I thought the magic of Paris was wrapped tight in the Eiffel Tower; intricately woven, measured but unexpected. Then i thought it was a potion concocted by the Seine wrapping itself around the islands in the middle of the city – the candles glowing in Notre-Dame casting a final color-coded spell. I suspected the secret ingredient to Parisian magic was the wine and the food, flavors bursting and lasting.
But it was when we strolled through the mountainous alleys of Montmartre that i learned where the real magic of Paris is tucked away. And it’s here, the neighborhood once home to Ernest Hemingway and Vincent van Gogh and Satine. (Okay okay, Satine is fictional. But you can’t talk about Montmartre without the Moulin Rouge!)
Montmartre is the Paris of absinthe stupor, of romanticized memory. It’s where my mother bought her most treasured keepsake from Paris: an acrylic painting of flowers in a vase. It hung on our dining room wall, the blues singing harmony with the white curtains. She’d told me over and over the place i had to go was Place du Tertre – a cobblestone square where street artists gather, luring tourists into buying caricatures and twenty-minute portraits. My favorite artist stall had done a series of cats sleeping around Paris (so out of character for me, i know) but since J and i had already bought our recreation of van Gogh’s sunflowers i was merely window shopping.
But Place du Tertre is not the only place in Montmartre where art is to be found; the metropolitan signs themselves are works to behold, adjacent to ivy-colored buildings covered in graffiti.
Hand-in-hand we strolled along the lanes of art on display, covetously sneaking glances at the cafés offering wine under checkered umbrellas.
Just up the hill we could make out the silhouette of Sacre-Coeur white against the blue sky. It was the last church on our list of Parisian places we wanted to see – making it the sixth church we’d see on our trip.
And it turned out to be our favorite.
Sacre-Couer is unlike anywhere else i’ve been; it has the enormity and grandeur of Notre Dame, but the intimacy and quiet contemplation of a smaller church. The windows are dazzling, bathing the whole place in the lux nova that made gothic architecture such a sensation in medieval France. No photography was permitted inside and, while i am sad to have no photos to remember it by, i was glad for the forced contemplative time. It allowed me the full breathing space of presence.
Awed and quieted by the beautiful building, we meandered back to Place du Tertre for a final glass of wine. Our walk overlooked the whole of the city spread below, the Eiffel Tower stark against the skyline. Paris had enthralled us, the clutter of art and mash of accordion metro musicians just the backdrop to the hum of the city itself.
“We’ll spend a whole week just in Montmartre when we come back, someday,” J mused. Our last Côte du Rhône of the trip was poised in his hand. In the Scottish wool scarf he’d snagged from my wardrobe, he looked downright European.
I scoffed-laughed, a knot of broke-soon-to-be-grad-student-woes clamping in my stomach. I knew what he meant, though. That Montmartre was the neighborhood you wanted to live in a little- learn the streets by heart, pick a favorite haunt for late-night drinks. I felt the same way.
And i knew that this trip was such a gift. A privilege to have the time and money at all to travel. But a gift to spend such time with J, who hadn’t been able to study abroad. A gift to be in love in the city most famous for romance. A gift to stroll alongside the Seine on a sun-dappled afternoon, with no agenda but being in Paris. I was grateful for all we’d seen – the snafus in getting to Paris, the chance to see my dearest Saran at the Eiffel Tower, the sore feet and the sappy smiles.
Mostly, though, i was simply grateful to share in it all with the dimple-faced man wearing my scarf sitting across from me.
current jam: ‘lullabye’ billy jowl
best thing: freshly-downloaded boarding passes…