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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, September 29, 2006

Day 2, I Should Have Taken the Stairs

Back on Ave Rachel, I head back to Cafe Maestro and ask them if it’s too late for lunch. It is. I turn left to get back on Clichy and turn left again just after the Moulin Rouge.

Up Rue Lépic, a slight hill, I pass 1- and 2-star hotels on both sides. Rue Lépic becomes rue Tholoze III, and people begin to bustle as I reach the end of the street near the top of the hill. At the top of the hill there’s another windmill, called the Moulin du Radet, looking ancient and broken down, though I learn from the book that it’s a recreation of an original. Bookstores and cafes are all around, and there are tables on a grassy field in front of the old-looking moulin. Their lunch is closed as well, though people still sit in most of the tables.

I turn right at the moulin and head down rue Lépic (I’ve rejoined it), then take a left and a quick right onto rue Norvins. Here there’s a great little sculpture called Le Passe-Muraille, where a man in bronze appears to be walking out from the wall in the square. It’s taken from a short story written by the square’s namesake, Marcel Ayme. Further up rue Norvins I re-enter the tourist haven, with souvenir shops and expensive cafes everywhere. I spot a small-looking boulangerie where I pick up a sandwich with my remaining cash, but can’t afford a drink or a sweet. I choose tuna and I eat it as I walk. The mayonnaise in this country is the best I’ve ever had, and I don’t think that should be surprising.

Near here I see a small sign for an Internet Cafe. It also appears to be a Lebanese restaurant. Too bad I just ate. I buy a Euro’s worth of time and catch up on emails. My interaction with the proprietor goes smoothly and I am feeling more confident in my French, even though my best interactions have come with speaking to those whose native language is neither French nor English.

On rue Norvins, I can see Sacre Coeur, and I walk toward it. But another glance tells me I’ve missed a turn: there’s a vineyard nearby, in the middle of the city, and I decide I must see it. Back onto rue des Saules. I see the Maison Rose the book refers to, but I’ve already had my lunch, as it were. Down a rather steep hill, there it is on my right: a vineyard. Steppes of green grass and wire surround and separate little brown stumps of grapevines, separated from me by chain-link fences. I try to take pictures from several angles but I can’t get much. I look around, and am surprised that the only people anywhere nearby are French. One block away there are a thousand Americans and Germans looking at a church, but nobody seems to care about a lovingly tended vineyard in the least likely of places.

Down at the corner, I turn around and look back up. It can’t be more than an acre, this magical little place; I begin to look for any hint of a way to get some of this wine. I see no obvious doorways or signage denoting opening hours. In the book they imply that they only make this once per year and they throw a big gala to celebrate it. I guess they drink it all at once during that.

Turning right one street earlier than the book says (one street before St Vincent), I go around the vineyard to rejoin the quest for Sacre Coeur. On the right near the corner of rue DuMont III, there’s a jardin sauvage, a natural growth area that looks like a small jungle in the middle of the city. I’m tempted to go into it and hang around, but it’s getting to be 3:30 now, and I need to get moving. As I walk up the hill to rejoin the tourists I wonder not only how two small pockets of vegetation could live, not only so close to the center of this city, but so close to each other. The lovingly tended vineyard seems to suffer no ill effects from being so close to the savage garden.



A quick left and right, and I see it: Sacre Coeur. Impossibly white. The book says this building secretes calcium whenever it rains, bleaching itself naturally to ensure the color lasts forever, or until it dissolves from the secretion. The basilica appears out from behind a building, towering over me as it’s towered over Paris since the late 19th century. To me there’s something vaguely Russian about it somehow, I think because there is the one enormous dome, surrounded by many smaller ones, like a mother surrounded by her children. The domes are all ringed in what looks like tulip petals pointed down, all white and very small. Using my binoculars, I can see every scratch of stone up at the top, each line curved exactly as the last, perfect in its symmetry.

