France: Bourgeois Bohemian

October 4th, 2013

FranceThey Said

A recent foray into Paris saw me slightly off centre from my usual stomping grounds. Generally a Rive Droite sort of girl I decided to shake it up a bit, and no I didn’t casually cross a bridge to the left bank instead. In true bohemian spirit, I opted to take an apartment in Montmartre for the week. My sunny micro-duplex was right on the Butte practically under the gleaming white bulk of Sacre Coeur. One of Paris’ biggest tourist traps, Montmartre is to the golden hoardes of tour groups a a place where one snatches up faux impressionist paintings hawked along the tight cobbled streets. It is a fin-de-siecle pastiche and disappointingly nothing like Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rogue. If you are wondering what it would be like to come face to face with one of montmartre’s authentic vagrant ‘artists’, you can try Sacre Coeur at twilight where the homeless men that gather in the portal of the Cathedral. Despite the architectural contempt that Sacre Coeur elicits, it indisputably has one of the most dramatic panorama’s across the city. Tourist trap or not; the arrondisment is not without its own native charms.

Sacre Coeur
Sacre Coeur

For instance, Montmartre is home to the only remaining vineyard in Paris. The area has historically produced vine since the middle ages and continued to be cultivated by the Benedictine Abbey from the 12th century through the French Revolution of 1787. The revolutionaries vented most of their ire on the Abbey but the grapes were not deemed enemies of the state. The unassuming parking lot sized vineyard reinstated in the 1930’s and celebrates its annual harvest in October. The fete des Vendages produces some thousand bottles for auction each year (for more information in French visit http://fetedesvendangesdemontmartre.com).

Close Montmartre
Close Montmartre

Then there is Place des Abbesses due west of the butte. Right near Abbesses is the best baguette you will have in Paris, courtesy of Au Levain d’Antan. I am not joking, I don’t even like bread and I packed away three entire baguettes. It was a veritable carbicide and I would do it again. Also don’t forget to take in the iconic Art Nouveau metro sign, so belle époque chic.

Abbesses
Abbesses

To the east you will find Pigalle, the seedy but trendy area Christian Louboutin named his slinky stilettos after. Aside from the prostitutes this area has a number of hip gentrifying cafes and bars. The neighborhood has a distinct African flair, and is a great place to check out maverick culinary groups such as Cameroonian.

 

Lastly nestled on the edge of the arr. is one of my favourite museums in France. The artistic gem that is the Musee Gustav Moreau. The foremost symbolist of the French Canon, Moreau is often considered something of a hermit body of works. The townhouse where Moreau spent most of his life houses some 4,000 works by the artists along with his gentile chinoiserie. It doesn’t get more Bo-Bo than that folks!

 

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