive way to begin the tour. The black Mansard roofs make the gold trim pop, while the rosy brick facade provides an elegant, if not exactly understated, contrast.

Our first interior views were of the stunning Royal Chapel, cordoned off from entry and lined with marble as white as a wedding gown, almost stark in its beauty. More hollow than hallowed. It felt like an empty reception hall instead of a place of worship. I imagine that most of the worshiping at Versailles was done at Louis XIV's feet.

The visit of the chateau itself was oddly stressful. One feels so buffeted along through the gilded rooms, pushed by the people behind you and pulled by the realization that there is still so much to see before the day is done. (Phil and Joe were certainly in a hurry to leave as they were nearly two rooms ahead of me before we exited into the gardens.) I was sure that, if only I could sit quietly in one of those salons with a cup of tea or a glass of claret for an hour or so, I would actually be able to grasp the details of the Veronese paintings and the ceiling by Lemoyne depicting the Apotheosis of Hercules (a project so intense that he committed suicide upon its completion).

The infamous Hall of Mirrors was certainly beautiful and filled with reflective light that morning, but the space was designed for kings and courtesans. Somehow, the denim-clad tourists with their Nike caps and backpacks detracted from the intended impression.

In my mind, the second grandest space would be the seven rooms of the King's Apartments (particularly the Hercules Salon, along with the Apollo, Mars and War Salons.) I simply cannot grasp what it must have looked like when the actual furnishings, tapestries and carpets were new and fresh. Most of the objects disappeared during the Revolution and several of Louis' surviving paintings, busts and statues were not relinquished by the Louvre until 1989.

The Coronation Room is also noteworthy -- an ode to the explosively egotistic Napoleon Bonaparte, featuring large-scale paintings by one of my favorite artists, Jacques-Louise David. Then there's the "Museum of French History" section originally created by Louis-Philippe, whose rooms contain enormous paintings of more or less famous French battles that were added between his coronation in 1830 and the 20th century. The Gallery of French Battles is so impressive that one would think the French had never lost a war.

Overall, we found the palace itself to be just a tad more awesome than Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace or the lovely Blenheim near Oxford, but Versailles pads its already voluptuous qualities to the point of vulgarity. The total cost of expanding and renovating Louis XIII's original hunting lodge has been estimated at half of France's GNP at the time. It is worth seeing once, but I'm not sure I would repeat the visit. Well, unless I'm invited for tea.

Now the gardens were another story.

Louis XIV was more than a little obsessive about fine-tuned control and absolute power. This was, of course, something he'd picked up from the dark star Richelieu and then Mazarin. Perhaps also moulded by his lonely, neglected childhood, he spent his adult life focused on manipulating and suppressing enemies and his own nobility alike - even down to the most minute, subliminal details. He was also obsessed with mythology. Whether or not he really believed he was god-like, it certainly was in his interest to push the notion to others. Controlling nature was one aspect of this illusion. The 2,000- acre park was designed according to a precise, symmetrical plan. It is the epitome of perfection in its geometry and harmony, meant to convey the king's power over nature in all its forms. What interests me is why he chose to identify himself with Apollo, the Sun God, as opposed to Zeus. Was it because Apollo seems more eternally filled with the promise of youthful vitality than his craggy father? Whatever the motivation may have been, the solar theme dominates and Louis in his role of Sun King pervades everything you see while exploring the vast estate.

We first admired the intricate geometric patterns of the Orangery, including lawns carved like damask, a pair of pools and boxed fruit trees up to 200 years old. It is sunken on a lower level at the southern edge of the Chateau so the design can be appreciated from the parterres above. (A "parterre" is an open terrace.) In Louis' day, it was dotted with sculptures that are now in the Louvre.