There’s a park next to me, and a toilette. It looks like I’d have to go through a bit to use it, so I decide to wait. Walking around the left side of the church, I begin to see what kind of view this hill affords. I think about the scene in Amélie, where she leads him on a scavenger hunt of sorts to give him back his photo-album. Did that scene take place here? I would find out later that I was right. Children are everywhere, and I hear English, German, Dutch, Arabic, Hindu, and yes, French. Men are holding their children in place to look through the telescopes at the view of Paris. I go down to where the railing overlooks the city, and I turn around. The basilica faces me now, and its whiteness makes me forget to breathe. With the binoculars I examine every detail of the dome, and try to see what colors the tourists are wearing in that middle ring. Then I turn to face the city. Montparnasse tower, Notre Dame, a minaret, the dome at Les Invalides, but I can’t see the Eiffel tower. I ask a young woman next to me where the tower is, and she points to it, all the way to my right behind a building. I thank her and study it.

I walk around to the other side of the church, trying to orient myself in order to continue the walk. Do I want to go up the dome? It costs money, even though the book says it won't. I don’t know if they take credit cards. I’m tired as hell, because this walk has taken much longer than I anticipated. There’s a statue on the wall to my right, whiter than the dome, probably whiter than anything I’ve seen in Paris. There’s a box with a slot in the top at the statue’s feet. My Paris Las Vegas experience kicks in: this is a performer. I look around and people are walking by this man with barely even a glance. I put seventy-five American cents into his box and turn around. As I do, I see about two dozen people stop and stare. I hear gasps. I turn around and, as expected, the statue is smiling and waving to me. I smile and wave back. Other people approach him and I hear the tinkling of coins as I head back down the hill.

To the left and to the right people are going down what appear to be three hundred steps. Blisters are forming on my feet and my calf muscles are screaming at me. Two large machines full of people move up and down, allowing lazy people like me to circumvent the stairs. It's called the Funiculaire de Montmartre. All it costs is a single Metro ticket? Sold!

I look on the tour book map and realize it has me going back onto the streets to finish up at Place des Abbesses, and I immediately decide to abandon the walk. I’ve seen some amazing stuff already. As I get onto the Funiculaire, I see a family of people who look Middle-Eastern, a few Frenchmen, and 3 men speaking Greek.

The lumbering machine begins its descent and I’m afforded a view of the park nearby. Children run around and climb all over their parents. Women take pictures of their families as--SHIT! I’m nearly thrown to the floor as the tram stops dead. People gasp as most of us tumble to the floor. After it's stopped I look around, recovering from the shock and trying to figure out why this would have happened. Across the square, the other tram is running just fine.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Photos of Le Cimetière Montmartre, without commentary

The entrance to the cemetary

A couple of longer shots

The grandson of author Alexandre Dumas

The comedian Vaslav Nijinsky

This one might be my personal favorite

Something about this one bothers me. It shouldn't be too hard to guess, but I'd like to see what people come up with

The face in that marble is reversed, so that it's always looking at you. It's really cool, but the effect is lost here. What's the name of that effect, anyway?


Day 2, Le Cimetière Montmartre, continued

I consider heading back to the beginning of where the tour book indicates; maybe if I start over again and follow the route exactly I'll have a better chance of finding her. Then I catch a glimpse of green to my left. I check the street signs and note that I’m near the 22nd division. On the map, only #2 is labeled in the 22nd division, but #2 is not listed in the index for that map (the list goes from #1 to #3... I found a bug in the tour book!).

As I head to the left, I begin to know it’s her. I think of the scene in the Seven Samurai where we first see the daughter of farmer Manzo as she prays that he not cut her hair. We are looking at her from behind, as she washes her long, beautiful hair. As I approach, I can’t believe how small she is. But that’s her.

I reach out my hand and run it along her upper arm, squeezing to make sure she isn’t flesh. Her peasant dress is cinched in the back and her hair is tied up loosely, falling on the ground below her. Her fingers are interlocked, so well defined that I can make out her cuticles.

