europe,  Travel

The Hilltop Neighbourhood of Paris

In Paris, I was part of Bresson’s world. Only here, I was the one behind the camera, a silent witness to the flow of people on the streets, making way for the natural synthesis of scenes to happen to the camera. Each corner I turned around, there was a frame lying in wait. On the streets of Paris, as you know, the frames are numerous. You are hard-pressed to let go of any. Such as on the noon before we walked to Montmartre – when we sat in a tiny, packed café to a meal of succulent roast chicken, fries and red wine.

At the café’s counter, a man sat perched upon a barstool, a French Bulldog in attendance. Now, as all examples of his species go, this bulldog was undeniably ugly. Clownish bat ears, bow legs, flat face, bulging eyes. But what he had in spades was determination. He must have a bite off the table behind him, just laid with food. Naturally, he went and stood, a pugnacious little fellow, at the foot of the table. The man eating at that table turned around to let his displeasure be obvious to the bulldog’s human who cast a sheepish smile and muttered,  ‘Jack non, non’  in reproval. He tightened Jack’s leash around the leg of his barstool. But this Jack, he was a trooper. He wormed his way back to the table a few times, till his man friend used his foot to wedge Jack’s face against the counter. Picture Jack then. A sorrowful expression on his face, the least he could demand was discretion.

I clicked a photo of him accordingly, discreetly, while imparting sagacious words to this oddball, ‘Life never came with a promise to be fair, Jack’.

In the lengthening shadows of that cold and blustery noon, we carried on to Montmartre, making pit stops at small boutiques along cobbled streets. The rigours of daily life in the metro unfolded along us. Men loaded and unloaded vans.

Montmartre turned out to be divested of the summer crowds. It was easier to lend your mind to the reason it is called ‘the Mount of the Martyr’. The martyr in question is Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris. This patron saint was decapitated by the Romans because, much to the alarm of the Roman priests, he was gaining followers rapidly. When I saw his statue, it seemed like he had his hands over his ears, but actually the man was holding his own head. The legend is that he was beheaded by a bored Roman soldier. But the saint did not give up. He picked up his head and continued walking to the top of the hill. Eventually, he dropped dead and his head rolled till it reached a spot where the Basilica of Saint Denis was built.

The neighbourhood of Montmartre looks decidedly posh with its old churches and chapels, a line-up of chic bistros and pavement drinkers, boulangeries like Alexine where the cheese & nut breads, not to forget the tarts, are guaranteed to drive you into a frenzy.

You would almost forget that this was the Paris of broke artists; of walled gardens; of poorly-lit garretts cluttered with easels, redolent of turpentine and paint; of artists’ communes frequented Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani; of drunken brawls, idealistic talk and angst-ridden thoughts spewed at guinguettes (outdoor taverns-cumdance halls); slow waltzes to the tune of the accordion. And gradually the paths drifting down to the louche neighbourhood of Pigalle which the surrealist André Breton described as “diamantiferous mud”. A notorious collection of seedy nightclubs, erotic museum, porn theatres offering peep shows and what not, to the iconic cabaret of the Moulin Rouge.

If you would come with me, we could walk the leafy, loopy alleys of the 18th arrondissement together, skim through street art, take breaks at intimate little cafés, and break the silence once in a while to wonder about the Montmartre that has been left behind.

