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.

At Café Gourmand
Townhouses of Paris
Graffiti by an artist called Jae Ray Mie
One of the métro entrances designed by French architect Hector Guimard at Pigalle.
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?
Boutiques on Rue Houdon
Obsession with cinema on Rue Houdon
Hip little boutiques with charming objects such as…
…this coffee cup that I ended up with
And sheep that I did resist
Church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre
On Rue des Abbesses
Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, built on the lines of the Art Nouveau style.
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?
Corner bistros
The passion for cheese
More corner bistros 
Ambient restaurants in the quarter
The queue for a baguette is not to be messed with. Alexine.
Street leading uphill to Café Le Moulin de la Galette 
A 17th century windmill, the subject of paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh and Pissarro.
Steps to Sacré-Coeur
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”.
He is said to have looked behind him at the Sacré-Coeur and utter a single word. “Appalling”.
Inside the Sacré-Cœur
Rue du Mont Cenis in the village that leads to the Basilica of Saint Denis 
Rue du Mont Cenis 
The medieval grandeur of the Basilica of Saint Denis
Place du Tertre, of the caricaturists and painters 
Place du Tertre
The 12th century Church of St. Peter of Montmartre
Saint Denis inside the church 
Lookers-on in alleys
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.
Cobbled streets that end in windmills
Montmartre has a vineyard which might not make the finest of vino, but wines it does produce.
The dishevelled studio of an artist
The hangout of artists, writers and painters in the 19th century. Think Picasso, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet.
Once dusk gathers, Montmartre’s allure intensifies.
La Maison Rose
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”. 
Miniscule cafés as remnants of vintage Paris. La Petit Moulin.
The red windmill, a symbol of fin de siècle Paris, and the birthplace of the can-can.