Toward the back, the curve of her hips as her legs curl up under her and her knees are bent, I want to touch her waist, again to see if it’s really made of metal. Her bare feet show lines and calluses, her nightgown strewn beside them. Water is collecting behind her knees and I want to soak it up, to clean off the black dirt accumulating in the folds of her dress and on her face.

I don’t want to leave. I take several pictures, and finally decide that I’m going to come back before I leave Paris to look at her some more.

I criss-cross the cemetery, finding the court-jester Nijinsky, Foucault “of pendulum fame,” and one tomb with a staircase going down at least twenty feet. The door was locked or I would have followed it.

Some new graves have actual photographs on them, which somehow seems less important than a sculpture. Accuracy of detail makes me appreciate the death less I think. You don’t plan a photograph to show you in your death-pose; photographs show a particular context, a situational emotion. The sculpture is meant to cry out against the heavens and denounce the Creator who takes everything He gives.

The tour book shows a “superb bronze of a violated young woman, her eyes closed, face tense, lips forming a silent cry against the Heavens”, and I spend nearly as much time with her as I did with the prostrate girl. But somehow she doesn’t provoke the same emotional reaction in me. With the Violated Young Woman, I more appreciate the sculpture than pity the person. I’m not even so sure how violated she looks; I’d sooner call it sadness or sincerity.

I follow a good amount of the tour from the book and take pictures until I decide it’s time for lunch. My watch says 2:30pm. I’ve been in this cemetery for more than three hours, most of which time was spent look at the supine girl. Later I will find her on the Internet, referenced as La Douleur; she seems to represent nobody specific.

On the way out I remember Truffaut. I check several maps and manage to find his jet-black marble grave, saying only “Francois Truffaut, 1932-1984” (635-16A).

There is a pink 3-ring binder laying on the grave. Without touching it I read the front cover. It’s from a documentary filmmaker, gathering remembrances from people who visit Truffaut’s grave. He wants people to write notes telling Truffaut what they appreciate about him, so I do.

I told him about how striking it was that his boy ran for 10 minutes solid, without cutting, to the beach. He lost his freedom but gained his life. I hope the note is appreciated. Frankly I think there’s something great about leaving something like that in Paris. I normally don’t like to pull pages or tear things out of my notebook, but this is special, and I’ll always think about it when I pull out Leo IV and see it missing.

I take a different way out from how I came in and this allows me to have a word or two with some mourners. They’re charming people and they’re very polite. One grave I pass is covered with fresh-cut flowers and plants. They haven’t even been there for more than a couple hours, I think. A couple approaches, probably mid-40s, maybe younger. They are carrying a basket with purple flowers and greenery, bearing a ribbon that says “à mon fils”. The other flowers on the grave say “à mon neveu” or “à mon petit fils”. The couple move past me and place the flowers on the ground in front of the grave, then they stand motionless. I get the idea to take a picture, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

As I walk to the front of the cemetery my feet move slowly. I turn back every few minutes to see the couple standing there. They don’t look like they’re breathing. The man is holding the woman’s purse in his right hand. I near the front and before they are out of sight I turn again. They haven’t moved. They are almost difficult to spot next to the bust of Berlioz, the cherub dancing next to the gated and broken tomb, and the memory of La Douleur. I feel a tear in my eye.

Then I head back to civilization, to continue the tour of the Sacred and the Profane.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Day 2, The Sacred and the Profane

I awake to the bells of l’Eglise Saint Etienne, sounding 9am. I stay in bed another 45 minutes staring at the ceiling (two feet away), then get up. My roommates are all snoring.

I put on the same jeans as the night before and select a new shirt. I pack my backpack with the camera, the guide book, and anything I think I’ll need for the day, then I go downstairs. I missed breakfast by about 15 minutes, and I’ve already read reviews of the 3 Ducks that say, “if you miss breakfast, don’t bother talking them into making an exception.”

