I've decided to give it a new look. I haven't gone overboard with it just thought it would make it look a little more modern.
Hope you like it.
|Jane Avril of the Moulin Rouge||
Well, it's been a little time since my last post. Nothing new to add at the moment with regards to Jane but be assured this website still means as much to me today as it did when I created it.
I've decided to give it a new look. I haven't gone overboard with it just thought it would make it look a little more modern.
Hope you like it.
I couldn't let another day go by without remarking about the sad passing of Zsa Zsa Gabor at the grand old age of 99. Quite naturally I will always remember her for her portrayal of Jane Avril in John Houston's film Moulin Rouge made in 1952. Although, the portrayal did not resemble in anyway my own image of Jane, I still have to applaud the effort in bringing Jane to a 50s audience some 9 years after Jane valsed her way into immortality.
She was a witty woman with some killer one liners but I'll instead quote her from the film in the role of Jane Avril.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: "Well, Jane, what a long road you have travelled. Only a few years ago you were singing for your supper, and here you are a full-fledged star at 29."
Jane Avril: "25!"
Henri: "Of course, I beg your pardon. 25."
Jane Avril: "I have been 25 for 4 years, and I shall stay there for another 4. Then I'll be 27 for a while. I intend to grow old gracefully!"
RIP Zsa Zsa.
It has been a while since I posted an entry so here's a real treat for you all while you wait for me to find some inspiration.
This is my friend Maria as her alter ego Millennium Star! What an amazing dress inspired by the Queen of Montmartre herself. Maria created the dress herself and you can see the effort has paid off. Maria is no stranger to the site and I know her love of Jane and the time in which she thrived as a dancer runs deep.
I've also posted the famous Jane Avril lithograph created by Toulouse-Lautrec and photograph by way of comparison.
Thanks for the photo Maria.
The Tower Eiffel
The Eiffel Tower as many know was conceived by Gustave Eiffel and constructed as the show piece for the 1889 Paris Exhibition.
I recently managed to get hold of a programme that set out the events and amusements that the exhibition had to offer.
In the programme is described in some detail a description of the Tower.
Jane Avril herself visited the exhibition and used to enjoy ascending the tower that must have been quite a spectacle and experience for a lady of her time.
Here is the description as set out in the programme that accompanied the 1889 exhibition.
In order to attire the stranger, to create a great attraction which assured the success of the exhibition, it wanted something exceptional, unrivalled, and extraordinary. An engineer presented himself, Mr. Eiffel, already known by his considerable and keen works. He proposed to M. Locroy to erect a tower in iron which, reaching the height of three hundred metres would represent, at the industrial sight, the resultant of the modern progresses. Mr. Locroy reflected and accepted. Hardly twenty years ago, this project would have appeared fantastic and impossible. The state of the science of the iron constructions was not advanced enough, the security given by the calculations was not yet assured; today, they know where they are going, they are able to count the force of the wind. The resistance which the iron opposes it. Mr Eiffel came at the proper time.
And nevertheless how many people have prophesised that the tower would never be constructed? How many critics have fallen upon this audacious project? It was erected, however, and one perceives it from all of Paris; it astonishes and lets in ecstasy the strangers who come to contemplate it.
Let us describe it then in all its details, since it constitutes the success of the exhibition.
It is a pyramid with four bend acres connected two by two at their inferior part by arches of 50 metres. These arcs are oblique till at a certain height, then, the colossus having greatly widened its feet in order to prop well with buttress, rises straight towards the sky.
The opening of the feet is of a hundred metres from axis to axis, and a circumstance to be worth to remark, and which is the result of a hazard, the diagonal axis which passes through these two feet is directed according to the Meridian.
At 60 metres above the ground is the first floor. There the posts which form the corners, still oblique, are connected by a gallery of 15 metres of width on every front. Where the visitors who ascend find 4 pavilions richly adorned, which are nothing else than breweries and eating houses, more spacious than the handsomest on the Boulevard, a Flemish brewery, a Russian eating house, an English-American bar and the wine shop, style of Louis XIV. If you ascend during the times of meals, you will see that this spacious platform can contain about 5000 guests, who from their table enjoy one of the most curious panoramas.
But let us ascend higher up. Here we are on the 2nd stair bed, at a height of 117 metres. A glazed room, quarry of 30 metres aside, is opened before us. Let us still ascend, and at the height of 270 metres, we find a last room forming pavilion, crowned with a cupola and measuring 60 metres of development. There a coffee room offers us refreshments of various kinds, and all in drinking a bock, or tasting a glass, we discover the most splendid panorama which it may be possible to fancy.
Let us describe it minutely.
From all parts the void environs you; the 4 sides of the tower, sensibly brought nearer, give to the platform on which you are the appearance of a skiff. The air, the light fall upon you from the 4 cardinal points. In the perspective, the Mont-Valerien has descended under the horizon, the Trocadero under the Bots de Boulogne, the peninsula of Gennevilliers is extended like a little heap of ground, the numerous windings of the Seine wind their ways in the immense plane, like on a geographical map. At your left side, the hills of Mendon are all depressed.
