True Dreams In Montmartre

Montmartre corner with Mini
An average corner on the north side of Montmartre.

Rich Reward for 20-Year Wait

Paris:- Wednesday, 4. February 1998:- The weather doesn't look promising. It is just above zero; but now there's fog. I could last all day. There isn't going to be any winter sun on the boules players in the Luxembourg gardens today.

I have been thinking of touring the park down in the 15th where the Citroen factory used to be - in fact, I have been thinking of doing this for years. In spite of the weather, this is what I am thinking about. A park in fog, is not a brilliant idea.

I am saved from this fate by a phone call from last Friday's lunch partner. He has a three-hour 'hole' in his schedule for today, so I leave the second half - the substantial half, the toast and French strawberry jam half - and head straight to Montmartre, by catching a departing train after not dying of a heart-attack by taking the fast uphill shortcut through the cemetery, where all the Ferraris are buried.

My telephone caller has given me explicit directions which I did not interrupt, even though there are detailed neighborhood maps somewhere in nearly every métro station exit.

But when I arrive I am a bit late and when the elevator door closes on my nose I know it will be a ten-minute wait before it comes back down to the quai to take me to the Montmartre surface at Lamark-Caulaincourt. This is overlooking corner resto when I learn there are a lot more stairs than I remembered.

The map is there and the street is further east than I imagined, so I follow the advice I've been given, and go east, up the fairly gentle rise of the rue Lamark. Outside the métro entrance, the sun has started shining while I was underground with the rest of the moles. Métro, dodo, moles.

Even on a low floor in Montmartre, even on the north side, you can get a view.

I arrive about five minutes after the mark. The door-code works, and the steps of the old staircase are highly polished all the way up to the third floor. There is no response to the buzzer and after hanging around for a couple of minutes, I descend with the intention of giving the neighborhood a fast once-over, and get some walking-around cash from a handy ATM.

Rather than continue up Lamark, I go down an elaborate staircase to Caulaincourt-Custine and go along the rue Custine, looking for supplies.

A block further on, there is the multiple-street intersection which almost makes it a 'place' and I am glad to see the winebar Aux Négociants remains in place. The corner bar a few doors away is newly repainted and somewhat gaudy, but it is only paint.

The long and high stairs beside it, somewhat curiously called the rue Becquerel - no vehicles will make deliveries here - looks too long and steep to me after the business of the métro stairs. So I climb up them.

This north side of Montmartre has a lot of stairs named streets and other stairs besides. The west side is a gentle rise, and the south - the city-side - is steep too; but the north side is better suited for agile goats. Beyond this 'north side' of the Butte, the rest of the 18th is a sort of plain, right to the Porte de Clignancourt.

On this north side, the hard-core Montmartoise - the 'Communards' - live. This is village; this is full of past revolutionaries, painters, poets, artists, and some of them are from the present.

This is where my date for today, last Friday's lunch partner, has decided to have his dream come true.

I am not using a real name here, but this is definitely about a real person and a real dream, and he has made it really come true.

If you skip the name part, you can consider that this is a true story, and because this fellow has done it, you too can have a similar dream and if you are determined enough, it can come true too. This isn't about a chance win of the lottery or some fairytale.

While I climb some more of these stone stairs, here is a sketch of the background: our fellow got a chance offer to come to France 20 years ago - to read an undergraduate paper on the Riviera - and there he met scientific colleagues he would know forever after, and he met an introduction to Paris, which he accepted.

In Paris the dream started, and he returned many times and the dream grew stronger. A couple of years ago he engaged a property agent and spent a long time looking at unsuitable apartments all over Paris, but mainly on the Left Bank, in the Quartier Latin.

For some time, on his way to the agent's office, he passed a building in Montmartre that had a 'For Sale' sign posted in a window. One day, after seeing many apartments elsewhere, this sign finally registered and he went to enquire about it.

He hit it lucky; the owners had just dropped their asking price. More than this, the apartment was the one our man was looking for. After token and unenthusiastic haggling, a price was agreed upon and he bought it.

Our hero bought a piece of Paris real estate; his 'dream' piece.

I finish my tour and tap in the doorcode again and go up the polished three flights of stairs again, and push the quiet door buzzer again, and my man is old Pathe studios there. He was probably taking the garbage out the first time around.

It is a big apartment for only 45 square metres. The livingroom has an angle-fireplace, a window and has a dining corner, which holds a reasonably-sized table. It could seat eight in a pinch.

The old Pathé Studios; to be gone forever in a few weeks.

The decor is a bit sparse, but some of it is still being made - and the big flea market isn't far away for the rest of it. I like the armchairs and they are comfortable; something not easy to find in France.

