Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why head for the Med when you can spend August in Paris?

Paris' last remaining vineyard, Montmartre
Contrary to popular belief, not all of Paris closes down during the month of August. What does happen, though, is that as soon as July nears its end thousands and thousands of Parisians flee the city for their second homes in the country or on the coast.  And, let’s be honest, what could be more pleasurable than Paris without Parisians?

The city's residents, both young and old, are noticeably friendlier, more “cool” and “zen” as the French themselves put it, during August. Sure, some of the cafés and restaurants (and seemingly all of the boulangeries) pull down their shutters for the month, but just as many stay open. And though the main tourist sites – the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur, Paris Plage – still teem with foreign visitors, the morning streets are deserted. 

Le Lapin Agile, Montmartre
Even here in the heart of Montmartre it’s possible to walk up rue Lepic without having to sharpen one’s elbows in readiness for the fray. Lepic is one of Paris’ most characterful streets: cobbled and winding, it starts its journey at Place Blanche (just next to the Moulin Rouge) before clinging to the side of Paris’ highest hill almost as far as the Sacré Coeur. Lepic is closed to traffic on Sundays – the ideal time to test one’s mountain-biking skills – but it is the annual procession in honour of the Free Republic of Montmartre that reveals the most about the inhabitants of the hill.

View of the Sacré Coeur from
the Culturissma Paris office
Every October the self-proclaimed president of the Free Republic of Montmartre comes to the hill to address his fellow citizens, many of whom - like the President himself - are slightly sozzled after a few bottles of red wine. Typically, the chef d’état is escorted up rue Lepic by a bevy of scantily clad (male) trumpeters on motorised skate-boards (I kid you not). The president himself, who arrives at the bottom of the hill in an open-top limousine, then anoints the fawning crowds from his lofty perch atop a camel. And who says the French don’t have a sense of humour?

Van Gogh lived on Lepic with his brother Théo, and Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec had studios nearby. The windmill known as the Moulin de la Galette – immortalised by both Renoir and Van Gogh – can still be seen and, if one looks closely, it’s still possible to make out the remains of one of France’s earliest observatories.

One Christmas Eve over a hundred years ago a young Parisian by the name of Louis had a bet with his friends that would change the French landscape for ever: he wagered that he could climb all the way to the top of Lepic in a new vehicle he had designed, the first ever driven by a gearbox. Louis won his bet – and his surname was soon to become famous throughout France and cross the world: Renault.
The view from Culturissima's office this evening 

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I'm on a working holiday here - in Paris (that's how I stumbled across the blog) and I couldn't agree more; it's divine without the Parisians!