At the right Montmartre, which seems a vessel entering in the side of a Parisian galere. At your feet the houses are very plainly, because you see the 4 sides which are holed by the windows, symmetric like points of dice, so well that Paris has an appearance of a vast party of biribi played by a giant on a green carpet.
In short, 120 kilometres are stretched out before you! For a few sous you can look in the telescope-glass, which will permit us to see, if the weather is clear, the coasts which dominate Rouen and the hills of the department of the Cote-d’Or.
This ascension attires you, visitor, and you lady, who doubted at the first sight, so much the colossus is enormous, that there are about 300 metres until the cupola, where are floating multi-colour flags. Do not deprive you of the pleasure to contemplate Paris from such a height.
For 2 francs the lifts will bring you to the second floor, for 5 francs you will be able to go to the top.
These lifts are in the number of 4, starting from the ground and following the declivity of the jambs which buttress the Tower. They deserve the two first platforms, but from the second, that is to say at the height of 117 metres, two other lifts, this time vertical, withdraw you smoothly till the eupola, with an uniform swiftness of a metre by a second, in such a way that the complete ascension will demand about 7 minutes.
Besides, if you have good legs, it belongs only to you, to reach on foot to the first galleries by the star. The charm of this ascending in spiral will pay you amply of your fatigue.
960 steps lead to the second platform.
1792 steps bring you to the top.
The total weight of the Tower Eiffel is of seven million kilogram’s. The construction has costs about 6 million. Mr Eiffel has received from the State one million five hundred thousand francs, taken upon the forty-three millions of the exhibition, and he enjoys the privilege of the exploitation of the Tower for 20 years.
They have calculated that the action of the wind upon their colossal monument is hardly to be appreciated. The fearful people can on this regard completely be assured.
The science has arrived in our days to determine with an absolute precision the pressure of the wind on the surface: that exercised on the Tower Eiffel, could be of 400 kilograms by square metre, corresponding for the whole monument to more than three millions of kilograms. This number is enormous, but we are sheltered from all fear when we know that the strongest tempests observed in Paris have never been accompanied by a wind superior of 150 kilograms by square metre. The day in which the wind would pull down the Tower, all monuments of Paris would be destroyed before it. That day has not yet come.
The tempest can pass, rush at the long pieces of iron, attack them in front or at three quarters, to run parallel to the ground or point from the top to the bottom and the Tower will remain impassable, and if it be one day necessary to assist to surmount the winds, all has been foreseen; in each one of three immense piles is lodged an hydraulic press strong enough to lift up its sides and maintain it upright in spite of all.
Put the proportion with all the famous monuments of Europe and America, the Tower Eiffel overpasses them in the following proportions: -
Notre Dame 66 metres
Le Pantheon 79 metres
The Invalids 103 metres
St Peters in Rome 132 metres
Cathedral in Strassburg 142 metres
The Great Pyramid of Egypt 146 metres
Cathedral of Cologne 150 metres
Monument of Washington 169 metres
Tower Eiffel 300 metres
In such way that the monument erected to Washington at Philadelphia, which was before the highest of the globe, is still overpassed of 131 metres.
Information re: Ascension
According to the specifications of the enterprise of the Tower, the privileged has obliged him after statutes, to ascend 2356 persons by hour to the first platform and 750 per hour to the summit.
The tariff of the ascensions is fixed at 2 francs for the first floor, 3 francs for the second and 5 francs to the summit.
Contrary to which passes usually, the prices are lessoned for the Sundays: it is one franc until the first platform, 1 franc 40 cents until the second, 2 francs until the summit, but this tariff is applied but from eleven in the morning till six o’ clock in the evening.
How is the control made? Or, to precise more, how do they pay the price of ascensions?
The administration has opened at this purpose 16 wickets. 10 on the ground floor, 4 at the first platform and 2 at the second.
Tickets are delivered there; red for the first platform, white for the second and blue for the summit.
The person at the destination of the first platform gives up his red ticket at the arrival. Having no more, he cannot ascend higher up but when he buys a second one – the white, which serves between the first and the second platform. Finally, to ascend to the summit, he must buy a blue ticket. Total: 5 francs.
And the pedestrians?
Those who are frightened or impressioned, have at their disposal two comfortable staircases for the service of the first platform.
This on the jamb no 4 to ascend and that of the number 2 to desend. They have four of them at their disposition between the first and second platform, two for the ascension and two for the descent.
One may ascend by foot or by the lift, the price is the same, and the tickets too, so well that the tickets once taken, for the top by instance, one may vary its pleasures in making one part of the way in one manner and the other in another.
Some persons have criticised the uniformity of the price adopted for the two manners of ascension, in saying that the person on foot ought to pay less than this one who uses the lifts but they wished to simplify to avoid the complications of the sale and the control.
The Tower, when it has received its maximum of visitors, can contain on them, namely: -
Each one of the eating house on the first floor 400
For the four 1600
1000 about can move them on each of the 4 exterior galleries 1000
Between the eating houses there are interior galleries able to contain together 400
Total for the first floor 6400
They can be 1500 on the second floor and 500 at the summit together 2000
The ascending persons, with the serving people can be valued to 2000
And you have, when the Tower is filled with visitors, a total of about 10,000
Then thousand persons upon this network of iron!