I don’t talk to anyone on the way out. I put my jacket on and walk up commerce, now becoming somewhat familiar with the sequence of shops. I wave to the cheeseshop owner I met the day before, but he doesn’t seem to recognize me. The trucks unload, people walk their dogs, and I still can’t hear any evidence that announces the enormity of this metropolis.

I reach the corner of La Motte-Picquet and Grenelle and find a little cafe called “Le Paris”, which offers Prix Fixe breakfast menus for under 10E. I sit at a table and order the “petit dejeuner a l’anglaise”, which means orange juice, a baguette with butter and strawberry jam, two eggs sunny-side up over a nice piece of ham, and a croissant. Very good. As I eat I noticed many Frenchmen who come in and stood at the bar to have their breakfast. They order only the baguettes with butter and coffee, and they eat very fast. They sugar their coffee with two or three packs, then throw the packs onto the floor. Bits of paper and bread leave no floor exposed, and I wondered why they don’t sweep it up. I order a cafe au lait and as I drink it I see the list of prices for drinks. The cafe au lait I’m drinking (probably 4-6 ounces) is 3,50E. If I had ordered it at the bar it would have been 1,70E.

At the metro station I buy a “Carnet”, which means rather than 1,40E for a single ride, I pay 10,40 for 10 rides. Quite a discount. I take line 6-Etoile to Etoile, then get on the 2-Nation, and exit at Pigalle.

It always takes a few minutes to get oriented when I hit the street level. It’s taken me the whole time since I’ve been here to remember to look on the side of the building for the name of the street, not to some pole on the corner like in America. After I find Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, I head up Clichy. This street reminds me of Broadway as it runs through Times Square, except with shorter buildings and fewer lights. Something in the density of the buildings and big-city atmosphere make me think of it. Restaurants, one after another, lay on the right-hand side of the street. Across the multi-lane boulevard are the sex shops. Little theaters, peep shows, DVD outlets, and clubs. They’re all dark at the moment, though occasionally people move in and out of the curtained doorways. On my right is the Moulin Rouge, so large I can’t see it. I walk into the red-draped lobby and check out the posters behind the glass. Pictures of dancing girls from the past 100+ years decorate the entrance, as does the price. It’s about 400E to have the full experience, and about 70E to just have dinner and a show. I don’t look into what the difference was between the two.

Walking further up Clichy, I decide to cross the street so I could get a better view of the Moulin. I can see the sex shops up close now, and I’m surprised at how similar they are to the ones here. They’re seedy, low-budget, and all the signs are in English. All of them. I pass a lingerie shop and a club. That’s when I notice that, since I left the metro, I haven’t seen a boulangerie, a cave, a fromagerie, a chocolatier, or a boucherie. There also aren’t any restaurants on this side of the street. Oh wait, there’s a cafe Americaine. I get my picture and cross back to where Clichy meets Avenue Rachel. That’s where you go to enter the Cimetiere Montmartre. At the corner is a place called Cafe Maestro. I take a picture because I’m silly (Maestro is my handle on a lot of sites, though I'm trying more and more to divorce myself from it).

I turn right onto Ave Rachel and there’s the entrance to the cemetery. It’s an open gateway surrounded by little cafes and a fruit stand. Above it all is rue Caulaincourt, a green metal bridge running over a diagonal of the cemetery. From the map this makes it look like the cemetery is divided into two parts, one larger one the left, smaller on the right. Walking toward it I start to see mausoleums and graves, and people milling about in front of the map.

From my guide book I know I’m supposed to go to the back and work my way forward, but of course I don’t do that. I go to the right, to enter the small area on the right side of the Caulaincourt bridge. On the map this looks like a small area, but it stretches on, row after row of graves. Several are gothic, standing eight to fifteen feet high, most including a small chapel area inside where flowers or candles rest inside. Some have locked doors, but most are open.

