I recently completed a pretty badly written book titled "Suzanne of Love and Art," a sort-of biography of artist Suzanne Valadon and by extension, her son, Maurice Utrillo. The history seemed well researched and interesting but let's just say that the author wrote the most tedious dialogue I've ever read and I found myself scanning every dialogue passage by about the first third of the book, concentrating instead on the sections regarding the artists, their art, lives and techniques.
But one thing I found fascinating was the depiction of life in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre during this period of great creativity, creativity that revealed great masters of Impressionism including Degas, Monet, Renoir, Lautrec, Utrillo and many others, along with some of the composers of the period.
I was so glad that during my two trips to Paris I visited this area, first in 2009 with my friend Jerry and then again with Rick and my blog friend Peter (best guide ever -- just saying!) in 2012.
I thought as part of the annual blogging event, Paris In July, I would revisit bits of both of those trips in photos to share with you.
The two visits and my guides were very different and it was wonderful to experience both. On my first visit, we went up the Butte via the funicular and the first things we noted were the magnificent views of Paris below.
From there, on a gorgeous sunny day, we first ventured into the legendary Sacre Coeur, built between 1875 and 1914. It is considered a monument of political and cultural significans -- a nantional penance for the Frace's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the crowning of the most rebellious neighborhood of the socialist Paris Commune (1871(, It is considered an embodiment of conservative moral order and is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We journeyed on, stopping in Place de Tertre to observe artists at work -- along with every other tourist in Paris!
I have to confess, it may be touristy as all get out and the art may or may not be spectacular, but I loved this part of our walk!
We wandered on past the famous Lapin Agile (and I have still never been inside!) where the great artists drank (a lot) and paid off their bills in paintings. This was a location often mentioned in Suzanne, and it was nice when reading to have the vision in my mind.
Jerry and I wandered the streets, eventually ending back on the steps of Sacre Coeur, where we enjoyed a dusky picnic. A bottle of wine, bread, almonds, dried fruit, cheese. A perfect people watching site.
Then back to catch the Metro as darkness fell and the Moulin Rouge came alive with light.
My day with Peter and Rick, three years later, was less sunny. In fact, it was pretty gloomy and by the time we departed, umbrellas were out!
We met Peter at the Abbesses metro and our first sight was the famous "I Love You" wall, with the phrase written in hundreds of languages.
Peter was wonderful about explaining the architecture, the street sculpture and he knew where everyone lived!
As I did before, we wandered the streets, approaching things from different directions, seeing things in a different light.
We stepped into churches, including the smaller but lovely St. Pierre de Montmartre.
I marveled at the bounty of wisteria.
Peter and Rick shared stories of music and admired -- yes, bicycles.
We passed by one of the residences where Suzanne Valdon had lived -- Suzanne and a host of other well known names, including one of her many lovers, Eric Satie.
The site now houses the Montmartre museum. We didn't go in -- not enough time -- but I suspect I would find it fascinating.
We passed by familiar buildings seen in paintings since the Impressionists times (including, of course, Utrillo) and who knows, probably before.
We passed by Clos Montmartre, the remaining vineyard of Montmartre. The area hosts an annual wine festival.
Our day included a delightful lunch and champagne was a special treat!
We passed by the Moulin Rouge on the way to one of my favorite spots, the Montmartre Cemetery. The cemetery itself was filled with famous names, including one of Rick's favorite composers, Couperin, Degas, Hector Berlioz, Jacques Offenbach, Nijinsky, and many others. The sculpture on the monuments was often tremendously poignant.
And of course, we saw the famous cemetery cats. Take a good look at this one, hiding out from the rain.
Four months later, The Marmelade Gypsy (who looked like the Montmartre cat in the photo below and was never far from my heart) would be up in the heavyside layer and Lizzie Cosette, a dead ringer for the one above, would have her new home.
I confess, my feelings about Montmartre as a Parisian spot to visit changed because of visiting twice. The first time it was fun. It was enjoyable to watch the artists at work of course.
And I loved our picnic and getting a feel for this part of Paris. But by and large, it felt like a touristy part of the city, almost not real.
But by the second visit, I had read much more. And Peter, who volunteers as a guide in Paris, was so knowledgeable about every nook and corner, that I felt I learned more and would love to continue that learning.
Certainly reading the book, despite the lousiest dialogue I have ever read in a historical novel, gave me an insight into life in this part of Paris during the Belle Epoch. So it felt more meaningful.
Walking through Montmartre is indeed walking back in time a bit. Let your mind wander, do your homework -- and call Peter's Paris Greeters, the guide service he volunteers for, and ask for him! It will be a walk to remember.
(And don't forget to stop and enjoy the view!)
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