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At Café Gourmand
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Jack 
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Townhouses of Paris
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Graffiti by an artist called Jae Ray Mie
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One of the métro entrances designed by French architect Hector Guimard at Pigalle.
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Art Nouveau beauty of the Pigalle métro with its sinuous design and ornate lamp posts. Could this be a taste of Paris from the turn of the last century?
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Boutiques on Rue Houdon
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Obsession with cinema on Rue Houdon
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Hip little boutiques with charming objects such as…
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…this coffee cup that I ended up with
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And sheep that I did resist
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Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre
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On Rue des Abbesses
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Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, built on the lines of the Art Nouveau style.
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Rue Germain Pilon named after a 16th century French sculptor. Don’t you love these steps that typically climb past old townhouses with jalousie windows, some slathered in ivy?
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Corner bistros
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The passion for cheese
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More corner bistros 
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Ambient restaurants in the quarter
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The queue for a baguette is not to be messed with. Alexine.
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Street leading uphill to Café Le Moulin de la Galette 
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A 17th century windmill, the subject of paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh and Pissarro.
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Steps to Sacré-Coeur
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Adolf Hitler stood on the terrace sometime in June 1940, and he declared to his entourage that it was the dream of his life to be permitted to see Paris. His friend and architect Albert Speer had recorded about the visit in his memoirs. “Wasn’t Paris beautiful?” Hitler had asked Speer. “But Berlin must be far more beautiful. When we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow”.
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He is said to have looked behind him at the Sacré-Coeur and utter a single word. “Appalling”.
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Inside the Sacré-Cœur
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Rue du Mont Cenis in the village that leads to the Basilica of Saint Denis 
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Rue du Mont Cenis 
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The medieval grandeur of the Basilica of Saint Denis
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Place du Tertre, of the caricaturists and painters 
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Place du Tertre
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The 12th century Church of St. Peter of Montmartre
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Saint Denis inside the church 
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Lookers-on in alleys
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Le Passe-Muraille/The Passer Through Walls. The French writer Marcel Aymé wrote a short novel titled “Le Passe-Muraille”. In it, an office worker who lives in Montmartre discovers one night that he has the power to pass through walls. At the end of the story, he also happens to be permanently stuck in a wall. This wall is French sculptor Jean Marais’s dedication to the story in front of Aymé’s house.
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Cobbled streets that end in windmills
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Montmartre has a vineyard which might not make the finest of vino, but wines it does produce.
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The dishevelled studio of an artist
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Biscuiteries
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The hangout of artists, writers and painters in the 19th century. Think Picasso, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet.
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Once dusk gathers, Montmartre’s allure intensifies.
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La Maison Rose
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Picasso was a regular at this cabaret. He is known to have paid for every meal with a drawing. The proprietor was curious — why would the artist not put his signature on the pieces? Whereupon Picasso noted: “That’s because I only want to buy lunch, not your whole restaurant”. 
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Miniscule cafés as remnants of vintage Paris. La Petit Moulin.
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The red windmill, a symbol of fin de siècle Paris, and the birthplace of the can-can.

65 Comments

  • BGCT2VA

    Dotty,

    Your photos and commentary are sheer joy to behold. The comments re: Hitler and Speer. It’s interesting that once the war had turned against Germany that Hitler had ordered the complete destruction of Paris. Fortunately, the general receiving the orders was a soldier and not a barbarian. Hitler would rather destroy everything he could not have. Such a little man in so many ways.
    On another note, your choosing to use B&W was so appropriate to convey the spirit of the city. Excellent! may I ask what camera you used?

    • dippydottygirl

      Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus (Bresson would have fainted).

      Thank you for the kind words! 🙂

      A little man — that possibly captures his personality best. Actually we might run out of adjectives here. Isn’t there such irony in his appreciation of a city that he aimed to destroy? The stories from WWII are fascinating. I cannot get enough of them.

  • Nemorino

    Great black and white photos. You even got a good shot of the details of a Wallace Fountain, which are really hard to capture in a photo.

  • lexandneek

    I was a bit taken aback by the statue of St. Denis but then I thought this would be a perfect way to alleviate one of my migraine headaches 😉 Wonderful blogpost and photos! – Neek

  • Sheree

    Dippy, I’m loving your black and white atmospheric photos of Paris! It’s been ages since I walked around 18th but felt as if I was there with you.

    • dippydottygirl

      Sheree, thank you. 🙂 I bet there are stories you have to tell about your ambles through Montmartre. Winter added to its charm. xx

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you, Arielle. It is possible to miss things in every place we travel to, is it not? But that is the charm of repeat travel, to see a place more thoroughly. I enjoy the process of seeing places time and again. As for Montmartre, I loved the quiet winter vibes of it. Cheers! xx

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you, Lorelle. I had to force myself from not putting up more because my fingers were quite busy. Those alleys of Montmartre were entrancing. More so, because there were no crowds. 🙂

      You have a fun weekend too. xx

        • dippydottygirl

          Yes. That said, the last time I visited it was in autumn which I adored. The crowds were manageable then – you are right.

  • thewonderer86

    I felt like I was in Montmartre reading this post. Wonderful. Poor Jack. And I love the ‘diamantiferous mud’ description of Pigalle. That could still apply. Montmartre might have changed beyond recognition, but Pigalle is still sleazy.