Where the doors are open the smell of urine seeps through as I pass, so I turn to have a closer look. Coke bottles, beer bottles, and papers from sandwich wraps and crisps litter the floors under the iron cross hanging on the back wall. I haven’t seen the name of the grave, but the oval stained glass image of Jesus stretching his arms out over the cross below give me an idea of what the family intended this tomb to represent. I back out of the sepulchre.

Midway between the southeast corner to the point under the Caulaincourt bridge, I am stopped by a grave I can’t believe. A pure-white marble statue stands under the name Dalida--a modern woman wearing what looks like an evening gown. Black marble pedestals with perfectly manicured shrubs lay about, like an audience. Her face shows determination, confidence, and under the beams of a golden sun on a black monolith behind her, she looks as though she is seconds from singing Opera or reciting Moliere. I stand for two or three minutes, trying to capture her best angle, to guess at her history, but I’m unable to derive anything from what is written on the grave.
Two American girls come by from behind me. They say “That’s cool!” and move on. Their feet don’t stop.

Descending to the left and back toward the bridge, I try to discern a pattern of where the old graves and the new graves are separate, but I can’t find any. It looks as though the intent all along has been to mix the old and the new, with simple gray stone sepulchres and elaborate pink granite tombs within feet of another. “Stick-figure Christ” is another example of the modernity. It’s on the back of a grave, a thin black cross, with the extra crossbar at the top, hanging from which is a slumped over stick figure, round head descending to a lightning-bolt shape, leafed in gold. I can’t at all decide how I feel about this.

Crossing under the bridge, I find that the graves underneath do tend to be older. Several sculptures adorn the graves of French nobility. I don’t know the names, but their importance is etched into their resting-places, usually with other people standing around weeping or dropping flower petals around. So far, except for Dalida, this cemetery seems to me much more interesting than the ones in New Orleans, except that I expected the graves here to be much older. The earliest death I’ve seen so far dates after the mid XIX century, whereas in New Orleans we saw from from the early XVI.

Then I turn and see a Weeping Widow, one of those mentioned in the tour book, on the grave of Henri Meilhac. She’s made of some kind of stone, not marble, sitting over the grave and holding a wreath. She is naked save for the hooded cape drawn over her, sitting up straight as though strapped to a board. She cradles her face in her left hand. Looking closely at her face, I see large lips and a strong chin, and I begin to wonder if she’s not modeled after an Algerian or a someone from the Code d’Ivoire, but there is no way to know.

I wander around for a time, finding various sculpture and stopping occasionally to record an observation or take a picture. In the roundabout that used to mark the cemetery’s main entrance, tombs from every conceivable European origin lay around. One looks like a European influenced Mosque, with a pink minaret sitting atop a bulbous mausoleum, fronted by an elaborate wrought-iron gate. The name definitely does not look French.

Walking toward the back, where the tour says to begin, I’m on the lookout for a picture I saw in the tour book, that of a young woman laying supine over a grave in grief. I haven’t seen her yet, and I don’t want to miss her, so I have an eye out always. Several greened-copper statues lay about, and I spend a little time with each one.

Truffaut is also buried here somewhere. The only film of his I’ve seen is the 400 Blows, but that's one of those films that lingers and takes over and crawls around in my head. I can’t leave without seeing him.

I see a gardener and ask him about the statue of the girl from the book. He says he doesn’t know her, and he doesn’t know many of the graves around here. He looks like many of the charming old French men I’ve seen: tweed jacket, a small gray cap, a white beard, and a sunken, freckled face. He looks like someone who has spent his life studying people and living well. He seems to have no problem understanding my French or giving me directions to where I can look for a map. For some reason I don’t want a map, I want to find everything by directions or by feel (in the cemetary, that is, not in all of Paris!). I will come to regret this after I’m back home.

Where is she??