We then meandered for a time around the upper flower parterres and ornamental pools while Phil took photos of statues. As we were in the process of enjoying the famous view down the Royal Drive toward the Apollo Fountain and Grand Canal (wondering how much of that mass acreage our feet could take), the water burst forth and the show began. As classical music played over the hidden loudspeakers in every corner of the main estate, the height of the fountains gradually increased and everyone began to ooh and aah. All the fountains are powered by gravity from underground streams pumped into Versailles by pressure from the Seine.

The Gardens of Versailles essentially consist of small mazes within one enormous maze. There are 10 major fountains ((aka "basins" of which there are now 300 total out of an original 1,500), but only four large, straight paths. The real adventure involves the challenge of finding the 15 hidden groves (bosquets) spaced throughout the geometric pattern formed by tall shrubs and foliage. These uniquely-themed garden rooms are each at the center of their own separate maze. They are formed by diagonal paths making diamonds and squares, as opposed to concentric lines, but it is surprisingly easy to lose your sense of direction when you're inside the walls of greenery.

I think it could take all day to explore every grove at a leisurely pace, but the fountains only flow in three-hour increments a couple of times per day on the Fountain Spectacle weekends, so it's not practical to see it all. Especially when lunch calls. Within minutes after the fountains sputtered to life, Joe's stomach started rumbling, Phil's blood sugar plummeted and I realized I was in desperate need of a cup of coffee, so we abandoned my logical plan and headed straight down the Green Carpet to the restaurant instead. On the way, we did stop at the marvelous centerpiece Apollo Fountain to take pictures and watch children splash in delight.

Since it wasn't even noon yet, only one of the restaurants was open: La Flotille down along the mile-long, cross-shaped Grand Canal where gondoliers used to pole through the waters. (It was first called Petite Venise.). You can still rent boats today and paddle around to your heart's content, but it was a crisp\, cloudy morning and the canal was free of any activity.

We had a very nice lunch (croque monsieur for Joe, quiche for me and roast duck for Phil), then headed back up to find some groves. We reached the Colonnade first, which resembles a Roman ruin with a 100-foot circle of marble columns supporting arches. Underneath each arch is a birdbath fountain and there are stone carvings of children and nymphs.

After that, we got lost. Are you surprised? As in life, though, I was looking for one thing and found something even better instead. We got confused in the Chestnut Street Salon trying to reach the King's Garden and suddenly popped out in front of the Mirror Fountain instead. At that exact moment, as if on cue, the most spectacular little fountain show started. As a line of four water jets spun and swirled high in the air, perfectly synchronized to the classical music, Phil snapped photos as fast as he could and I squealed in delight like a girl. The water formed dancing funnels that would then explode like sparkling white fireworks in the sun. I've been to wonderful water and laser shows before, but this was so much prettier and more intimate in a natural environment. It was a quiet, secluded corner of the garden - only three or four other people were watching -- and stumbling upon it seemed somewhat serendipitous.

There were two other favorite groves we discovered that day. The first was the interesting 17th century open-air Ballroom featuring a cascade fountain of millstones and sea shells on one side and an amphitheater on the other side with tiered seats of grass. The marble circle in the center was used for dancing, while musicians played on a ledge above the cascade. Trés romantic. Unfortunately, we had reached the grove just after the three-hour fountain shutoff. It would have been really cool to see that in full flow.

Another noteworthy find was the Grove of Apollo's Baths, which is basically a grotto hollowed out of a large rock. In front of the cave, a statue of Apollo is surrounded by nymphs and at the base of the rock is a small lake. The lake was cordoned off, so it was hard to see the statues; but Phil used his camera for close-ups which turned out quite well.

It was all an immensely enjoyable romp through a Romantic painting filled with Greco-Roman follies. While it would have been more pleasant on a warm, sunny day, we were happy and agreed that we would certainly be willing to visit again if we skipped the chateau.

Leaving the manicured lawns of the main palace and entering Marie's English-style fairytale hameau is a shocking transition. (We didn't have the energy to visit the two Trianons, though I would like to go back there someday.) It is easy to understand why Louis XIV's heirs sought refuge in the smaller space of the Grand Trianon and why Marie felt the need to retreat further into her own childish private fantasy at the Petite Trianon and Hamlet.

