Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Paris tour continues: Monmartre

If Monmartre is supposed to be a place of art and spirituality (not to mention adult entertainment), you wouldn't know that as you get off the Metro and make your way towards the hill on which Monmartre is located.

The carnival atmosphere that surrounds all tourist attractions is especially heavy at the Sacre Coeur basilica. There are even carnival rides at the bottom of the stairs leading to the basilica. The stairs are crowded with street performers, dancers, jugglers, magicians, bands. The assault of amplified sounds from several competing bands should make it hell for anyone who dares to linger, yet masses of people camp out and have picnics right there on the stairs.

The worldly cheesiness is cut off abruptly once you enter the Sacre Coeur basilica itself. It was quiet inside except for the mass that was taking place, and it has strict standards for dress code and behavior.

Crowds on the stairs of the Sacre Coeur basilica Brass brewing device in the courtyard of St. Peter's church
Stairs of the Sacre Coeur basilica Brass brewing device in the courtyard of St. Peter's church

Another church on Monmartre hill, Church of Saint Peter of Montmartre, looked closed, or at least very quiet. Even so, a gleaming brass device, every steampunk costumer's dream prop, was brewing hot liquids to be sold and consumed right there in the church yard. Beside tea and coffee, they had hot wine. And didn't it taste good on a chilly June afternoon! Have to wonder if this was how the church was using up leftover sacramental wine. :-)

The "artistic" part of Monmartre is just as heavily and cheesily commercial. The Tertre square is supposed to be famous for artists hanging out and painting, but all I saw were outdoor seating areas for the restaurants surrounding the square. Can't say I saw many artists working there. But knick-knack vendors were ubiquitous. Only these weren't selling Eiffel Tower replicas as much as art posters.

Place du Tertre

Those are just the "spiritual" and "artistic" parts of Monmartre. Then there is the red-light district with the famous Moulin Rouge, adult shops and strip clubs. Some of them have explicit titles (in English, even) -- this isn't a place you would want to bring your children for a stroll.

(This reminds me -- earlier this summer, in Lithuania, I heard a song in a grocery store that had "shit" in the lyrics. Such as song would have never been played in a family-friendly store in the US, where grocery store music is the very definition of pabulum -- nothing that's played here is less than two decades old, or touched by even a faintest shade of controversy. American parents would be up-in-arms about kids hearing curse words in a song. Here, the argument "kids have heard everything" won't fly. I have to wonder if Lithuanian parents have become so jaded, or if it's still not common to complain to an establishment when your sensibilities are offended. And what kind of store would want to plant such derogatory perception of its goods in a customer's subconscious? :-))

It was at the end of the red light district that we found one of very few, rare Starbucks in Paris. Is that a dumb American thing, to want to go to Starbucks in Paris, of all places? Wouldn't you rather rub shoulders with berette-wearing, chain-smoking bohemians in authentic Parisian coffeeshops? :-) But Starbucks might be the only place in Paris to provide a convenience item I missed: a venti-size paper cup. Suppose you drink huge amounts of herbal tea every day, like I do. And you like to take it with you on a walk. You won't get a carryout paper cup, at least not that size, at most Paris coffeeshops. Also, hotels here don't provide you with a way to brew a decent amount of tea. The cups that come with your room are 4 ounces in size -- that's nowhere near enough for me to quench a thirst. :-) Solution -- get a Starbucks 20 ounce cup and reuse it as a brewing container. Though made of paper, those cups are sturdy enough to last a few brewings.

Rue Foyatier in Monmartre A downhill street in Monmartre
Rue Foyatier in Monmartre -- a street that's all stairs A downhill street in Monmartre

Back to Monmartre -- as much as it's crowded with vendors of touristy junk, it's still worth a visit. It's a beautiful place with narrow, hilly, curving, cobblestone-paved streets -- a quintessential old, romantic European city quarter.

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