It is not dreadful, let us add in finishing that a certain number of shops surround the first floor, the space left free by the eating houses. The Figaro has a printing office there very elegantly installed.
As usual I wake early but today I wake with a heavy heart as it’s my last day in Paris. My flight LS316 from Charles de Gaulle to Leeds is 5:00pm. I try to put this at the back of my mind and focus instead on all I have to get done before I leave. As usual I take up my spot at Starbucks and reflect on the past few days. It had been both busy and eventful but was satisfied that I had completed all I had set out to do. I couldn’t be too down about returning home and rejoining my wife and children which reminds me I must deliver on a promise I made to Alexander my eldest at 3 years. Before I left I promised I’d purchase a jet2 model plane. He regularly visits Yeadon Tarn in West Yorkshire to see the flights leave from Leeds/Bradford Airport, and had seen my flight leave for Paris the previous Monday:
“There’s daddy’s plane,” he shouts and follows up with, “I’m going to miss him mummy.” He genuinely believes I own and fly it. Why shatter his little dreams!
I cross the road to pick up a souvenir or two from the tacky gift shop on the left and then re-join Tom at Starbucks.
“Got to be the Musee Montmartre today I think.”
“That sounds good.” Replies Tom and off we set.
We get as far as Anvers and are suddenly stopped in our tracks by the down pouring of rain. This wasn’t on the agenda and the walk up the hill wasn’t looking to appetising. We head left and locate a Costa Coffee and take refuge from the rain.
The rain is much heavier by the time we are served and we don’t feel any enthusiasm for making our way up the hill so we sit outside but under the café’s awning protecting ourselves from the downpour. I love the way the rain trickles from the awning and so attempt some photography to capture it. I fail miserably (see result below) but thought it would give a sense of the conditions.
We assumed the rain was here to stay so when the rain was at its lightest we made our way back to the Elysée Montmartre where we turn an immediate left to climb the hill. I glanced up at the Elysée Montmartre at 72 Boulevard de Rochechouart and note that it is undergoing some repair work and decide to cross over the road taking shelter to take a few snaps of its current condition (see below). I am pleased that the Elysée is being refurbished as it’s a venue with ample history. It’s at the Elysée Montmartre that the unforgettable French cancan was invented in 1807. The shows quickly spread to other venues in the neighbourhood of Boulevard Rochechouart, including the Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergère and it was at the Elysée Montmartre that Toulouse-Lautrec painted several of his paintings.
After surviving a fire in 1900, Elysée Montmartre diversified and took on many different guises but was again ravaged by fire in 2011, the 200-year-old venue nearly shut down before the French government rallied to save it. Elysée Montmartre is currently closed to the public but a new era awaits.
If you want to know anything about the history of Montmartre and the personalities that lived and executed their art here then this is the place for you. Situated at 8-13 Rue Cortot and founded in 1960 it was home to many artists such as Renoir, Suzanne Valadon and her equally famous artist son Maurice Utrillo (a specialist in capturing the streets and buildings of Montmartre). The gardens have been renovated according to Renior’s paintings and provide a view of the vineyard and the Au Lapin Agile.
Since the last time I was here Suzanne Valadon’s studio has been renovated and this gives you a real sense of how she and Maurice lived and the conditions in which they worked.
For me it wasn’t just about the literal artists that occupied this place it was the history of Montmartre generally and the vision Rodolphe Salis had for it and his subsequent creation of Le Chat Noir which was his attempt to deliver on his vision. Then there is the tribute to The Moulin Rouge and there is plenty to take in especially the lithographs of Toulouse-Lautrec that celebrate the Moulin Rouge performers Jane Avril and Louise Weber. For good measure there is a fine Lithograph of Aristide Bruant a friend of Lautrec and a very interesting personality in his own right who is well worth a study.
It’s worth reading the plaque that exists within the museum that says more about Montmartre and Salis’s vision:
“In 1800 Montmartre was an impoverished, dangerous and physically marginal part of Paris. However, at the end of 1881 a young visionary named Rodolphe Salis opened the Chat Noir cabaret on the Boulevard Rochechouart which soon attracted numerous young, avant-garde artists, writers, musicians and performers to live and work in Montmartre. In 1884 Salis made the following audacious statement: “What is Montmartre? – Nothing! What should it be? – Everything!” Within a relatively short time, Salis’s prediction that Montmartre would be “everything” became a reality. In fact, Montmartre was transformed in to the literary/artistic centre of Europe! This exhibition endeavours to reveal the unique characteristics which define the “Spirit of Montmartre” as well as to the Present Montmartre’s contribution to the development of modern art at the turn of the nineteenth century. Welcome to the show!”
Time is running away from me at this point, less so for Tom who is staying another night. Realistically, I have time for one final lunch at Le Chat Noir before heading back to the hotel to collect my backpack and pick up my taxi back to the airport. I opt for the Caesar salad and I feel like it’s my final meal as a condemned man, I know in reality this is far from the truth but it underlines just how gut wrenching it is for me to leave the city I have come to love so much. Tom, set out his potential plans for the remainder of his stay.
