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Looping the Rue Lepic

photo: moulin radet

The moulin named Radet is a really a restaurant.

Review - 'Van Gogh Walks... Paris'

Paris:- Wednesday, 24. September:- These last few nice days before the traditional weather throws its damp and gray blanket over the city are like lucky pennies. If you pass them up you may not see any more before you realise your luck has run out.

Today's forecast is the best of the week, sandwiched between two days of doubtful weather, and this is lucky because it comes between my 'day off' and the day of the club meeting. At first I feel like going outside and going to a park and spending all afternoon lying on a bench.

I have never done this in my life, but I think about it. There can be a way of writing here that can only come from lying on a bench all day, stringing random thoughts into words and words into phrases. The French are pretty good at it even if they aren't lying on park benches either. You are just supposed to think they are, like somebody doing a difficult trick effortlessly.

What I have in mind is a plaque on a wall in the Rue Lepic that I read about. The details of it are no longer with me. I also have a book titled 'Van Gogh Walks... Paris' that I intended to review last spring.

In it there is a list of the places where Vincent Van Gogh lived in Paris. One of these was a three-roomphoto: stone paving, rue lepic apartment on the third floor at 54. Rue Lepic. According to the book, at one time or another, Edgar Degas lived at number 50, Toulouse-Lautrec had a studio around the corner, and some other people and well-known places were in the street.

Stone paving work in the Rue Lepic.

So I look at the map of Montmartre, and I see that the Avenue Junot is like a northern version of the Rue Lepic. Another long, loopy street that makes getting up the hill easy.

Most of the time, I just go straight up, either from the Métro at Abbesses or Lamarck-Caulaincourt. But the idea of the book, 'Van Gogh Walks... Paris,' is to get you walking around Vincent's Paris. It contains three major 'walks' - Montmartre, the boulevards and below the boulevards. There is also a section for some of Paris' main sights too, called the 'Quick Trip.'

Not so basically, in the book's Montmartre 'walk' section, the reader almost immediately ends up in Auvers-sur-Oise, in time for Vincent's suicide, and funeral. So if you've started out in the Rue Lepic, you end up in Auvers before you to get to Edgar Degas' apartment, back in the Rue Lepic.

If you are sitting down reading the book while it is being a gray wool blanket outside there is no problem with this. Instead, it being a nice day, I leave the Métro at Lamarck-Caulincourt and enter the Avenue Junot.

A city historical marker says this area was once called a 'maquis' because it was undeveloped, and it was a great place to kids to play, Isadora Duncan to dance in the open air, and for clochards to have picnics. It was like a regular shantytown. No sooner do I read this than a kid comes scooting around the downhill corner sitting on a skateboard.

Poulbot lived here in his bohemian days, and after it was developed - made safe for the bourgeois - in 1912, he came back and built a proper house. There are a couple of steep passages going up from the Avenue Junot over the top and down to the Rue Lepic. But they are private and you can't get back-door views of the two moulins still here.

At the end, there is a short block of the Rue Giradon joining the Rue Lepic, right at one of the houses mentioned in the book. This is the home and observatory of the wild Dr. Gruby, an eccentric doctor to both Vincent and Theo, as well as being a stargazer.

I am going against the direction in the book, which comes up the Rue Lepic instead of down, and at Dr. Gruby's, thephoto: cafe, rue lepic book turns down the Rue d'Orchampt and wanders over to the Bateau-Lavoir, and then down to Abbesses - which I will get to the opposite way by going down the Rue Lepic.

There is nothing wrong with following the book. In fact, as it wanders around there are all sorts of random comments, bits of history and gossip and mentions of things to see and note. Although the book seems slim, it is packed with detail. Absorbing everything during a 'walk' - on Montmartre - might take more than a day.

One of the Rue Lepic's agreeable cafés in agreeable sunshine.

But I am not walking along with the book in hand. I am simply going along the long downward loop of the Rue Lepic, most of the way in the blazing sunshine.

Or in blue shadows. There is a paving crew renewing the stone blocks that make up the road's surface. I guess it means the old stones are worn out.

