I Love You' On Montmartre

photo: place des abbesses

The 'I Love You' wall is just behind the métro Abbesses entry.

Colder than Poor Saint-Denis

Paris:- Wednesday, 18. January 2001:- The forecast for weather last night was horrible with rain, so the tiny patches of blue sky this morning are a surprise. Instead of an all-day downpour it might be good enough for a winter tour.

I am thinking of gardens in winter. I know they will be bleak. Something a little different from the glossy 'Visit Paris!' brochures. I contemplate doing the Luxembourg and hiking across the 5th arrondissement and adding the Jardin des Plantes, and its tropical greenhouse.

The good lady managing the rehabilitation of my right knee thinks I can do this too - "You should walk a lot!" - but I think it mayphoto: i love you wall, sq jehan rictus turn into a walk too long. After the rehabilitation session, I find I have an email asking about the 'I Love You' wall in the obscure Square Jehan-Rictus, next to the métro Abbesses up on Montmartre.

This shows about half of the wall's whole width.

This reminds me I also have an email from the creator of this 'I Love You' wall, Frederic Baron. Putting the two emails together, it seems to be an easier project to go and look at multiple versions of 'I Love You' than traipse all over the Latin Quarter.

Frederic's idea was a sort of 'Around the World In 80 I Love Yous' and he convinced the necessary bureaucrats and dignitaries that it should be done. From a thousand written samples he and calligrapher Claire Kito chose 311 and she translated them onto deep blue glazed lava tiles, with some odd bits of pink for highlights.

After the long ascent from the deep métro station at Abbesses I spot the wall quickly, even though I have never noticed the little park before. In winter's bleakness, some things are easier to find.

Part of the Square Jehan-Rictus used to be the location of the town hall of the commune of Montmartre from 1837, until 1860 when Montmartre was annexed to Paris. Then it was the location of the city hall of Montmartre until 1892. Verlaine was married in it in 1870 but there is no plaque because the city hall is longer here.

History, especially in Paris, is a lot of names - including Clemenceau's for mayor when the city hall was here - not once, but twice. But this square, now a municipal mini-playground, has no source for the name of Jehan Rictus.

The Saint-Jean-l'Evangéliste church overlooks the Place des Abbesses from its south side. It is constructed of reinforced concrete made to look like red brick, so it is called 'Saint-Jean-des-Briques.' Another mystery - on my map this church is named Saint-Jean de Montmartre.

It was built in 1904 to replace the Saint-Pierre de Montmartre church near Montmartre's summit, which is still where it is because it didn't get demolished.

You have to understand how confusing all of this is - this mixture of history with place names and structures that have disappeared, while other place names and structures have changed their names but are not disappeared at all. Never mind - just accept the confusion as normal.

This - where I am - is about where the real legend of Saint-Denis starts, which is based on fiction from about the 1st or the 3th century that began to be circulated in a serious version in the 9th century.

Anyway the story is that he was beheaded by the Romans for being an illegal Christian or Paris' first bishop - or both, in the neighborhood of the Place des Abbesses and then, carrying his head in his hands, walked up to the topphoto: stairs, r andre antoine of Montmartre and down the north side and beyond to Catulliacus, to where Saint-Denis - the place - is today.

The 'official' legend was a huge success. So much so that 'Le Sanctum Martyrium' was created as a resting place for many other martyrs who followed and a chapel was built to mark the spot. This became the destination of pilgrimages about a thousand years ago, with an abbey being founded on the spot in 1133.

The Rue André Antoine and its stairs catch a lot of sun in summer.

A little more than 500 years later, Ignatius de Loyola, Francis Xavier and six companions thought that the spot was so agreeable that they founded the order of Jesuits at it on Wednesday, 15. August 1534. To do so, they had to borrow the key to the chapel of the Sanctum Martyrium because it was normally only open on Sundays.

This means that even if Saint-Denis and his exploit is a legend and there is no history at all for Jehan Rictus, we are on solid ground again in this part of Paris.

But, even if it is not raining buckets like last night's forecast suggested, it is cold and I don't feel like hanging around to look for the exact location of the marker at number 9. Rue Antoinette - because for the life of me, I can't find the Rue Antoinette.

