Jenny Lynch - A Novice in Montmartre
I was invited in May to spend ten days in Montmartre with my sister in-law Beth and her sister Sue. We landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport on a chilly Sunday morning and my first challenge was to meet the others at Terminal 2A. A very good bus shuttle service operates between terminals and I experimented with my French with limited success. This proved unnecessary as all directions were also given in English and we managed to meet without difficulty, to my great relief.
Our apartment was located on la Place Emile Goudeau opposite le Bateau-Lavoir, a meeting place and residence where Picasso and many of his associates painted and wrote before World War I. Now only the façade remains. We climbed a very narrow spiral staircase to our third floor apartment which looked out through the leaves and flowers of horse chestnuts to the cobbled square below. Our first evening was spent sipping champagne and eating olives and cheese while watching the light change from gold to silver through the leaves of these lovely trees.
Montmartre is a beautiful village of steep cobbled streets and lanes filled with cafés and shops of all kinds and overlooked by the beautiful white Basilique du Sacré Cœur. We spent our days wandering the streets and discovering surprises around every corner. It was only a short walk down the hill to the Moulin Rouge. Two blocks from our apartment we found the markets where artists plied their trade. I had a caricature drawn and a small crowd gathered to laugh and advise the artist who was also encouraged by teenagers and children. The end result was a little confronting, like looking forward in time.
We practised our French in boulangeries and shops with varying success. We learned to say bonjour every time we entered and once, just once, they responded in French. I was lost. Almost everyone was accommodating and often laughed with us as we experimented with the language. I loved the fruit shops and boulangeries of Montmartre. The fruits and vegetables were ripe and vibrantly coloured and the breads and pastries were amazing in taste and texture.
We travelled on the Metro from Abbesses and learned very quickly to catch the lift and not climb the 200 steps to street level. The Metro is a complex web of stations and lines but, fortunately, Beth had an app on her phone to help us navigate and we found our way to the museums and tours around Paris.
Staying in Montmartre on weekends is interesting as shops and cafés open late and close very late. We were entertained until dawn by a singer and guitarist whose skill and mournful tones did not match his enthusiasm, much to the distress of my flatmates. Buskers such as a lady and her macaw were more entertaining.
Montmartre was a wonderful introduction to a very French community. Fathers walk their young children to school and older ladies walk their small dogs amidst the history of many great French artists.