I’ve stayed a couple of weeks in Montmartre. Some of my Parisian friends moan and say, “What is it with the Americans and Montmartre?” They also whine because they don’t like going up the mont. But it is an easy subway ride, and one of my favorite things about Montmartre is returning to it after a long day in Paris, riding the elevator up from the subway depths, emerging into the twilight serenaded by the music from the merry-go-round whose spinning blur of pink and blue mimics the sunset, wandering past the smell of hot buttered popcorn towards one of my favorite bakeries, queuing up with the French to grab the last baguettes, the Night People emerging to fill the cafes as I return to an ancient apartment building, walking up the long stairs with my bags, opening the windows to the rue or the jardin, nightingales, streetlights, voices, music calling the pauvre americaine suffering from jetlag, fast asleep at 8 p.m.
The good thing about jetlag is that you rise with the bakers. You can walk the empty streets with the streetcleaners and shopowners with brooms towards the bakery again for a hot baguette (and maybe a petite chocolate something for later). The tourists and pickpockets sleep. The birds are still with me, chorusing my walk.
In the middle of winter, I used to walk in the early dark to the indoor swimming pool which was packed with French. I weaved slowly in and out of all the skinnies feeling awkward in the water. More comfortable walking out of the pool, mincing along the wet cement past the lifeguards, smiles as large as lifeboats for the americaine with a bing and a boom.
In Montmartre and much of Paris, different parts of the day have different personalities. I usually use the mornings for visiting museums since there are less crowds. And there is no paucity of musées in and around Montmartre.
The Art Brute museum (s’appelle Halle Saint Pierre) at the bottom of the hill from the dome is one of my favorite outsider art museums. Some of this has to do with the space inside the museum with an open loft concept, and most of it has to do with the art. While everyone else is standing in line at the Louvre, here you can experience, for free, large portions of individual artist’s ouvre as opposed to one or two pieces. Since there is usually no “art theme” such as Impressionism at an arte brute museum, the collections and exhibits are often eclectic and to my mind’s eye poetically inspiring. It was quite a contrast going here first to view works by mostly unknown artists and then popping in to the small Dali museum which I did not enjoy as much.
I did enjoy the Musée de Montmartre after passing up the touristy Place de Tertre. You cross the Place and go down a small rue to the left to this quaint musée where you can learn all about the arondissement–the history of the Moulin Rouge, the Chat Noir, the Lapin Agile, etc.
One of the nice things about Paris is that if you are fed up with crowds and diesel exhaust, you can escape into one of many secret jardins like Renoir’s next to the Musée Montmartre.
And visit one of the few vineyards in the city.
You can also retreat into cemeteries for peace and quiet. In addition to the large famous ones, there are many small ones like this that I stumbled into on the north side of Montmartre (Saint-Vincent) which is near another lovely village (Clignancourt) worth exploring. The cafes on every corner make for good people-watching.
I have used Montmartre as my leaping off point for randonnées since everything is downhill, i.e., walking down the Rue du Fauborg where there are many small museums scattered about and eclectic gorgeous one-of-a-kind small shops where I hunted for chocolate molds for my chef friend and books for moi.
Léda at the Museé Gustave Moreau.
At the end or your jaunt, you can catch the subway back up the hill. I always like stopping for flowers on my way home.
And if you are lucky enough to have found a French chef to bring back with you, strolling through the specialty food market shops of Montmartre late in the afternoon for meat, spices, grains, vegetables, cheeses, bread and wine is pure bliss.
Brut Arte Montmartre
What drove them towards the throne of Rome,
Those caesars, some muddled and insane with impossible desires.
Others seeking beauty in dominion, searching for a cleopatra with her hair of stars.
Looking northwest, they found the Celts.
Their mission, to pluck those pagan feathers,
And in the huts of the conquered
A collage of pain was painted,
A culture run to watercolors
Into a blue Pict death.
Another joker king
With his crazy rain of perversions,
His note to self while Rome burned:
Get another fiddle from Ethiopa.
No tilted windows in these Roman castles.
No woodland fairytales with a blonde and a brunette.
The sugar hut long melted away
Under Christianity’s hot glare
Replaced by a myth of apples.
Now only a few words, a few ways, a few artists
Remain unscathed by rules,
Shielded by their own primal drives.