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.