  • carolinehelbig

    I’m loving your B&W tour of Paris. What a great idea to showcase Paris. I’m also loving all the bistros and boulangeries and biscuiteries, and the fact that some stoic Parisians are sitting outside. Poor St. Denis!

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you, Caroline! I quite liked the idea of Determined Denis.
      The best part about sitting outside is the hint of chill along with the wonderful warmth radiated by the patio heaters … and a glass of red wine to go with it. 🙂

  • equinoxio21

    A superb Paris stroll ma’amji. Your B&W focus does bring out the winter grey. Really fab.
    (I could almost feel the cold…)
    I love the Passe-Muraille. My sister used to live nearby and it was our usual route up.
    Much easier that taking the stairs which are bloody murder.
    Now the “magasin d’habits”? I’m almost positive i’ve passed by last year.
    Need to check my files.
    Be good.

    • dippydottygirl

      Merci beaucoup! The Passe Muraille is unique. I have not seen the likes of it anywhere else and it quite stuck in my mind. That lane up was lovely. Your sister lived in a lovely spot.

      Did you mean the Rue Houdon boutique?

      • equinoxio21

        That statue was made to honour Marcel Aymé, a French writer who lived nearby. My father had a lot of his books. I might even have “le passe-muraille” still. Oh, oh! I don’t. Where can it be?
        Yes that boutique. Though I’m not sure about the street. That one is coming down from Montmartre to Pigalle and I seem to recall seeing it somewhere else. Maybe a branch. 🙂

          • equinoxio21

            I’ve had in mind of getting that stuff back and store it properly. I mean my brother’s been great at storing it for… nearly ten years now, but I need to have another look at what’s in there and probably get a storage room. 🙂 (Don’t we all love treasure hunts?)

          • equinoxio21

            As you know I have finally managed to get all my books in a “Library”. (Colonel Mustard and all that). I call the library The India room. 😉 I’ll post why someday.

          • dippydottygirl

            For the record, I suck at Cluedo. I remember The India Room and it would be an interesting read, this future post.

          • equinoxio21

            Never tell a story in advance, spoils the fun. But what I have in mind is a series of photographs of the room, the art, and the books. I could do it tomorrow, my desk is in there! But I always forget.
            Cluedo? I think we mentioned it before. 🙂 Winning is not the important thing it’s the atmosphere. I loved that game as a child then played it with our daughters.
            Cheers ma’amji.

          • dippydottygirl

            I have faint stirrings of a Cluedo conversation, now that you mention it. Since I have never won at it, you can imagine it rankles!

            As for the post, let the story unfold at your own pace. Cheers.

          • dippydottygirl

            Heh actually I played it more with Adi and our friends. Adi almost always won.

          • dippydottygirl

            Non. He is a consultant, into automation (AI). 🙂 But he is darned good at calculating the odds.

  • Virginia Duran

    Hello beautiful, I am starting to catch up with your blog and what best than your Paris series. How long did you stay in the capital?
    I am familiar with some of these gems shown in your pictures but I don’t know the vast majority. Which was your favourite part of the 18th arrondisement? Also, Jack 😍

    • dippydottygirl

      Six days to be precise, V. One day was reserved for a day trip to the Alsace region.

      Thank you, lovely! It is difficult, almost impossible to see everything, isn’t it? Even a local, I bet, does not know and see everything that is around him. The quiet, cobblestoned alleys were my pick there, V, along with the Passe Muraille.

      Jack was one of my highlights too, though he was outside of the 18th arrondissement. xxx

  • equinoxio21

    I had to look at your post again ma’amji. Bresson indeed. Just fab quality photographs. I don’t think Bresson would have fainted. He would have been very interested. My brother saw him once. In May 68 on the barricades. My brother. Bresson was taking pictures. With a small Leica if I recall.

    • dippydottygirl

      Why that is mighty rich, Brianji! I am so ill equipped to handle compliments that I end up hemming and hawing at them. Thank you.

      The picture you created with the date and the image of barricades, your brother as an onlooker, and Bresson with his Leica…marvellous.

  • Megala

    Beautiful B&W photos! This post reminds me the quote by Thomas Jefferson: “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.”

    • dippydottygirl

      Cheers Megala! Thanks for sharing the quote too. Jefferson clearly found his inspiration in the right place.

  • Miriam

    You weave a magical tale of Paris through your atmospheric BandW pics and descriptive words. It’s been years since I was there but your posts have transported me. Wonderful! 🙂💕

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