France Day 38: Montmartre and Little Black Berets
Our friends Jenna and Chris joined us for one more morning of merriment...a late, leisurely breakfast at a little sidewalk cafe in our arrondissement, followed by a walk in the park. We had never been there before and didn't know what to expect, but we found lovely scenery, little carnival games by the walk, and best of all, a carousel. I still have the little pink hard plastic ticket with gold lettering and a clown etched into it. Their little faces on the carousel are something I'll never forget. After saying goodbye to our friends, we went home for our afternoon rest, hot as ever, but today, breezy and a bit overcast, a small relief. It was even raining on Paris when we emerged from our little post-nap world into the late afternoon.
We took the Metro to Montmartre, the artists' district. I wanted to take Butterscotch here, as much as he loves art.
Montmartre is up on a high hill and offers sweeping views of Paris. To get there, you must walk up a long uphill approach, through streets lined with little open-to-the-sidewalk shops of tourist kitsch. One-Euro pewter Eiffel towers, Three-Euro berets... Butterscotch had to have an artists' beret, so we bought him a child-sized wool felt one, in black, of course.
At the top of the hill is a funicular, which if you don't know what that is, is an outdoor elevator that travels diagonally up a hill. The funicular stays upright and glides up a track. You might think of it like a chairlift, but on the ground and enclosed in a box. Hard to believe, as they're so rare, but this is the second funicular we've been on this year; the first was in Quebec City in February. I think the children have now taken just about every possible form of transportation except for rocket ship.
Finally, we arrived at the base of the large set of steps leading to towering Montmartre. An impressive building, Montmartre is imposing but promising, important but inviting. Grandiose, but so happy you came. Around the outside were a few vendors selling simple handmade wooden trains you can put together with one letter on each car. We bought two sets, one train spelling the name of each child. Bittykins's train also has a heart on one of the cars. And of course, they have little wooden cabooses, too. I briefly considered buying one with our boy and girl names we've chosen for the new baby, but instead the children distracted me and ran off to the lookout telescopes, and we happily followed their lead.
Down the steps, we ventured into town. Pizzerias and apartments with windowboxes full of flowers greeted us, inviting us further into the town. Cool cafes, fresh produce carts, the smell of bread, and open-air studio apartments surrounded us as the winding streets swallowed us up around each curve, no map, no GPS, no destination but exploring together. Walking by one blue building, I remember being just a few feet away from a young man brushing his teeth, no windowpane between us, the sound of him brushing, and giant canvases clearly visible in his one room living situation and an unlikely streak of sunlight brushing his floor in the background. In front of a mint green building, the children stopped to pick up coins from the ground, but they were permanently affixed to the sidewalk. I was a bit glad for this distraction, as the shop window featured artwork made from babydoll heads that might have been somewhat disturbing to a small child...and as they tried and tried to pick up the coins, the shop owner returned from wherever he'd been, pizza in hand, and unlocked the shop. In an instant, he reappeared with coins to give the children--including Francs (which are no longer in use in France). I myself have a Franc that a family friend brought to me when I was a child. I love that they each have one now as well, and the memory of that sidewalk.
We passed more artists' galleries and antique shops, and the district got more edgy and varied the deeper we went. Colors were brighter, there was more variation in the age and condition of the buildings, and after awhile, we noticed the population and activity increasing, and art studios gave way to a more commercial zone. Eventually, we stumbled on a Metro station and took it back home for dinner and bedtime. A long, warm, pleasant afternoon. It had been raining a bit, and threatening more, but we paid no mind. The weather felt refreshing and the clouds parted as we went home, orange sunlight through scratchy Metro windows flashing across our chests before the tunnel cut us off and we entered into evening routine so suddenly. The day was tiring, in the best way possible. Even better with pink cake for dessert and an early bedtime for the children.