diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 24, 2005

April in Paris: Sacre Coeur et Montmartre
Turn right out of Gare du Nord and it's only a short walk through the backstreets to Montmartre, a bohemian hill with spectacular views across the city. The foot of the hill is a tourist trap, quite literally. As I reached the foot of the steps beneath Sacre Coeur I was accosted by a row of aggressive street traders who wanted to braid my finger with a 'friendship bracelet'. I brushed past with a firm "Non merci", only to be sharply rebuked by a persistent Catherine Tate soundalike: "Are you disrespecting me? Don't disrespect me...". Behind me some unsuspecting mug was already being tied and fleeced. At the top of the hill I took a few obligatory panoramic photographs, then turned to admire the cathedral of Sacre Coeur. It's a grand building in the romantic style, all circles, domes and arches, though a little too over-the-top for my taste. A steady stream of tourists processed round the inside of the building in five minutes flat, herded and sssh-ed by the cassocked attendants. Some paused (mysteriously) to touch the left foot of the statue of St Pierre behind the altar, while others stayed longer to kneel in prayer. The cathedral also does a roaring trade in tealights (only €2) and big candles in jars (€10), which I guess saves on paying the lighting bill themselves.

I could have descended the hill by funicular railway, only there seemed little point queueing to squeeze myself into an overcrowded carriage for the one minute journey. In Place du Tertre I found an enclave of pavement artists, all of whom seem to have met and sketched the real Harry Potter but who weren't quite so good at capturing the tourists who strayed too close. Elsewhere in the narrow streets I stumbled upon a traditional patisserie, where it would have been heresy not to sample un pain au chocolat (or deux), and also a busy street market frequented by real Parisians buying real French produce. And then suddenly I was in the red light district of Pigalle, a broad avenue of blatant sex shops that still wouldn't be tolerated in the centre of London. The legendary Moulin Rouge still stands, and still puts on revues, although it looked somewhat seedy and I can't believe anybody would want to make a feature film about it today. Maybe it's better seen after dark.

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