The story, according to Priscilla Bain-Smith, the author of 'Van Gogh Walks... Paris,' is that Napoléon couldn't force his horse up the Rue Ravignan to get to the telegraph station in the church Saint-Pierre de Montmartre one day in 1809. The curé suggested building a more gentle route. Making the trip unnecessary would only happen after the telegraph's invention in 1837.

This, a series of paths, became the Chemin Neuf and in 1852 was renamed for another emperor, Napoléon III, only to get its present name in 1864, due to 'changes in politics.' Napoléon III granted the right to strike for the first time in 1864, but what this had to do with the Général Lepic of Révolutionary and Empire fame is unclear.

For the first time the Moulin Radet, actually its replica, is not obscured by fog. Apparently the original was built in 1717 and was named, le Chapon, after its owner. The other existing moulin started out much earlier, in 1621 - but after the Moulin-Vieux which was first mentioned in 1591, and which disappeared in 1860.

The Moulin de la Galette is a name that started out where the Moulin Radet is now, but was transferred to the Blute-Fin moulin about 1895. The story is labyrinthine, but in the end what is now called the Moulin de la Galette is the only historically intact windmill as well as being very old.

But this isn't about windmills. They were and are part of the local decor. With all these painters and other artistic types living next door to them, the windmills are certainly a major part of the Montmartre legend.

Today the Rue Lepic is a sunny street to walk down, following its curve to where it gets to the Rue des Abbesses, to where it makes an abrupt right turn and tumbles down to the Place Blanche. This turn marks the world's centre for friends of 'Amélie Poulain.'

This detached part also includes an address from the book, at 26. Rue Lepic, which is now the fruit and veggiephoto: 54 rue lepic merchant 'Chez Pepone.' This was the residence of Gustave-Albert Aurier, one of Paris' 'flâneurs' who walked around Baron Haussmann's wide streets - and wrote about it in his publication, 'Le Moderiniste.'

Vincent and Theo lived here, in Vincent's squalor

I don't know how often you stop to think about Vincent Van Gogh. The short version of the story is that he was off his head, he was a starving artist who had a brother in the art business who couldn't sell his paintings, who hacked off an ear, who drank a lot, and was a general oddball.

But as Priscilla Bain-Smith makes quite clear in her 'Van Gogh Walks... Paris,' Vincent and Theo knew just about everybody and were good friends with more than a few of those who boosted art out of the academy, making some it the most valued in the world today.

At the time though, they were just a bunch of crazy painters and a lot of them lived on Montmartre. So, on any given day or evening, just by walking up or down the Rue Lepic, they would cross each others' paths fairly often.

At nearly the same time the author outlines Vincent's behavior 'at home,' at Theo's apartment in the Rue Lepic. She writes that Theo complained to his sister that nobody wanted to visit him because Vincent was so 'caustic,' and really sloppy as well. The place was a mess.

So then, to 'follow' the book is sort of a hopscotch, from one place to another, from one acquaintance to another. This is not a complaint, because life doesn't follow straight lines much in the same way that the Rue Lepic isn't a straight and calm river either.

'Van Gogh Walks... Paris' includes two other 'walks' in addition to Montmartre. One is along the 'boulevards,' which is crowded with names - Signac's studio, Seurat's studio - but is not visually too exciting.

The third 'walk' is 'below' the boulevards, mostly in the 9th arrondissement. This includes the Nouvelle Athènes, and includes many of the names that also lived on Montmartre, plus a whole raft of new ones from the last decades of the 19th century.

Near the end of the book there isbook cover: van gogh walks, paris a page for 'Vincent's Reading List' which is very short - mainly the Bible and two works by Zola. An 'about the author' page is followed by a two-page list of books about Van Gogh and his times.

Handily, the last page is reserved for 'your personal notes.' You will most likely have to have very compact handwriting.

'Van Gogh Walks... Paris,' by Priscilla Bain-Smith. This 2nd edition has been published in 2003 by Elpub in Holland. ISBN 90-806393-1-1.

Buy 'Van Gogh Walks... Paris' by clicking this link. Every copy sold gives Metropole one café, double-espresso.

Montmartre in Black and White

Reader John McCulloch was in Paris in the early '60s and a selection of his photos of Montmartre can be seen here. Click on the small photos to see larger versions. Cut 'Montmartre' from the URL showing in your browser to view John's entire online gallery of photos.

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