“I may take in some Monet,”
Suddenly I don’t feel so bad about leaving.
“If I want to see some Monet I’ll take a trip to IKEA.”
Seriously, IKEA have destroyed Monet for me simply because I used see his work there all the time and it became too accessible.
I wish Tom well a little envious of his extra day and leave him at the Chat Noir as I head back to the hotel to pick up my stuff. I wait for the taxi who then takes me past The Chat Noir, The Moulin Rouge and Starbucks looking at my seat one final time knowing that tomorrow morning it’ll occupied by someone who perhaps is embarking on their own little adventure in Paris.
I woke up early once again, showered without disturbing the snoring Tom, changed and sneaked quietly out of the room eager to commence the day. I walked once more to Starbucks to order my Caffe Latte and take my usual seat outside looking at the Moulin. I had on me a wry smile as I reluctantly acknowledged that the previous night had been a success. I still think Jane would have hated it but that’s ok as I could easily understand her viewpoint and given the choice between the 1890s Moulin or the 2015 Moulin I would opt for the 1890s every time. I feel better already.
Today has been 5 years in the making. Mark Pryor and I had agreed to meet at the famed Les Deux Magots at 11:00am. Mark is a successful crime writer from Austin Texas although he is a native of Hertfordshire, England. We met through this very website when he contacted me whilst researching The Crypt Thief which was to be his second book in his famed Hugo Marston Murder Mysteries. Mark kindly acknowledged me in this book and a lasting friendship was forged.
Les Deux Magots situated at 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés was an appropriate choice of venue and I was mindful of the history when choosing the place to meet. Mark would be following in the footsteps of fine writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Rimbaud and other patrons such as Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce plus others.
Tom and I arrived early at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Metro Stop and so took the opportunity to look inside the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés which is pictured below. If you want to know more about this abbey then the internet/guidebooks is the place for you.
Having left I crossed the road to take a couple of distant photos of Les Deux Magots and the equally famed Café de Flore another Hemingway haunt which are in close proximity to each other. Having taken my photos I looked around to be met by Mark and his family and after greeting each other we made our way to Les Deux Magots.
Mark was accompanied by his wife and mother so we made quite a group and conversation flowed freely as did the Kronenbourg Beer. As a group we discussed Mark’s books, characters within, plots and observations made by readers and what inspires him. We chatted about American gun laws, differences in employment laws and naturally all things politics from both sides of the pond. The time seemed to fly by and after exchanging gifts (Mark presented me with a signed copy of The Reluctant Matador – Book 5 in the Hugo Marston Series and I presented Mark with 2 Books by Claude Izner: Murder on the Eiffel Tower and The Pere Lachaise Mystery) and taking some photos to capture the moment we went our separate ways. Mark and family to the Rodin Museum and Tom and I towards the Seine to check out the boquinistes stalls along the quay side with a view to taking a boat cruise down the Seine.
Incidentally, the boquinistes are the subject matter for the first Hugo Marston novel The Bookseller.
It was a gentle walk along the Seine and I always enjoy the boquinistes stalls but the heat of the day was starting to take its toll on the two of us and the sooner we boarded an excursion boat the better.
We managed to locate our stop and paid for the tickets but had to join a queue to get on the boat for about 20 minutes. We’re effectively being crushed together as the numbers queuing grew and added to the heat this was becoming unbearable for the both of us. When the boat eventually docked and the gate was opened all manners and courtesies were left behind as a stampede ensued to ensure the best seats were captured and secured. We didn’t so much as walk on the boat but instead pushed onto it. Anyway, we survived and found ourselves at the front of the boat with plenty of room to breathe and to cool down a little with the gentle breeze being offered up by the gods.
If you are arriving in Paris for the first time I would always recommend a relaxing boat cruise to get ones bearings and get a sense of where some of the major tourist traps are situated. However, for me this is just a perfect opportunity to put my feet up for an hour and enjoy the sites without necessarily thinking too much about the commentary being offered. I’ve heard them a few times now so just let it go through me. I love passing under the bridges and returning waves being offered from those above and to other passing boats – why not?
Naturally the highlight is passing Gustave Eiffel’s Tower which I never ever tire of seeing and always take the opportunity to take a few snaps. She is rightly the symbol of Paris and has been for 126 years, not bad considering there was serious talk of dismantling it after 10 years and was only saved when it was proposed that it be used as a communications tower. You can’t go anywhere without seeing the Tower and I don’t mean the real thing, I mean simply the amount of Eiffel Tower tat you can buy from the streets and souvenir shops and stalls. That’s fine with me it doesn’t take any thing away from the majesty of Gustave’s masterpiece.
We headed back to the Hotel to chill out for a couple of hours before deciding on our location to have dinner. We opted for the Tavern Montmartre at 25 rue Gabrielle right up the hill.
“No way, am I walking up that hill again.
“Ok, so what are you proposing?”
“Fair enough Tom, my feet could do with a break.”
