Thursday, 21 November 2013

jeudi de paris - tour of montmarte

Last week we went to spend Armistice Day with our friends who recently bought an apartment in the Montmarte area.  What has eased our transition in Paris is knowing that we have some friends around the corner, friends who had lived in Malaysia and who understand how its sometimes not so easy being new in a strange land.

We tend not to wander too far away from our quartier, thats why I haven't posted so many different photos of Paris.  Montmarte is an area we are likely to go to more often, bringing guests, or now, visiting our friends!

Au Lapin Agile or The Nimble Bunny is a famous Montmarte cabaret that has an interesting story behind its name.  It was originally known as Cabaret des Assassins because the story goes that a band of assassins broke into the cabaret and murdered the owner's son.  In 1875, the painter André Gill, painted a sign that came to suggest its new name.  The picture of a rabbit jumping out of a saucepan started the neighbourhood referring to their local night club as Le lapin a Gill, meaning Gill's rabbit. Over time, the name evolved into what it is today Au Lapin Agile.  It was apparently a favourite hang out spot for struggling artists and writers of the early 20th century, like Picasso and Modigliani.  Picasso's oil painting of  'At the Lapin Agile' definitely helped to make it known abroad.  Steve Martin also wrote a play called 'Picasso at the Lapin Agile'; the plot centring on Picasso and Einstein meeting at this bar, and having a lengthy discussion about the value of genius and talent.  

I can't imagine it all to be genius and talent though.  No doubt this was the heart of artistic Paris, but there must have been quite a mix of people here, and some of very questionable character.  Montmarte is more 'gentrified' these days but some parts of the neighbourhood are still a bit rough, and there are shops whose window displays are not what you may be used to!  

Amongst the mix of bourgeoise, artists, struggling or up-and-coming artists, pimps and what nots, there was also a saint and a matyr in the history of Montmarte.  We go back a bit earlier though, to about the 3rd century.  Denis was a bishop of Paris.  Pagan priets, panicking at his rate of conversions, had him executed by beheading.  The legend goes that Denis picked his head up, continued to walk north for about ten kilometres, all the while continuing to preach his sermon.  He is one of the patron saints of Paris and there are many versions of this statue in the city.  Next time you are at the Notre Dame, see if you can spot him.

I was happy to stumble on more lively subjects after Saint Denis - a group of young men playing petangue, where players throw metal balls (hollow ones lah) as close as possible to a small wooden one.  

The Moulin de la Galette dates back to the 17th century.  It was known for much more than its milling. Another venue of distraction for Parisians then, it was also very popular amongst Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso.  These artists know how to have a good time, don't they?  It was probably most immortalised by Renoir's painting Bal du moulin de la galette.

What a view…In the distance is Les Invalides (museum and monument all relating to the military history of France - that warrants a separate post) .

You can't keep the artists from Montmarte...

We haven't even explored half of Montmarte yet, there is so much more to see.  We'll be back.  

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