On top of all the walking we had already done that day (and that week), it was nearly a mile to the other area of the estate from the upper groves. By the time we reached the Petit Trianon, I thought my feet were going to fall off and Phil looked at least as miserable. At that point, we had realized there was no way we could manage visits to either of the Trianons, so we simply headed toward the Hameau and found the nearest bench in her English garden. Barely acknowledging the otherwise charming Belvedere and Follies, we then followed one of the winding paths another quarter-mile or so to the farm where we soon saw an enormous, wall-eyed cow pulling leaves off a tree. Clearly, we were a long way from the chateau. Joe was delighted when up ahead he saw sheep, ducks, geese, goats, chickens and two very fat pigs.

Marie Antoinette apparently longed for cards much different than life had dealt her. In 1783, inspired by the paintings of Hubert Robert, she had this miniature village built around a lake to indulge her dreams. The Petite Hameau is an odd village, though, as the buildings are both simple and decorative, rustic but refined. It reminded us of a Disneyfied version of a Cotswolds village, yet we liked it very much. Besides the 11-acre Farm, there are more than 10 structures surrounding the lake like giant dollhouses, including the Queen's House, the Billiard Room, the Boudoir, the Mill, the Dovecote, two dairies, a Warming Room and the picture-perfect little Marlborough Tower. Each house has its own garden and the banisters of the staircases and balconies all have blue and white pots with hyacinths and geraniums. Small orchards, grapevine and rose arbors fill the space in between the houses. Little wooden bridges cross the stream and lake, stocked with pike and carp. Swans floating serenely complete the scene like icing on an exquisite petit four. It was the best thing so far that day, yet it was somehow melancholy, too. I'm most definitely not a romantic at heart, but I felt oddly sad for Marie.

Behind the backdrop of his gleaming stage sets, the Sun King deftly pulled puppet strings in a world ruled by strict etiquette and plagued by court intrigue. To distract and amuse his idle court, he encouraged partying, preening and political leapfrogging. For his comparatively dim offspring and the docile courtiers, it was a treasure-filled, pleasure-stuffed Shangri-La that smothered independence, will and reason like a giant Turkish pillow. The downside of this was that it also insulated the increasingly clueless class from the cries of the people.

The Sun King may have been the Apollo of his world, but his empire inevitably suffered the fate of Icarus in a heavy gold chariot, pulled down by the gravity of debt and mass unrest. By the time Louis XVI came to the throne, the decadence had naturally led to moral and mental decay. This last monarch of Versailles, was naive and ill-prepared, reluctant to take the reins. Instead of being obsessed by power, he was merely obsessed with food. He was still toying with boats and clocks while his cloud thinned and he was utterly incapable of steering a bankrupt nation.

Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette is even more difficult to interpret, though she and her husband have been judged from all sides now. Was she conniving, or slightly doped and dependent by her insulated life? Was she desperate for meaning, but trapped in a gilded cage?

From our long view down the Grand Canal of time, they merely seem small and tragic to me, victims of the Sun King's shortsighted schemes as much as the Revolution. I pity Marie's awful fate, but I'm not a peasant in the 18th century watching my queen play at being a milkmaid while I starve.
sap is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 09:54 AM
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Sap: This is a marvelous trip report. thanks to both of you for your excellent writing and for the imaginative photos (even though of subjects we all know well).
this is great prep for our September/October visit!!
taconictraveler is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 10:26 AM
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Great pics from Versailles. We were luck to attend a formal private reception and dinner there two years ago. So, no shorts in the hall of mirrors and much more private. But, we did not get to see all the grounds and gardens. I hope to go back (and on a sunny day), to see the Petit Trianon and more of the gardens!

