Paris:- Saturday, 5. October 1996:- For this year's Fête des Vendanges on Montmartre, I start at the city hall - the Mairie of the 18th - to see the effect of the wine sales. There are none, but the present and past posters are on sale - as described in the 'official program,' and the members of the parade are organizing themselves for their departure.
I scoot uphill on their route to the destination, taking a mighty, steep, shortcut - to the vineyard at the corner of the rue des Saules and rue Saint Vincent. A tub of grapes is being carried past, while the animator is greeting all the foreign guests by saying everything will be in French. As the parade has not started yet, there is only a small gathering - early, like I was last year.
From overheard conversations, these early-birds are either citizens of the Republic of Montmartre, or citizens of other, overseas republics. Parisians - from all city arrondissements except the 18th - are at the automobile salon down at the Porte de Versailles.
Unlike last year, the sky is full of clouds with ominous undersides, but there is blue too - and a bit of hail falls on spectators coming down the rue des Saules. I go up, towards the rue Norvins, skirt the place du Tertre, decline to have my portrait sketched, and fall hungry on the square Nadar - where there are formidable sandwiches and champagne; the flute being included in the price. It rains some more, but breaks in the cloud over Paris makes wet roofs glint like silver flecks in blue rock.
Unluckily I am short for time on this visit, so I continue counter-clockwise around the Butte on the rue Lamarck, following the parade route in a reverse direction so that I won't miss it. The first drummers appear, just after having made the sharp turn up Lamarck from the rue Caulaincourt. At this sharp turn I watch the pom-pom girls go by, and the antique yellow, boat-tailed roadster.
Ah, the drummers. How they sound in the narrow, stone-faced streets! Rat-tah-rat-tah- crash-boom-boom; we are defending Montmartre from humdrum, defending it against foreign - not of Montmartre - domination, defending Montmartre from marauding real estate schemers, defending artisans and artists in general. Rat-tah-rat-tah-crash-boom-boom! This is very serious and the faces show it.
Meanwhile, the arrondissement's mayor and all the elected officials and a good number of the civil servants, and a horde of honorary personages - the President of the République de Montmartre! - are having a heavy time getting through a strenuous two-day program of events, which started at noon today with the opening of the Espace Azaïs at the Square Nadar. By opening, I mean opening bottles.
I see not only bottles, but barrels on tables outside a number of restaurants, and these are being sampled by savvy citizens who are forsaking attendance at the official speechmaking, over by the vineyard. From last year, I remember that not many in the tightly packed audience had thought to bring their own - foreigners I guess - but it was quite evident that the guests of honor on the official stands had already had their jollies, and there would be more to come.
At 15:00 a small group - composed of the mayor, four representatives, the god-mother and father of the fête, the head of the Montmartre Republic, the Queen of the fête, some ladies from the Moulin Rouge, some regional types, also of honor, plus some of the representatives of the Montmartre Republic - this small group - they 'visit the grapevines.' Oh, I turn the page of the program, and the list goes on to include the Commanders of the Clos Montmartre, something, something, and finally, the Commune Libre de Vieux Montmartre. Somehow the grapes survive this deluge of dignitaries - because they are, in fact, bottled - by Paris' parks wine experts.
Meanwhile, at 16:00, 'la Savoyarde' - the bell of the Sacre-Coeur basilica, which is named Françoise-Marguerite and was cast in 1891, towed to the Annecy-la-Vieux train station by 24 pair of oxen and then sat unused for 30 years in a garden at 35 rue du Chevalier before being installed - sounds vigorously.
Around 18:00 the crowd gets out of the vines and the members of the parade are allowed to march back to their starting point, where they are served a 'glass of honor' at school number 20. About the same time, the tombola is drawn at the Square Nadar, and the culinary contest, called 'La Grappe d'Or' gets underway. This is really a cocktail-invention contest and the program says the mayor has to try each one, after which he hands out trophies. Both the name of the winning cocktail and its ingredients have to have something to do with Montmartre. Utrillo's name has already been used.
The evening is rounded-out by parties, based on the themes of grapes, wine and French songs, at the Bateau Lavoir and Le Montagnard restaurants. Understandably enough, Sunday's program is somewhat less complex - although it starts, rather continues, at 10:00 in the rue Lepic and the rue des Abbesses with sort-of street parties - until the Square Nadar opens again at noon for the second drawing of the tombola and more wine-tasting and listening to organ-grinders, who will be showing off their talents all day long throughout the arrondissement.
Whew. All this, and I haven't even mentioned the history of any of these streets involved, nor the story of this year's poster and nothing about the 'Clos Montmartre's' wine's quality, nor the history of the whole event, nor made any quotes from the commentary of the president of the Montmartre Fêtes Committee.
I think maybe half the residents of Montmartre must be members of all the groups and committees needed to pull this event off. Putting all their names in here is redundant - they know who they are - so I will just put in a plug for the Deputy Mayor of Montmartre: Daniel Vaillant, who has ultimate responsibility for this annual affair. And he'll answer for it on Monday.
As for myself, I think I will begin training immediately for full coverage of next years' Fête de Vendanges in Montmartre.
However I should mention Francisque Poulbot, the artist and co-founder of the République de Montmartre in 1921. This year's fête marks the 50th anniversary of his death. An exposition dedicated to his works was on display at the Musée de Montmartre, and can still be viewed at the Cultural Centre at Chantilly, from Saturday, 19. October to Sunday, 27. October.
On the occasion of the Fête de Vendanges, 39 ateliers of living Montmartre artists are open to the public. The works of many past Montmartre artists can be viewed at:
Musée de Montmartre
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