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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Parisian views

Sunday, October 4th., Paris.

I walked up to Sacre Coeur, and took the funicular up to the portals of the church. Environs of church: memento shop, image shop, church accessory shop. Tickets for entrance to crypt, belfry, and tower. The horrible unfinished look of the front, with aged hoardings and scaffolding. I was not much impressed by the interior. Mass was just finishing. I noticed a small-boy-acolyte, dressed up and murmuring at the altar. Concentration of lights etc. round about main altar. Sparse congregation. Woman collecting at door, and regularly shaking her bag at two-second intervals. Meanly dressed clerks taking holy water at door and crossing themselves. Curious effect, both interior and exterior, of church being built of large blocks of stone; it looked as if these stones were imitation stones in wallpaper, like the old-fashioned wallpaper in halls of small houses in England. The effect of the dome was goodish, akin to that of St. Paul's, but marred by the new yellowish-cream tint of the masonry.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica (French: Basilique du Sacré-Cœur), is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Paris, France. A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the supposed excesses of the Second Empire and socialist Paris Commune of 1871, crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

I then came out and surveyed Paris from the front. I could distinguish most of the landmarks - Notre Dame, Pantheon, Invalides, Gare de Lyon, St. Sulpice, and Louvre. Never before had I had such a just idea of the immense size of the Louvre. I could also see the Opera, (that centre of Paris qui s'amuse) with its green roof (? copper). And it looked so small and square and ordinary. And I thought of the world-famed boulevards and resorts lying hidden round about there. And I thought: Is that all it is? For a moment it seemed impossible to me that, as a result of a series of complicated conventions merely, that collocation of stones, etc. (paving stones and building stones) could really be what it is - a synonym and symbol for all that is luxurious, frivolous, gay, viscious, and artistic. I thought: "Really, Paris is not Paris after all; it is only a collocation of stones." The idea, though obvious enough, was very striking for a minute or two.

View from Sacre Coeur
In the afternoon Schwob called unexpectedly. We went up to the Moulin de la Galette, which he said was the last genuine bal of the lower classes left in Paris, and even that genuine only on Sunday afternoons.

Renoir: Bal du Moulin de la Galette

The Moulin de la Galette is a windmill and associated businesses situated near the top of the district of Montmartre in Paris. Since the 17th century the windmill has been known for more than just its milling capabilities. Nineteenth century owners and millers, the Debray family, made a brown bread,galette, which became popular and thus the name of the windmill and its businesses, which have included a famous guinguette and restaurant. In the 19th century, Le Moulin de la Galette, represented diversion for Parisians seeking entertainment, a glass of wine and bread made from flour ground by the windmill. Artists, such as Renoir, van Gogh, and Pissarro have immortalized Le Moulin de la Galette.

Schwob said that in the evenings it was the resort of whores like other bals. A tremendous climb (we had a difficulty in getting a driver to take us). Inside: stuffy. All the walls seemed to be covered with trellis work on which creepers grew very sparsely. Crowded dancing hall, with a sort of aisle for drinking on either side. The monde ouvrier was certainly there, dancing clumsily and perspiringly, and colliding with itself. Not nearly so graceful as the Bal Bullier. Band very brassy. Schwob said there were plenty of scoundrels - maquereaux, thieves, apaches, till-robbers etc. but I doubt it. The company looked innocent on the whole, though I thought I saw a few wrong 'uns (men). Afterwards we climbed up into the garden, and I saw the old wooden windmill (with its date 1295) garlanded with electric light apparatus.

A solitary gendarme up there was glad to talk to Schwob. He began by saying that the weather was turning colder; he did not disguise that he was bored, but 'On est tranquille,' he said, shrugging his shoulders. he was a rather cynical philosopher, and referred slightingly to the clients of the moulin, and dashed the respectability of the women with a single grimace. But when the cakewalk began he descended part of the stairs to get a glimpse of it.

Much the same view of Paris here as at Sacre Coeur but better. One could see Mont Valerien, a 'frowning height', and one had also glimpses over the hill of Montmartre to the north - of factory chimneys and then hills.

All this part of Montmartre (north of the boulevard exterieur, that is to say) had a character of its own. It was like a place by itself, a self-contained village. Not many cabs got up into those steep picturesque streets, nor omnibuses. Schwob said it was 'old Paris'.

Montmartre is talked about by Parisians the way New Yorkers talk about the Village: It's not what it used to be, It's like Disneyland, the artists can't afford to live here anymore,too many tourists etc. There is some truth these opinions, but there are two ways of approaching this incredibly unique village within the metropolis. The first is to follow the herd instinct and stampede your way up the famous hill, take a picture of yourself on the steps of the basilica, buy an overpriced crepe at the Place du Tertre, get conned into having your portrait sketched, and walk back down clutching newly bought key-rings, postcards, gaudy T-shirts feeling a little mystified about what all the fuss is about.

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