Re: Marie Antoinette...if you are interested, read Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser for more perspective on her. A domineering, impossible to please mother and an appalling lack of education and preparation for her life as a queen. Plus a husband who could not 'perform' for quite some time (imagine being blamed for that today), got her off to a disappointing and frustrating start in France. I think she is widely misunderstood, credited with things she didn't say or do and was woefully unprepared for her marriage and role as a political chess piece!
denisea is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 11:55 AM
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What a fun trip you had. I hope you have photos of yourselves enjoying these wonderful adventures that you are not sharing...having made multiple trips I've discovered that my favorite pictures are the ones of odd things, or people in the process of doing something...because those are the memories we have in our minds. You can always look up a photo of a favorite piece of art, or church, etc. So far, I really love the photos of the staircase in your apartment building, and those beautiful macaroons! I an almost taste them!
uhoh_busted is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 02:23 PM
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Thanks for sharing your view down the long canal of time. This report is something you will enjoy after paddling a little way farther.
Nikki is online now  
Jul 29th, 2011, 03:22 PM
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Great report and perfect timing since I just learned today that I'm going to Paris in a month for work. Love this city but this will be a very different trip.
LouisaH is offline  
Jul 29th, 2011, 11:03 PM
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You had the same impressions of Versailles that I did. I found the house overwhelming and hated the crush of people. However, I loved the gardens and Marie Antoinette's folly and when we returned for a 2nd visit we didn't bother with the chateau and we spent the entire day in the grounds. I did notice that when we were leaving at about 3pm there was no queue at all to get into the chateau, so perhaps next time we will give it a go then.
cathies is online now  
Jul 30th, 2011, 08:40 AM
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Thank you for taking me along to relive so many fantastic sites. Your photos and descriptions are so creative. I especially loved your description of Notre Dame----beautiful choice of words.
TPAYT is offline  
Jul 30th, 2011, 09:22 AM
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Sunday 6/12/11


It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. It was a village of art and music, it was a human swamp. We screwed up our plans, but we ended things well. In short, the day was so Parisian in its flavor that we will remember it fondly, for better or worse, as a unique part of our long, strange trip.

We were recalled to life past 7:00 a.m., already later than we were supposed to leave. I knew there was too much on tap, but I had high hopes of cracking through maybe half the sites. Oh, but we were slow to move old bones after the miles at Versailles. Our brains were slow to acknowledge that cup of coffee we threw down like a whisky shot.

In fact, I was too slow the entire morning to admit that the whole thing wasn't. . . going. . . to happen.

Montmartre went okay. Maybe a lot better than okay, but even that was in an odd sort of way.

The metro transfer hike at Marcadet-Poisonniers rather sucked (it is a long way from the Left Bank to the martyr's hill), but we arrived at the cavernous Abbesses stop and popped up the elevator just fine. Art Nouveau metro sign - check. The "I Love You Wall" in 280 languages at the little Square Jehan - check. Nod to the Art Nouveau Saint-Jean church, croissants at Coquelicot and an easy walk to the steep funiculaire. Check, check check. It was then that the day began to deviate.

First of all, Phil loved Sacré Coeur the minute we stepped off the cable car. Go figure. This place that has been called "a lunatic's confectionary dream," and maligned by Zola as "the basilica of the ridiculous," was one of his favorite places in Paris. Obviously, it was the view. That and the fact that it is very different from other French churches, almost Byzantine with its layers of bulbous domes and constructed of travertine so white that it glows. He had been pleading, "No, come on, not another church," but rather quickly changed his mind.

Besides being at the highest point of Paris with the city stretching out 420 feet below, the fascinating thing about Sacré Coeur is that it was built by the citizens as a penance for perceived sins and a fulfilled promise should they be spared. And this didn't occur in the superstitious Middle Ages, but in the 19th century. Catholic locals were convinced that losing the war to Prussia in 1870 was punishment, but they were relieved they had survived total invasion. (Otto von Bismarck's four-month siege had reduced the citizens to "urban hunting" - which means cats, rats and dogs. I can't imagine this. Do you think they would eat their own pets; or would they exchange with their neighbor so it would be less personal? Would old Madam DuPont need to hide her pedigreed poodle because Monsieur Girard down the street had been looking a little thin?)