This street used to begin at number 7. Rue des Trois-Frères, it was 189 metres long and ten metres wide and it was supposed to finish up on the Place des Abbesses. It is rare for a whole street to disappear, so my guess is that it is now known as Rue Yvonne-Le-Tac, for some very good but obscure reason.

If it, its Abbey of the Dames de Montmartre and its Sanctum Martyrium, lasted up until the Revolutionphoto: doorway, r andre antoine and are this hard to find, I'm going to start considering that they are only about as real as Saint-Denis and the 'head' story.

Before you start thinking I am 'lost' or 'giving up' entirely, I would like to mention that I do read many of the city's triangular historic markers sometimes and learn many useful bits of information from them - but today is cold and I haven't chanced on the right marker anyway.

An untypical doorway in the Rue André Antoine.

Moving right along, rubbing my gloved hands together, it is about 30 paces west to the top of the stairs that are the beginning of the Rue André-Antoine. This sort of 45-degree sloped street with stairs is typical on Montmartre. For drivers without reading glasses, following their maps to a street like this must be annoying.

This particular street has no 2000-year history, but it does have a free postcard view of old Montmartre - one where you look from the top step to the tops of dormer windows and roofs further on down.

It was pierced through the property of the Count of Montdidier in 1793 and was named the Passage or Rue de l'Elysée-des-Beaux-Arts after a popular dance hall of the same name that lasted 50 years until 1894.

Then it was renamed 1951 for the actor André Antoine on account of a small theatre where the former employee of the gas company first performed in 1887.

It is old and clean and tidy and has metal posts in the sidewalks so cars can't park in it. It also takes a left bend and a block further on, takes a right one. Normally this would have allowed it to have three names, so it is one of Paris' stranger streets.

Following it all the way down brings me to Pigalle. This used to be a big-time party quarter, and it doesn't look its best in daylight regardless of whether it is bright, raining or gloomy like today.

Just beyond the central place and the boulevard, there are several dozens of music instrument stores clustered together. These may have attracted the several newer clubs in the area such as the Divan du Monde with its 'world-music' and the Elysée-Montmartre with its pop concerts.

For those who remember the area's former glory, you will be pleased to learn that all the cabarets, dives, bars and other adult-style attractions have not entirely abandoned the area, even through its horde of workers are not much in evidence on the streets at this time of day.

Those few who are, seem to be satisfied with a polite 'Bonjour Mademoiselle' regardless of age, and a jolly wave - which some of them return in kind.

It is around here that I make a very wrong turn and walk back and forth on familiar streets I am not looking for, while the streets I am looking for - are only a few blocks to the west. I can't even find the bus that would have taken me back - with a view - to within a block of my apartment.

This means I do not get to visit the Musée de la Vie Romantique or the somewhat more serious Musée Gustave Moreau, but do get to see the Place Saint-Georges, which has a history that I'm not looking for today.

The métro station I eventually find is good enough and I take its line. It is never cold underground, but I don't start feeling halfway warm until the train has gone under the Seine and started its gentle climb up to the modest heights of Montparnasse.

Postscriptum:- Two days later, on Friday, the weather is still cold but a weak sun has came out. I have an errand to do and do not really intend any 'grand tour' but manage to discoverphoto: houses, r andre antoine the old artists' ateliers in the Boulevard Arago, just after passing the corner where public executions were held outside the Santé prison, for ten years ending in 1909.

The rest of the Rue André Antoine before it makes the first of its two bends.

I do not really intend to go into the Marco Polo part of the Luxembourg gardens on the way back, but after I do and after my hands get cold again I am alert enough to know where my bus stop is, and sensible enough to get on the first one that comes along.

I hope this explains the 'gardens in winter' photos in this issue that are without a story, and this not-much-of-a-story with photos that don't match.

The'I Love You' wall has its own Web site with all sorts of trick features, including audio clips and panoramic photos. There is also a QuickTime animation download of 1.6 Mo, which seemed unavoidable and seemed to contain no images.

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