Montmartre, a Bohemia in Paris

Art scape

Montmartre, a Bohemia in Paris

True, you would no longer find Picasso working on his masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Nor see Monet engrossed over a canvas in his impressionist best. Or, and thank your stars for this one, wouldn’t be accosted on the narrow cobbled street by someone who had just cut off a part of his own ear. But the ‘village’ of Montmartre, once at the northern fringe of Paris and now very much a part of it, still retains its charm — part Bohemian, part Parisian — but wholly an identity fashioned by its own quirky ways.

Popping out of the Paris Metro at Anvers and walking up the Rue de Steinkerque with souvenir shops on both sides would be as touristy as lining up for the ticket to go up the Eiffel Tower. A microcosm of world citizenry flowing up the narrow street, rubbing shoulders and occasionally tripping over one another and apologising (or swearing) in 65 languages. The constriction of the narrow road opens up to the base of a small hill whose summit is crowned by the snow-white Sacré-Cœur Basilica, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

To climb up the hill to the Basilica, I chose the less chivalrous option of the funicular — a cabin train, leaving out the 300-odd steps to my pluckier compatriots. On one side of the hill is the imposing Basilica. On the other is a terrace overlooking the entire city of Paris. No wonder, a popular vantage point. I sat on the steps of the terrace, like many others, and listened to a musician playing on his harp.

After a visit to the Basilica, I wandered around the maze of narrow streets of Montmartre, haunt of painters, sculptors, sinners and occasional do-gooders. Wondrous by the day and magical by night. Where the contours of the genius and the lascivious mix in sporadic cocktail. Artists stood at street corners, drawing board and brushes in hand, offering their service to the tourists. Here I met Benoît Lariviere. He was at a café with his palate and tubes strewn on the table.

Paper clipped to the drawing board angularly held in his hand, he was bringing to life the man sitting across him. I left Lariviere at his work and ambled into Place du Tertre — a delightful square that is outlined by cafes, with painters (a lot of them) hanging out, displaying their work for sale, busily painting portraits of tourists — some of whom sat confidently on the stool as ideal models, while others were a bit shy and occasionally shifted their gaze around for a quick survey.

I ended my tour of Montmartre at a small, rather nondescript building just about 100 odd metres from Place du Tertre. It turned out to be a new beginning for another story, for another day. I was at Espace Dalí, a gallery of the master surrealist Salvador Dali.


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