So, off we went walking to the funicular which was totally rebuilt in 1991 and takes 1 minute 30 seconds to take you from the bottom of the hill right up to the Sacré
Cœur which beats taking the 300 or so steps. The idea once we were at the top was to walk down the steps on the other side to get us to our destination. Lazy but most effective!
The Tavern Montmartre is no stranger to Tom and I as we have had the experience on our 2 previous visits here. The rustic appearance, the hard wooden benches and the small interior seems to combine wonderfully with the magnificent food, drink and service that is provided. It has never disappointed and didn’t so on this occasion.
I love walking the streets of Montmartre especially up the hill and around Sacré
Cœur but tonight I had a destination in mind for Tom and I, the famous Montmartre cabaret Le Lapin Agile (nimble rabbit) situated at 22 Rue des Saules. I wanted a taste of the real Bohemia or as close to it as I could get and since this place hasn’t really changed much over the years it seemed a good place to try out.
We entered and were met by the host who enquired where we were from and after paying the entrance fee (drink included) we were invited into a darkened room surrounded by old wooden furniture that had engravings that had been there for decades and on the walls hung the paintings dating back to the 1920s and before. This place has had many famous former patrons including Picasso, Modigliani and Maurice Utrillo.
It was a truly wonderful evening as different singers performed their set in front of a red curtain over a solid 4 hour duration. As I understand it some of the songs they sang date back to the fifteenth century. The singers were accompanied by talented accordionists, guitarists and pianists and they all encouraged audience participation which I thoroughly enjoyed even if I didn’t understand a lot of what they were singing.
I counted the numbers in the room and it came to 35 which seemed to be the right number to create a positive atmosphere. It isn’t designed to hold too many and is certainly a contrast to the Moulin Rouge.
One particular singer caught my attention she had a slight frame wore a long black dress possessing dark long black hair. She sang beautifully and expressed her lyrics through her facial and body gestures. I could have watched and listened to her all night. She mixed it up with both French and English appreciating her audience. Her performance will live long in the memory.
The time came to leave as it was the early hours of Thursday morning and we both enjoyed the walk back to the hotel looking forward to a good nights sleep.
Day 4 to follow: The Musee Montmartre, Elysee Montmartre and Le Chat Noir.
Is there any greater feeling than waking up in the City of Lights? I doubt it, although I’m not sure Tom agrees. “I’m not getting up at Teddy time,” then rolls over and goes back to sleep. Teddy is my one year old son who has a tendency to wake up at daft-o-clock. I don’t see it that way 7:00am is too late and I need to be up and out to maximise the time I’m here.
I walk to the nearest Starbucks opposite the Moulin Rouge. Ok, not very French but let’s be honest they do a great Cafe Latte and it’s also good value for money with a prime view of the Moulin if you sit outside in the early morning light. I reflect on the Moulin, we have a date in the evening a date I’ve been putting off for 15 years. Tonight we meet and I’m nervous. I’ve aged in this time, I’m a little greyer, certainly wiser and yet the Moulin still looks as majestic as she did the first time I saw her. How rude. I reflect on her history and the personalities who visited and performed there. I’d always avoided this date with destiny as I felt I was betraying the memory of Toulouse-Lautrec and her finest performer Jane Avril. What would they think about this modern incarnation? I concluded in the end that I just had to be in the venue that they shared. Same place separated only by time, only! I had no expectations in fact a part of me wants to hate it. I guess time will tell.
I finish my latte and I am joined by Tom. We’ve a busy schedule today but first things first we have an appointment to keep with Pablo Picasso at the Musee Picasso situated on Rue de Thorigny. It wasn’t the easiest place to find but it’s a short walk from the St-Sebastien Froissart Metro station. The museum opened its doors in 1985 and put an end to 11 years of wrangling over the death duties of Pablo. This is no surprise to me as I find most of his art confusing so why should things be any different in death? I’ve always had a bit of a love hate relationship with Picasso and to be honest I often think some of his work was taking the piss like Tony Hancock in the 60s comedy film The Rebel. If he was then he’s having the last laugh that’s for sure. In reality his laughing stopped in 1973 the year he died. I had the same problem here as I do when visiting any exhibition of art, way too much art to take it all in. In this case around 2000 pieces including 203 paintings, 158 sculptures, 16 collages and some 1500 drawings and prints, I mean where the hell do you start? I stand there looking at a typical Picasso (you know what I mean), trying to understand, define and contextualise it in terms of the period and what it represents to him etc and then move on to the next and next and next and so on. Talk about feeling an embolism coming on. I don’t blame him particularly I just think it’s a bit flawed having to view 2000 pieces in one morning. Fortunately, I’m on safer ground with the Cezanne, Renoir and Matisse that they had on display. I did fall for one Picasso which is shown below in which he depicts Sacre Coeur using charcoal I believe.
After completing the tour and feeling mentally tired it was time for some lunch and Tom and I located a nice cafe near the museum which served a stunning omelette and fries.
It was time to walk off lunch so Tom and I decided to walk towards Notre Dame and take in the stunning gothic cathedral which I never tire of visiting. Amazingly, around 10 million people enter its doors each year. Tom and I decided not to be the 10 millionth and 1 and 2 respectively. I’d been inside some 15 years before and we didn’t feel compelled to join the huge queue that had formed. I could say more about this most amazing of places but can’t really add to the guidebooks so will leave you to look things up. I was happy to just sit outside and bask in the sunshine as it’s truly a stunning afternoon.