The view is of the stone and brick building across the street. By leaning out of the window, it is possible to see up to the top of the Butte and what the weather is like. Looking the other way, to the north, Caulaincourt is below the stairs and the 18th slides away towards its plain.

There is a bedroom which I do not go into but see it holds a decent-sized bed and there is room around it. The toilet is a toilet, and now I remember not seeing a bathroom, but it is probably off the bedroom. The kitchen is long and narrow, but it is fully fitted with matching and probably custom-installed cabinets. Having this in place, is one big headache that appears to need no attention.

In all, it is all of a piece, and its layout is not eccentric like some places one sees. It is in an older building of course; so it is more sensible - even if no elevator was ever contemplated for it. Our man has a very good bit of residence here.

He has things to do - like get a reimbursement for the toilet, which is not functioning properly. Having it fixed was in the contract and he paid for it, but it wasn't done of course. I want to run by the Musée d'Art Juif to say hello before it gets mutated to its new home.

Therefore, the first thing we do is go to Aux Négociants, which is jammed to the rafters with its lunchtime clients. Besides having a café and a glass and some bread, we are here to use the toilet. He arranges with a diner to take our photo, standing behind the U-shaped zinc bar. It is impossible to talk to the patron as he already has 30 people to talk to.

On the way to the toilet I am asked by one of the customers if I want a part in a movie - as a batty grandpa. In this way I meet part-time moviemaker Tobias Engel who is casting for a kid's film, who is also an actor and ex-journalist. At the bar, when he is cadging paper to write his address on I see he is a really big guy, and the two of really hinder the functioning of lunchtime at Aux Négociants because there is no room left to get past us.

This is a bit like last week's La Tête du Goinfre, except the party is still going on; but for us, as we leave we get a good send-off all the same.

We go back on Custine which runs into rue Francoeur, where the old Pathé studios are. They look like they are being renovated. But just before the rue des Saules, an older guy stops Mr. Dreamland the triangle building & theatre to ask if it isn't a shame the film studios are being demolished.

I have been taking a photo of a triangle building which is a bit more unusual than most of the rest of Paris' many triangle buildings, and when I come back to hear the studios are going down the tubes, I'm determined to get a last photo of the entry at least.

One of Paris' more unusual 'triangle' buildings, with a little theatre below.

We go around the block to the toilet reimbursement place where we cool our heels while the receptionist has an extremely important and long-winded chit-chat with a girlfriend about last night's TV programs. When my man is interrupted the third time while telling the story of the toilet cheque he is there to get - I get worried about the film studios and say I'm off to shoot them.

I say I will go around counter-clockwise and meet him back here or on the way if he goes clockwise - and oddly enough, this is what happens. By now he is about five minutes short of making another meeting on time, so we part, going in two different directions.

Walking to the end of the block brings me to the rue des Saules again and all I have to do is go up it to find the Musée d'Art Juif, which I do.

The conservatrice is not back from lunch yet. I pass the time in the entry hall looking at photos of life in this particular Jewish community in Montmartre; there are a lot of pictures with the President of France together with several Israeli and French Prime Ministers in them.

After a short wait, this lady shows up and I am asked to give her a five minute headstart before climbing the three flights of stairs to the museum. Everybody is nicely settled in the small museum when I arrive. While getting the details about the new museum, Mr. Dreamland pops in. This confuses everything, so we mutually goodbye everybody fairly quickly and get out of there.

At the top of the stairs on the rue des Saules we are still talking about... I forget, when bus number 80 slides by and the man who is living in his own dream clips it short and sprints for it.

He is at least 30 minutes late now, which is about right for 'on time' in Paris, except he's got to add the length of the bus ride to it.

Me, I have to find three or four suitable posters to shoot for this issue, and capture some 'local color' and I have Cafe Wepler 30 minutes left to do it in. The métro at Lamark-Caulaincourt is close by and my over-staired legs are saying 'go for it.'

The rue Caulaincourt slopes a bit up from here and then curves towards the southwest. Up ahead I can see that sunlight is coming up that part, so I head for it. This low winter sun creates extreme contrasts that completely baffle the pee-brain of the digital camera; I will have to be careful not to get whiteouts.

Pass the Wepler, and you pass out of Montmartre, into Paris.

I follow the rue Caulaincourt around its curve into the sunlight and walk into it, all the way down past the Montmartre Cemetery. This ends at the boulevard de Clichy and at the end of it, the giant Cinéma Wepler with the Wepler restaurant next door - in the place de Clichy.

Finding the posters is not easy and give the final slot of memory to one I don't think I'll use, but after all those stairs, I'm not quitting this day without a full load.

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