monter: climb, to go up (and a plethora of other meanings)
When I first decided to head back to Paris for vacation, my sister turned to me and asked – “Why would you spend all that money to go on vacation somewhere that you’ve already been, let alone lived?”. The truth was, I wasn’t looking for vacation in the sense of an aventure. What I wanted was me détendre – an experience like heading to your childhood home for the weekend – except dix fois plus intéressant.
The view from my friend's window onto the Place des Abbesses.
And so I headed back to the city of lights and love, expecting to crash on friends’ canapé in a messy hole-in-the-wall of a flat (whose address I was unaware of even as I stepped off the plane, so I suppose it was still a bit of an aventure after all…). My divey-expectations (see: lack of expectations) persisted as I stepped off the metro in Pigalle, to monter the hill to Place des Abbesses, at the coeur of Montmartre.
For me, Montmartre was always a neighborhood touristique – somewhere I wandered with family or friends who were visiting Paris for the first time. On a few occasions, I had spent a leisurely weekday morning munching on a croissant and sipping coffee at a café – but those were the few calm, idyllic seconds I had ever spent in the place. Et surtout, Abbesses recalled, for me, nights of being typiquement américain – eating delicious fondue and drinking wine out of biberons at the famous-turned-infamous Refuge des Fondues.
But when, my friend Matthieu pushed back the porte to his new building, it was as if I had stepped into another Montmartre – the one that lies behind secret doors, away from the swarms of tourists. I smelled the slighty-dank, chilly stone scent of a traditional Parisian foyer. (On many a summer day, that miraculous and sudden froid is the best reprieve from the dogged Parisian summer.) The entryway was beautifully tiled, the éscaliers a well-preserved wood swirl upwards, dotted with cheery fenêtres onto a small courtyard. And the apartment itself? Adorable.
This is not to say that all apartments in Montmartre are typique, charmant, and certainly not bon marché. But in this case, I was staying in a Parisian gem – a lovely little flat with antique molding and a generously-sized cuisine. Considering that these friends had formerly lived in the flat where we threw the majority of our rowdy parties – an appartement that never seemed clean, even after 3-4 hours of diligent scrubbing – I was floored.
Pigs' feet at the Rue Dejean market.
In truth, Montmartre turned out to be the great surprise of my trip. Rather than spend most of my time revisiting my old stomping grounds in the 11e, I woke up steps from the meilleur baguette de Paris 2010 & 2011. I vélo’ed past the rowdy Marché de Barbes and eyed strange fruits at the Marché Africain on Rue Dejean. In the evening, we would wander up to Sacre Coeur with the insouciance of locals – no worries about making the last métro or getting lost on our way down the hill. The once annoying crowds of tourists became humorous, once I was not one of them. And our daily descent from Montmartre on bike or on foot – to munch on the Pain des Amis along the Canal St. Martin, to wander the covered galleries of the 2e, or to lécher les vitrines of Rue Montmartre – became my favorite part of the journée.
Some of the lovely homes of the Villa Léandre.
In addition to my unexpected enjoyment of the day-to-day ease of life in Montmartre, my gracious hosts revealed to me petits coins of this delightful quartier that I would have never found on my own. One day, it was a tour of writer Boris Vian’s former apartment – with a stunning terrace view over the coeur of Pigalle. The next, it was a ramble through the Villa Léandre (where we happily cracked the code on a gate and sampled the stunning qualité de la vie of the rich and savvy locals). The list really does go on and on. (The best online tour, that I’ve since found, of my favorite parts of the quartier can be found here.)
The view from Boris Vian's terrace. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Upon my return from Paris, mes amis newyorkais have asked on several occasions – comment c’était? And I really have very little to say on the subject. It was a view into the blissful retraite that might one-day await me, should I move back to Paris in a stage of stable chomage. (The rêve of moving back to write full-time is a constant, if ellusive tentation itself.) What I recall most vividly is the sense that I love Paris in the daytime – the ability to ramble about, exploring and intentially losing oneself – and I’m not sure I’d ever want to work a steady 9-5 in that city. Perhaps it’s just the histoire artistique of the alternative living of Montmartre rubbing off on me – but I’m happy to keep Paris for the day when I can move back full-time on my terms. Until then, she will remain my personal retraite – the place where I feel most myself, the eternal ingratiated étrangère.
aventure > adventure
me détendre > relax
dix fois plus intéressant > 10 times more interesting
canapé > sofa, couch
Pigalle > the infamous Parisian red-light district
coeur > heart
Montmartre > a village-like neighborhood in the 18e
touristique > touristy
Et surtout > And most of all
typiquement américain > typically american
fondue > fondu
biberons > baby bottles
Matthieu > Matthew
porte > door
froid > cold
éscaliers > stairs
fenêtres > windows
Adorable > adorable
typique, charmant > quaint, charming
bon marché > a good deal (inexpensive)
cuisine > kitchen
appartement > apartment
meilleur baguette de Paris > best baguette in Paris
vélo > bicycle
marché > market
insouciance > carefree-ness
métro > subway
Pain des Amis > Bread of Friends @ Du Pain et des Idées near Canal St. Martin
lécher les vitrines > “lick the windows”, window-shopping
journée > daytime, day (in the sense of the length of the whole-day)
petits coins > little corners
quartier > neighborhood
qualité de la vie > quality of life
mes amis newyorkais > my newyorker friends
comment c’était? > How was it?
retraite > retirement, retreat
chomage > unemployment
rêve > dream
tentation > temptation
histoire artistique > artistic history
étrangère > stranger, foreigner (feminine)