By Jim Ferri
I know it’s such a tourist thing, with all the artists, the occasional street-corner accordionist and the views out over the city, but I still enjoy it. To me Montmartre is still a little village, the “old Paris set” of some Hollywood soundstage set high over the city. There I feel as though I’m back in Paris of the 1920s, which is probably why I enjoyed Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris so much.
I headed for Montmartre the same way I always go, taking the Metro to Abbesses. I got off the train with a crowd of tourists, including a large group of mostly young Asians who were working their Nikons to death, and headed up Rue de Steinkerque to the steps that go up to Sacré Coeur.
Just a little way up I came upon a bride and groom, or perhaps they were models, having wedding pictures taken while holding a large picture frame in front of them. I continued up thinking that somehow the steps seemed more arduous now than they did 30 years ago.
I also thought that it seemed a lot dirtier than it did just two years earlier, with the steps littered with broken beer bottles and other small pieces of garbage, all pretty disheartening. And there were vendors all over the place selling mostly African-themed goods, making me think this wasn’t the place I remembered and loved all these years. The Paris tourism people should be ashamed of allowing this to go on.
When I reached Sacré Coeur I turned left and at the corner and came across a young woman, sitting on a stool and playing an accordion. It was a scene right out of Hollywood. I watched and listened for a few moments, feeling myself being dragged further back into the 1920s, before tossing a Euro into the upturned hat at her feet. I continued on around the corner and plunged into the crowd of artists and tourists in the Place de Tertre. Immediately I once again had the feeling of being kidnapped to another era.
Wandering about I remembered a small crepe place I had seen here on my first visit decades ago. It was on the far side of the square and a woman had a little window set in the wall and through it she passed crepes to a line of tourists. I walked over and saw it had now morphed into a full-blown crepe restaurant, complete with indoor and outdoor seating.
I went inside and was directed to a table next to a young couple. We began chatting after a few minutes and I learned they had come up from southern France and were enjoying the wonders of Paris for the very first time. She spoke English a little better than he, but both their faces showed they were bubbling over with the excitement of being here.
We chatted for about a half hour, the three of us enjoying the crepes, the coffee and the ambiance. I finished mine and knew I had to be on my way since there was still much I had to do. But I really didn’t want to leave since I was savoring the moment.
It was then I realized that although the waiter could have seated me next to any American couple – I could hear several of them around the room — when I walked in off the square somehow destiny deemed that I continue to enjoy my Midnight-in-Paris moment.
It was a great afternoon.