It was late afternoon when we got started with the day’s tourist activities. We headed to Montmartre, familiar to many Americans as the main setting for the French film Amélie. Our goal was to start at the top, visiting the Dalí museum and working our way down to the Amélie cafe. But it proved to be a bit more challenging than we initially thought. One of the metro stations on line 2 is under construction, and we thought that meant that line 2 didn’t continue running through that station. So, we took an alternate route that dropped us off on the east side of Montmartre in a busy neighborhood.
Paris is a city that is really a collection of unique neighborhoods. For example, the neighborhood where we are staying has a lot of Muslim residents and businesses. This is skipping ahead a bit in the timeline, but when Ramadan started (July 10th), the neighborhood completely transformed in the afternoon and evening. Participating in Ramadan means fasting during the day and breaking the fast at sunset. In the 11th district, this means that shopkeepers and vendors set out all sorts of food and people start gathering in the streets in the mid afternoon. People continue to pack in as dusk arrives, and there is lots of buying, selling and eating of food, and a general sense of merriment and cameraderie. On a side note, living in this area, especially during this time of year, has made us realize how small our circle of friends is and how we need to expand it.
So, back to Montmartre. We stepped out of the metro into an area with lots of immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. A completely different set of businesses, different colors, different sounds, different smells. This happens to you over and over again as you travel around Paris.
We continued on our atypical route up to the top of Montmartre, marveling at the view and at Sacre Cour, a church built on the highest point of the city of Paris. It took a little while of bumping through the crowds to find the Dalí Museum. It’s a small museum – no one is looking for it; there are just always tons of people in this touristy area where artists set up stalls to paint and sell their works just as they have been doing for over a hundred years.
Inside the Dalí Museum is a collection of the master surrealist’s sculptures and drawings. We are both fans of Dalí, and were very interested to see these works. They did not disappoint. Dalí created illustrated versions of many books, including Through the Looking Glass, Romeo and Juliet, other classical works, and even parts of the Bible. The illustrations combine Rorshach-like splatters of ink and paint with careful pen and pencil sketching and embellishments to entice out a surreal scene from the randomness of the initial blots. It’s a very cool effect. The sculptures are equally bizarre; it was fun seeing a three dimensional melting clock (like the ones in The Persistence of Memory).
After the museum, we went inside Sacre Cour, shuffling along with a river of other tourists. Signs instructed everyone to be silent (you are in a holy place), and absolutely no photos. So far, it’s really been the only place where you can’t take photos. There was a mass going on, with a priest reciting a Latin text. The interior of the church is very colorful, with stained glass windows and a large mural over the altar of a glowing Jesus with a glowing “sacred heart”, arms spread wide. Although the church appears to be old (stylistically), for Paris it’s brand new, having been constructed in 1875.
Outside the church again, we heard some cheering and noticed that everyone was looking down the hill. We made our way over to the steps and sat down, as it was an amazing view and it wasn’t clear what everyone had been cheering for. In about 15 minutes, however, it became clear, as a muscular athlete began to juggle a soccer ball with his feet, while standing on a relatively small pedestal (less than one meter square) next to a lamp post. The routine continued and became more complex as the crowd watched, cheered, and ooh’d and aah’d. He somehow managed to strip off multiple pieces of clothing while spinning, balancing and juggling the ball. Towards the end of the routine, when it felt like it was almost over, he jumped onto the lamppost, holding the spinning soccer ball, and climbed to the top. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he then let go of the post with his legs (only holding on with one or two arms) and continued to juggle the soccer ball, periodically posing in impossible sideways positions like a talented Olympic gymnast or Cirque du Soleil acrobat, showing off his upper body strength. Like most street performers, he accepted donations after he was done. Many people walked up and gave him some money, shook his hand and posed for pictures with him.
We headed down the steps, picturing ourselves in Amélie, and encountered another… PARIS SCAM!!! This one is called The Friendship Bracelet. Men (usually African), ask you to hold the loop at the end of a bunch of string. If you do, they begin to weave a “friendship bracelet”, and at the end, you get a bracelet, and they get your money. Now, we’re not sure if somehow you are more likely to have your pocket picked during this since you’re holding something and your attention is diverted, or if you have a string tied around your finger and are at your mercy for whatever price they name. And perhaps it is just a friendship bracelet that costs you a few euro. But you never know. In any case, we steered clear.
We ended our day at happy hour at the Amélie cafe (Cafe des 2 Moulins). We had a few beers and listened to the live blues being played. We enjoyed the ambiance, sitting outside in this beautiful setting, watching people and taking silly photos of one another. On the way to the metro, we walked by the famed Moulin Rouge and took a picture (why not?). Many people enjoy shows in the Moulin Rouge. Tickets cost about 100 euro ($130 USD) so we decided to pass it up.