Next stop was the famous bookshop Shakespeare and Co literally a stone’s throw from Notre Dame situated on Rue de la Bucherie. This is probably my favourite bookshop in the entire world and the stock includes both new and used books. If purchasing a book ask them to seal it with their very own Shakespeare and Co seal they will be happy to. I left on this occasion with a book all about the Paris commune called “The Terrible Year” by Alistair Horne and yes I had it stamped.
Tom is quite partial to his afternoon naps and so this is where we parted company. Tom ventured back to the hotel and I continued on to Pere Lachaise cemetery to conduct my usual business of visiting at the very least Jane Avril and Oscar Wilde. I had arranged to meet writer Kate Sermon at the grave of Oscar but sadly due to the ridiculous queue at the Musee D’Orsay we were unable to. So it was just me and the cemetery cats.
Pere Lachaise cemetery is a place I just can’t stay away from. The usual entrance I enter was closed and was immediately worried that perhaps it had unexpectedly closed for the day. I walked a little further to the main entrance and was relieved to see it was open. I usually visit the florist before entering as I place flowers at Jane’s grave when I visit. I spoke to the gentleman at the entrance selling his maps of the cemetery and asked where the nearest florist was only to me taken aback by his response.
“Ahh, don’t waste your time young man, they can’t be trusted here. You buy flowers, you lay flowers, you go and then they return to take flowers back.”
“Yes, my friend they can’t be trusted. Save your money, pay your respects and be happy.”
I was seriously surprised and upset by this revelation but the view was supported by his colleague. I had laid flowers at Jane’s resting place for many years now. Had they been stolen every time? Perhaps not, but it could explain the growing number of plastic flowers I see on display.
I took him at his word and with a heavy heart entered the cemetery empty handed which was a rather weird feeling.
As always, I visited Jane and as is often the case there were no flowers. Had I made a mistake? I felt like I had. I spent about 30 minutes there reflecting on her life and times and wishing I’d had a taste of it. The greatest sadness for me is there is no footage of her dancing. All we are left with is testimonies from those who knew and saw her and you are left to imagine what she must have been like. I guess it’s like describing Astaire without any movie footage.
After Jane, I went to visit Oscar Wilde’s grave and as usual it was looking a bit messy and untidy rather ironic for the master of aesthetics. I must have visited on a bad day. I appreciate the glass surround that protects Sir Jacob Epstein’s fine sculpture but all the tourists do now is throw their tributes over the glass panels and create a mess.
Having read lots recently about the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani I thought it would be good to conclude this particular project with a visit to his final resting place via Sarah Bernhardt the great French actress and the big hearted singer Yvette Guilbert. Modi as he was affectionately called wasn’t easy to locate and there were 2 groups also attempting to find him. The leader of one who was obviously Italian looked at me and said “Modigliani?” I answered with a shrug and kept searching. His group continued in their search but I thought they were heading in the wrong direction and I eventually found him. To be fair you can’t blame Modi he’d been in the same spot since 1920. Again, since I knew little Italian I shouted to the group,
“MODIGLIANI!” and pointed down, where else? They came across and I attempted to communicate with him - the Italian not Modi!
“You are from Italy?” With another pointed finger this time at him.
He replied, “Yes.” – This was going well.
“He was from Livorno on the west coast of Italy?”
I liked showing off my knowledge. He took his couple of snaps then disappeared looking rather proud. So he should be Modigliani was one of the greats.
After Pere Lachaise I caught the Metro back to Blanche and met Tom at Starbucks for a catch up and stuck around for another Latte anticipating our evening at the Moulin Rouge.
From there we went back to the Hotel to get poshed up and discussed what VIP actually meant with regards to our visit. Oh, did I not mention we had VIP Tickets?
We arrived at 6:30pm ahead of the 7:00pm start and were escorted to the front of the queue to be met by one of the doormen with a handshake. He passed us on to another tailored host who again shook our hands and asked where we were from and then passed us on to a 3rd host who also shook our hand and escorted us to our table in the Gods. So, essentially VIP meant lots of handshakes, fair enough. I have to say we had a great seat overlooking the balcony and a perfect view of the stage which was currently being occupied by the warm up band and they were very good.
“Don’t mind if I do, thank you very much.”
How do I describe the next 2 hours? This is difficult but let me try.
Jane Avril once stated that, “The only thing that the Moulin Rouge ever ground was money.” (Making reference to the windmill façade), I was about to find out what she meant.
The stage show Feerie was simply overwhelming, dancers (use your imagination), female and male adorned in a variety of costumes of differing styles embracing different cultures combined with superb choreography and incredibly stunning staging was the main theme of the show. However, there were other acts that involved two superb acrobatic acts, a ridiculously impossible roller skating act whose routine had the audience gasping for air. At one stage of the show a scantily clad dancer jumped into a pool of water with three huge snakes in it. Yes, I did say a pool that came up from the depths of the stage to reveal itself, quite an amazing spectacle. Nearly as spectacular as the disobedient snake that somehow managed to escape the pool to shock those who had front row seats. A member of the Moulin team had to jump up and push the unruly snake back into the water much to the amusement of the watching crowd.