The church was thus conceived both as a monument and an offering following the political upheavals generated by the embarrassing surrender to the Prussians and the fiery Paris Commune. The Communards first uprising took place on Montmartre and many Communard bodies remain in the honeycomb of underground gypsum mines, sealed off by explosions during the clash. (Now, if they want to feel guilty about destroying large portions of their beautiful city during the Commune, I can relate to that.) The church's construction soon became associated with the rise of the Third Republic and a desire for both national renewal and spiritual purification. Perpetual prayers to the Sacred Heart in the form of a consecrated host have been offered here 24/7 since 1885.

In 1944, 13 bombs fell in a line near the church during World War II. The stained glass windows were shattered, but no one was killed. This of course fueled the idea that Sacré Coeur was miraculously protected and local devotion increased.

One other interesting note is that, to build the foundation, they had to sink 83 pillars 130 feet deep because the site rests on subterranean gypsum galleries (as in "plaster of Paris"). In fact, the entire city is built upon the Swiss-cheese substrata. Obviously, they don't have a problem with earthquakes.

After several pictures of the panoramic cityscape, the church and a blind beggar who caught Phil's eye, we made a 10-minute circle of the interior and I was ready to leave. Joe, however, wanted to climb to the inner dome. He was up there for quite a long time before coming down with a big toothy grin. It's the second highest point in Paris after the Eiffel Tower and evidently offers a rather spectacular view.

Phil gave me another surprise when I tried to skirt around the Place du Tertre, knowing it would be an ugly show. It was teeming with tourists and obnoxious hawkers, but Phil headed straight into the chaos as he decided it was the ideal photogenic scene. To me, it resembled a carnival midway complete with street artists, cheesy souvenir booths and roaming flimflam men. While I didn't see any jugglers or fire-eaters, I was sure some gypsy was going to start weaving one of those scam bracelets on my arm at any minute.

Phil was somehow able to see through all that to the area's fin-de-siècle heyday of bohemian cafés, lively cabarets and easels en plein air. I began to think he was channeling one of the dozens of the butte's dead artists as he explained that, behind the camera lens, the overall impression of the bustling square was of color, movement and vibrancy. Well, our general impressions may have been off sync, but I would agree that it was surreal. Unfortunately, I must have pulled my artist out of there before his inspiration was fulfilled as apparently no images of the square ever made it past the lens.

We did manage to squeeze through to the other side of Place du Tertre and escape to the shady corner where Louis Icart lived in the 40s at the top of the stairs. Besides the door with the Art Nouveau window, there was strange graffiti depicting crying eyes dripping down the apartment's east wall.

After navigating back through the mob and swatting down a clipboard carrier who kept buzzing in my ear until I glared at him in disgust, we headed north on Rue Mont Cenis and down the steps to rue St. Vincent. Up on the corner, I saw a green space that I thought was the park above the Montmartre Vineyards. I suggested that we take a detour to walk through its quiet space for a few moments on the way to see the Lapin Agile cabaret. It was a luscious little place, featuring a cascade, several levels of shaded paths and a large vine-covered pergola where we stopped to watch a man coaching a girl how to kick-box. "Voila!" he said. "Voila, voila," every time she hit the pillowy target.

It was not until we exited on the other side expecting to see St. Vincent that I realized with a sinking feeling I had somehow made a wrong turn. For cripes sake, we were lost again. How could that have happened so fast?

