On the Lamb: Paris 2012 (Part Quatre)
The Bloggist Is Away

By chance, our first day in Paris was also our anniversary – although I wouldn’t be surprised if Joanne had planned it that way because she’s devious like you wouldn’t know.

The sun was yet to set on this most eventful day. The girl-beard and I had so far gone through a proper scam, a proper French lunch, and a proper rainy cemetery – all were priceless experiences. You cannot, for example, pay to have a con steal your money because that would be stupid. You cannot also assign a monetary value to a hearty French meal (except when you compute it at 52 pesos to the euro). The same thing applies for a visit to Père Lachaise cemetery for the simple reason that it doesn’t charge admission.

Well, that was certainly worth it. Free entrance, you said? What’s our next order of business?

Because we are so there.

Montmartre, to the north of Paris, is a hill – a butte, to be precise. The name loosely derives from ‘mount of the martyr’, after the patron saint of France. Legend has it that St. Denis, after getting his head chopped off in 250 AD, picked up his severed head and walked some six kilometers until he – gasp – died, presumably from exhaustion (six kilometers is kind of a long walk). He also delivered a sermon all the way, because why not? Who needs a larynx, anyway?

Theologians attribute this miracle to a phenomenon called ‘Eeeeeiiiaagh! Please put that thing back on for the love of God![thanks, Wikimedia]

Montmartre was home to a good number of prominent artists from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, including Pissarro, Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse, DegasToulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, and Picasso. When they started congregating around the area, Montmartre was a popular destination for drinking and decadent entertainment. It had a smattering of legendary nightclubs, such as Le Chat Noir, as well as a little known cabaret called the Moulin Rouge – a classy joint where prostitutes would be termed courtesans and were expected to randomly burst into song with Ewan McGregor.

Hollywood karaoke a speciality. [thanks, Baz]

The Moulin Rouge is still around. It also remains quite popular, albeit as something of a tourist trap. Regarding which, the most prominent attraction in Montmartre is a church. It isn’t dedicated to St. Denis, though – St. Denis Basilica would be located a short distance away to the north because of his impromptu 6K (where he broke a personal record for headless walking, we hope). What we have in Montmartre is, of course, the historic Sacré Cœur Basilica (i.e. Sacred Heart Basilica).

It’s that thing in the back that my face is trying to obscure.

During our visit, Joanne and I didn’t know two crucial things. One: The Sacré Cœur was located at the top of Montmartre – by simple deduction, it was the highest point in Paris, and; two: Montmartre had a funicular railway that went from its south base to its peak, also the more scenic route. Instead, we approached Montmartre from the side (i.e. west), via the stairs at rue Maurice Utrillo. Yes, that’s right: we were going to climb a 130-metre hill using our impressive capacities as bipeds.

The view would be to die for… exhaustion would ensure so.

With stairs, I told Joanne, you had to trick your body into brisk climbs before it realized it was falling apart, pausing only between flights briefly to catch your breath. And thus the girl-beard and I challenged French gravity with human legs:

We shall conquer you, négative neuf pointe huit par seconde square!

During the long climb, I occasionally had to urge Joanne up, as she was getting in the way of some irate French grandmothers accompanying little schoolgirls on the ascent…

“You can do it,” I said, “Just go toward the light.”

“I hate you – wheeze – I hate your face.”

“But we’re already halfway through… you can see a sort of landing up there if you squint. Have you been counting the steps?”

“I stopped counting after seventeen.”

“We’re almost there. Just don’t look up. Or down. Look at me… look at my eyes! Focus! Don’t you quit on me now!”

“I hate – huff huff – you. My legs feel like – puff puff – like baby eels. Like baby eels!”

“I have it worse, you know? I’m like twice your weight. You practically have bird bones. You probably use a scientific calculator as a weighing scale.”

“I hate – wheeze – ”

“Shh… you can’t afford to exhale words in your state. Just know that I shall avenge you…”

By my estimate, we scaled over two hundred and fifty steps by the time we reached that first big landing at rue du Cardinal Dubois. From there, we got our first glimpse at the Sacré Cœur Basilica, and it was beautiful. We had to pause a while just to take it in. Needless to say, it took Joanne’s breath away.

“Oh, look! Only fifty more steps!”

The Sacré Cœur was finished in 1914, making it rather young for a major European church. That it was built so late could explain why it seemed architecturally out of place – its domes even kind of recalled the Taj Mahal. The basilica was built to supposedly atone for the sins of the 1871 Paris Commune – a movement driven by the working class disenfranchisement of the time against royalty and religion. The Communards, based in Montmartre, controlled Paris for two months before meeting a violent end. The whole bloody business left some twenty thousand people dead, including many Communards, who were buried alive in the hill’s many gypsum mines, and the Archbishop of Paris, whom the Communards executed. Later on, the Church realized that atonement for the ‘sins’ of a massacred adversary was kind of a dick call to make, and retconned the Sacré Cœur to be dedicated instead to the fifty-eight thousand who lost their lives during the Franco-Prussian War.

To commemorate these sad bits of French history, tourists make the pilgrimage to Sacré Cœur to sit on its front steps and drink Dutch beer sold by African vendors.

“You took me to a monument to human carnage on our anniversary?” asked Joanne, wobbling girl-beard.

“Yeah. Isn’t it beautiful?”

“It is. That’s why I’m your beard. We should go inside!”

Photography was not allowed inside. Trust us, though, it was magnificent.

After making the tortured trek down the same set of stairs around sundown, Joanne and I reassessed our Paris visit so far.

“That wasn’t so bad,” I volunteered.

“Yeah, it wasn’t. And we’re still under budget, even after getting scammed. We’ve been surprisingly frugal.”

“Surprisingly? Well, we had to be smart with money after that con, which was why I wanted to do these free places today.”

“The meal was good… the cemetery and the church made for an unusual anniversary, though.”

“Well, we tried to visit the graves of Romantics, didn’t we? And that church was called the Sacred Heart… that’s like a Care Bears character or something, surely?”

“No, I’m not complaining. It was good. Even with all those stairs, today was just the right amount of hectic. I’m tired, though. I want to sleep. There’s only the matter of dinner now… how could we possibly top off the day?”

“Is hotel McDonald’s romantic enough?”


If you want the discerning CONTINUATION, please click here.

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Categories: [fitness], [travel]

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