I do remember feeling rather tipsy as the stage show continued and can only assume that Tom kept my glass full as I don’t recall taking my eyes off the stage once.
I hate to say it – It was a truly remarkable show! Sorry Jane, sorry Henri.
Part of the VIP package was the freebies we received, a glossy programme, a DVD of the show, a box of macaroons and two packets of lighters with the image of oneself that was taken by the official photographer at the start of the evening and a rather glossy postcard. I also left with a commemorative picture of myself posing inside the Moulin Rouge. Well, why not!
Having explored the gift shop and taken photos of the Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs celebrating Jane Avril’s connection to the place Tom and I returned to the Chat Noir to take in all that we had seen and experienced. It was good to see our pianist on duty and as soon as he saw me he waved and immediately played Le Vie en Rose. Nice touch and a sure and certain way to earn his tip!
My final word on the Moulin Rouge - If you get the chance to go and see the show – do so!
Day 3 – Les Deux Magots, Mark Pryor, River Cruise, Tavern Montmartre and Au Lapin Agile.
"Life’s a party man, you have to enjoy it.” Says Daniel, drunk, a bit too loud and listening in to what was until then a private conversation taking place in the bar at Leeds/Bradford Airport. Tom and I were drinking Prosecco and now more than ever counting the clock down till we board flight LS315.
“So, where are you headed man?”
“Oh, we’re off to Paris for a few days.”
Daniel’s laughs, “I’m off to the Caribbean with my wife and children, life’s a party man, sun, sea and……..sand and lots of drinking to be done!”
“Well, you can drink in Paris as well you know and we won’t be short on sun and yes ok we’ll have a river instead of a sea and a bit limited in the sand department but there will be drinking.”
“Not the same though is it man, you’ll be visiting museums and seeing art and stuff!”
I couldn’t disagree with him on that.
“Each to their own man!” I couldn't help but reply.
He leaves us with his best wishes and eventually we finish our Prosecco (2nd bottle) and take flight to Charles de Gaulle enjoying a glass of whites. I never get tired of the experience of taking off and being above the clouds. I raise my glass to Howard Hughes and privately thank him for the advances he made in flight experience and safety. We land safely and make the walk to Platform 24 to catch the train to Gare de Nord taking in the Stade de France the national stadium of France and Sacre Coeur in the distance on the hill appreciating that for me this is the true symbol of arrival. From Gare de Nord we jump on the metro to arrive at Blanche in Montmartre. It’s always a reassuring site to run up the steps and be met by The Moulin Rouge on the right but more of her later.
It's a short walk to our hotel of choice the Royal Fromentin at 11, Rue Fromentin. We sign in at about 6:00pm and admire the lobby, once a popular cabaret Le Don Juan which according to the hotel preserves the charm and spirit of the 1930s with its original wood panelling and theatrical decor. For me the lift which dates back to the 1930s is the star of the hotel. We may be on the second floor in Room 24 but the lift just has to be used even though it’s a squeeze even with 2 tired Englishmen making their way to their temporary home.
After unpacking and having rested a little we decide it’s time for tea at the famous Chat Noir bar and restaurant. Ahh, the Chat Noir now in its 3rd incarnation but such a history is attached to its name. The Chat Noir, where its original owner Rodolphe Salis served wit and intelligence as bread and salt are served on a common table. The Chat Noir had been moved by its owner Salis from its original home in the Boulevard de Rochechouart to the Rue Laval (now Victor Masse) but that was back in the 1890s (worth further study). This incarnation can be located at 68, Boulevard de Clichy and you are guaranteed a warm welcome with a fine choice of wines and great food. Tom and I selected the steak and fries and washed them down with a beer before making the decision to head up the hill to Sacre Coeur by foot.
Sacre Coeur was commissioned as atonement for the deaths of 58,000 people during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the bloody events of the Commune. Money was donated from across France and the first stone was laid in 1875. The Basilica having overcome many issues was finally completed in 1914. World War 1 intervened, and Parisians had to wait until 1919 before its consecration. It’s without question an impressive landmark and the gleaming white stone plays beautifully against a bright blue sky. This is usually the classic photo snap. I always like to see the sculpture of one of my heroines Joan of Arc who with St. Louis guard the entrance to the basilica. It’s a very spiritual place and I don’t think you need to possess a faith to acknowledge this. I sit on one of the pews taking in its magnificence while Tom takes a good look around. This is a pose I have struck many times as I like to sit and remain still to reflect on certain people and times. I see many budding tourist photographers taking their snaps but I have never felt compelled to join them. Instead, I’m happy to soak it up and store the memory deep within. I think you lose something living behind the camera lens and even though they are there snapping away they somehow don’t really see anything. That’s just me perhaps. I have to say the sitting was very welcome at this time as my feet were starting to feel a little sore after the uphill trek.