Still thinking I was heading west down the hill, I led us down a flight of stairs to look for more street signs, but none of them made any sense as I studied my rather crappy little map. Seriously, we couldn't be more than one street off. Phil quite naturally started questioning me about what I was looking for and why we were aimlessly wandering around. What was so crucial that we had to see next? In his mind, the priority that morning was Pere Lachaise Cemetery for its photogenic promise, but we had to get there before noon or the light would be useless. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

I tried to explain that I had planned a nice little morning walk around Montmartre just to see the neighborhood itself and that no site was necessarily more important than any other, but I gave up in mid-sentence. It was impossible to convey the concept of being a flâneur to such a goal-oriented guy. (Of course, genuine flâneurs don't even plan their walks.) Frustrated and growing somewhat tired of my role as the designated cruise director, I sunk down on the steps and sat there for at least 10 minutes trying to pull threads straight in my head. This had all started when we left too late. I should have realized then that my already ambitious plan had become impossible. Obviously, we could not really reach Pere Lachaise Cemetery by noon, or Museé Jacquemart-Andre in time for tea, much less Parc Monceau or Monet's water lilies at the Orangerie. I'd blown it.

To Phil's credit, he started listening and helped me formulate Plan B: We'd wipe out everything on the original itinerary and spend more time in Montmartre before going back to the apartment for lunch. If we felt like it, we could maybe do the walk in the Marais that we had missed the first day. We needed a break. We needed to keep it simple.

With the pressure now off, I felt much better when we retraced our steps back up past the park and instantly found Rue St. Vincent, which I could swear hadn't been there before. Then Phil looked up and said, "Isn't that Sacré Coeur?" Good grief it was the back of the church. We had walked in a circle! As it ironically turns out, some of Phil's best photos of the Sacré Coeur were shot from this unexpected vantage point (and I know now that it was the Parc de la Turlure where I'd been lured off the path and lost my sense of direction -- apparently it doesn't take much.)

Having come to grips with our location, I was able to easily lead us through the whole walk within 20 minutes: From the half-hidden, faded Lapin Agile sign to Renoir's house and the statue of St. Denis, who posed politely, head in hands, for Joe's camera. Then around and down to Place Marcel Ayme where Joe laughed at the man trapped in the wall and pretended to pull him out. Phil took the classic photo of Utrillo's oft-painted Le Consulat and we stopped to look at Renoir's Moulin de la Galette over on Rue Lepic. Of course, the exterior of the restaurant barely resembles the famous canvas, but it's a nice little windmill anyway. (It's also real, unlike the big red fake on the cheesy, sleazy Moulin Rouge at the bottom of the hill. Montmartre once had 14 windmills, but only two are left.)

It was briefly sunny on this late morning in early June and we were growing quite charmed by Montmartre's steep cobblestone streets. The multitude of staircases staggered in tiers up and down the hill seem like an Escher illusion come to life. Humorously tugging on the neighborhood's bohemian roots, one of the shops along the sloping Rue Lepic near the former houses of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec had clothes printed with puns of old political slogans. Our favorite was a baby tee warning of "Anarchy in the Nursery."

Back on Rue des Abbesses just before the metro, we came upon a street performance by a group of jazz musicians, slightly grey in the muzzle and very talented. They were clearly having a wonderful time, winking, grinning and expertly hamming it up for the Sunday crowd. It was like being in New Orleans, leaning against a tree and drinking up the ambience for a moment before we said goodbye to the quarter. Montmartre had been a good antidote to the stress I had accumulated by gripping the wheel so hard. I knew I had to just let go like this once in awhile, take a backseat and let the road rise up to meet us instead.
sap is offline  
Jul 30th, 2011, 09:59 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 1,277
Loving your report and photos. Your writing is far better than many magazine articles I have read. We head to Paris for a week of our vacation in October. Had not planned to visit Versailles but after checking the online schedule we could visit during the fountains weekend. We last visited in 1998 and biked our way through the gardens to the hameau and trianons. We spent only an hour and a half in the palace but loved the grounds. Thank you for the inspiration.
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