Nostalgia for times I never knew: Montmartre

Enamorados en Paris, by Inti

Enamorados en Paris, by Inti

I fully realise that I’d be a long way from fitting in in late nineteenth century Montmartre. That doesn’t stop me hankering slightly after the romance and decadance of the capital of bohemia, even though I know I’m far to straight-laced to indulge. Even today, visiting the area is full of fascination: I know of no other place quite like it, with it’s winding, village-like streets of cobbles, gables, vineyards et moulins. It’s a faded splendour, of course, but like the rough edges of other places I’ve loved (Istria, Prague, Nice), it’s these things which make it lovely, even today. I know of nowhere quite like Montmartre for its picture-perfect recollections though: no part of London, certainly. retains its ‘period characteristics’ like the martyrs’ mount.

Of course, I’m a child of my time, and in true postmodern fashion, am influenced and can relate to anything and everything that culture throws at me. Thus Moulin Rouge‘s gaudy Luhrmann-ised vision of the era cannot be dissociated from the romance of its location; Claude Lelouch’s panic-inducing C’était un rendez-vous ends up at Sacre-Coeur, wending his way at high velocity through la butte‘s narrow streets; Charles Aznavour’s La Bohême laments the fade of the sleazy glamour in particularly gallic fashion; even a glance at Steinlein’s famous Le Chat Noir poster brings the courtesans and roisterous artistes to mind.

I’ve no doubt I wouldn’t really fit in amongst Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Picasso et al, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to try. Especially seeing as I’ve just started re-teaching myself some français, again, I can’t wait to visit again: I love Paris as a whole, though I know only a little of it; but free from the grandiose sweeps of Hausmann’s grands boulevards or the ravages of Richard Rogers, Montmartre’s poky hills remain my favourite bit of the City of Lights.

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