Friday, February 20, 2009

The real Paris

Second of two parts.(This story was published at the Feb. 20-21 issue of BusinessWorld.)

Sacre Coeur, situated right at the heart of Montmartre. Photo taken last August 2011.

There’s more to Paris than just the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.

I found this out during a walk around the city center while the witty remarks of my free walking tour guide transformed them from mere structures to places of historical significance.
But as I was told, I barely scratched the surface.
Germany-based Sandemans New Europe Tours GmBH, a group that offers "free" tours in key cities in Europe, defined the quitessential Parisian culture as terraced cafes, romping bars and clubs, can-can dancers, street artists and performers, bourgeois-bohemian apartments and tiny cobblestone streets.
And these can all be experienced not at the posh 6th Arrondissement or Ave. Champs-Elysees but at the artsy Montmartre.
Montmartre is located in the northern portion of Paris at the 18th Arrondissement. It is said that this is where the authentic Parisian life can be found given Napoleon III’s goal of making Paris the most beautiful city in Europe. This resulted in the relocation of the original settlers to the suburbs, among them Montmartre.
So even if my legs were still aching from the three-and-a-half-hour walk from the Latin Quarter up to the Eiffel Tower earlier that day, I decided not to forego the walking tour of Montmartre scheduled that night even if it cost me 10 euros.
The tour was led by James, an American who decided to linger in Paris for a while after several months of studies.
He started by talking about Moulin Rouge, which was just across the Blanche Metro station.
Moulin Rouge was not as grandiose as depicted in the movie of the same title, and its expensive fees and stage shows make it appealing only to a limited crowd.
Our next stop was Cafes des Deux Moulins, which was popularized by the movie Amelie. But popularity comes with price — we didn’t enter since we were wary that we would be charged for merely staying there.
We then walked to a building where Vincent Van Gogh once lived. Just a few blocks from it is another landmark made famous by another artist. At the cabaret du Lapin Agile, Pablo Picasso used to exchange his paintings for food.
Right across Lapin Agile is the Montmartre Vineyard, the last authentic vineyard in Paris.
Another attraction in Montmartre is the Moulin de la Galette, a mill that used to produce flour and that has since been immortalized in the works of Picasso, Van Gogh and Renoir.
Our guide James pointed out that it was saved by the people from destruction in the early 1900s.
The monument of St. Denis may be easy to miss in the night, but one should know that Montmartre — or "mount of martyr" — got its name from him. The sainted bishop was beheaded while preaching, and legend has it that he continued talking while holding his head.
A few more steps uphill brought us to the bronze memorial of Dalida, a beautiful Italian singer who made a name in France sometime in the 1950s but lived a miserable life.
As we turned right, I didn’t realize that we were approaching the back of the Sacre Coeur, perhaps the crown jewel of Montmartre with its white dome overlooking Paris .

The church is a work of art that also teems with history. It was built as an important monument for the French after the Prussians left France in the late 1800s.
As this is situated at the highest point of the city, the patio of the basilica provides a breathtaking view of the city. Paris is indeed the city of lights, James said.
As we made our way downhill, we passed by the Artists Square , which even at night was still full of tourists wanting to have sketches drawn of themselves. The Square has rows of restaurants and cafes but none of us in the group — budget travelers all — bothered to check them out since the cheapest set menu was 14 euros.
At Rue des Trois Freres is Maison Collignon, formerly known as Au Marche de la Butte, also made famous byAmelie.
Just so I could say that I bought something from the place where Amelie (played by actress Audrey Tautou) shopped, I got a slice of brie that I brought home as a pasalubong (gift) for a friend.
To cap our tour, we were accompanied by James to a bar near Place St. Michel for a glass of wine.
Still reeling from the classy, artistic lifestyle of the Parisians, I dined at a quaint restaurant at the Latin Quarter where I ordered a 10-euro meal that consisted of pate de la foie (a huge slice of goose liver), vegetable soup, lots of fries, chicken grilled the French way, and two scoops of ice cream.
So how does one describe the average Parisian life? Bohemian yet fabulous, which explains why Paris is a premier destination in Europe .

Au Marche de la Butte, the grocery store made famous by "Amelie."

A view of the Sacre Coeur from Dalida's monument.

The facade of Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur up close: the ceiling of the porch leading to the main entrance of the basilica.


Barb Lorenzo said...

I just noticed you posted this on my birthday!! Awww!!