I moved to sit on the steps outside and noted the light had turned to dusk, Tom eventually located me and the decision was made to head back to the Chat Noir.
As was our habit when we visit the Chat we ordered a bottle of Chablis and settled back to listen to the pianist who was going through his repertoire of both French and English classics. He approached Tom and I and presented us with a sheet which he explained was his playlist. Hmmm, I selected one and he responds, “Hmmm, that is not my best please pick another.”
“Oh, ok, how about “Bridge over Troubled Water?”
“Hmmm, not good also please try again.”
I was starting to doubt that this was his playlist. We finally settled on The Long and Winding Road and Le Vie En Rose, I was confident he would know the latter. To be fair he was really good and created a relaxed atmosphere about the place.
Tom, who has a friend called Sarah who lives in a rented apartment in Pigalle decided to get in touch with her with a view to extending the night. It was getting close to midnight but thought it would be good to stay awake for as long as my body held out. Tom having made contact got her to meet us at the Chat and then he left to look for a supermarket so that he could purchase 2 further bottles of wine to take back to hers. Before she arrived Tom informed me that he hadn’t seen her in some years and that he thought she was a dancer if not now but certainly for a spell in the past. She joined up with us and I could see straight away that she could pass as a dancer having it seemed to me the right attributes.
We went back to her apartment which I enjoyed. How many times had I walked passed hundreds if not thousands of similar apartments without taking a peek inside? It surprised me just how large the interior was with its many rooms that were taken up by her room mates who were away this particular night. We settled down to our wine and chatted about her life in Paris having moved away from England some 10 years or so before. I was jealous of her life having made the decision I completely failed to make many years before.
The early start, flight, food, drink and walking finally caught up with Tom and I and we left Sarah and headed back to the hotel. I was happy to find my bed and couldn’t help but smile at the thought of being back in my beloved Paris and all she meant to me. I slept soundly.
To Come on Day 2 – Picasso, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Co, Pere Lachaise and The Moulin Rouge.
I leave for Paris on 17th August and this is one trip I am really looking forward to perhaps in some ways more than my previous visits.
I have finally been persuaded to visit the Moulin Rouge 2015 style. I had always had my reservations about this as it could never recapture the magic of the Jane Avril heyday of the 1890s but I have finally been broken. I don’t expect too much in terms of food and entertainment but I’ll no doubt report my feelings once I’ve returned.
This year I’ve been reading “Modigliani A Life” by Jeffrey Meyers about the underrated Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani 1884 – 1920 who came to my attention after reading about one of his friends Maurice Utrillo in the book “Man of Montmartre” by Stephen and Ethel Longstreet. Modi (as he was affectionately named) never truly fell into the school of any of his peers and tended to exist outside their circles in terms of his style. Modi also possessed a self destructive streak which ultimately led to his premature death at the age of 35. Not really recognised in life nor a big seller he became much more appreciated (as is often the case) after his death. He eventually succumbed to Tuberculosis and sadly did nothing to nurse his affliction during his life.
If you know anything about his life, death and the events that followed his death you can fully understand how he became a mythic and legendary figure that stands to this day.
It seems fitting to seek out his work while in Paris and also visit his final resting place in Pere Lachaise Cemetery to pay my respects.
Naturally, I’ll be making my usual pilgrimage to Jane to lay flowers at her graveside
I will also be meeting up with author friend Mark Pryor the writer of 5 Hugo Marston Murder Mysteries that I have previously referred to in previous blog entries. Mark is undertaking research for book 6 and finally after 5 years of correspondence we are to meet as we suspected we always would in Paris the backdrop for his novels. I suspect great food and fine wine will be the order of the day!
Mark’s second novel “The Crypt Thief” (which I get a kind acknowledgement) features Jane Avril albeit from beyond the grave but I’ll always be appreciative of his efforts in bringing Jane to the attention of the modern reader.
As for the rest of the trip who knows? I’m sure there will be a surprise or 2 along the way as there always is and I’ll report back on my return.
I thought you’d be interested in this little tale about a friend of mine who recently visited Paris.
My friend Mikaela is aware of my loathing of the lemming culture that has infected many modern tourists of attaching padlocks not just to Paris landmarks but other landmarks around the world.
The worst example being the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris. Taking this example the idea being that by attaching a padlock to the bridge usually inscribed with the initials of the couple and throwing the keys into the River Seine somehow acts as a symbol of eternal love.
So you can imagine my delight when my friend bought a padlock in Paris not with the intent of attaching it to a bridge but instead by inscribing it with the words “Save Paris” and returning it safely to England and presenting it to me as a gift.
It’s satisfying to know that at least this one lock which represents my feelings perfectly will remain permanently in my possession and will not in any way tarnish the Bridges of Paris.
It’s a little gesture I suppose but if everyone who truly feels Paris in their hearts repeated this gesture then very soon the Bridges of Paris would soon be free of locks and once again they will be enjoyed in the way that they were originally intended.
I couldn’t think of a more romantic gesture.
Craig Robert Whitfield
Well as you may have gathered I have a love of all things Parisian and especially the 1890's scene. The result is this site devoted to Jane Avril - enjoy!