Thursday, 9 August 2012

My Week in Paris: Montmartre

Dear Diary...
30 Juillet 2012, Sacré Coeur

I am sat in a little park next to the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, Paris. My legs are stretched out on a stone bench that nuzzles at the arm of an archway of trees. Behind me there is a backdrop of waternoise, supplied by a waterfall where fat pigeons sit and clean their feathers. Above me they sit on branches and turn circles, wondering where to fly to next. There is just so much Paris to see! Pigeons always know the most popular places to gather; they are really nothing but feathery tourists.

A class-worth of French school children run around the park. I say 'running' but they are actually flying: arms stretched out as aeroplane wings.
I walked to the park down cobbled streets and up stone steps that are bordered by beautiful town houses covered in capes of ivy and decorated with floral patchwork balconies.

Several hours ago I was sat on a bus. Destination: Paris. Nine hours of cramp and wishing for a travelling companion (read big boyfriend with arms the size of pillows) if only to have someone to lean on.

Now I am in Paris and the moment has passed. I am blissfully happy on my own.

I arrived at the bus station at 7:30. I was drunk with tiredness and had an hour to kill before meeting Juliette at her appartment, so stumbled my way to a café and ordered a café au lait and eventually a croissant (they were staring at me from a basket on the bar and I couldn't say no).

I was the only girl surrounded by business men drinking pre-work espressos and reading Le Monde, so I started chatting to the two French waiters. We spoke about London and the opening ceremony of the Olympics and they helped direct me to the street where Juliette lives.

When I saw her in the street my smile leapt up to my ears as I disappeared into her hug and the wild embrace of her hair. We squeaked at each other in the universal language that says: I have missed you.

After she left for work I had a shower in her flat. Her flat is on the 6th floor and is an afterthought, a glimpse, a smidgen of a flat. But it is wonderful. I looked out the window over the rooftops as I took my shower and didn't care that there were no blinds because only the pigeons and the sky could see me.

Clean and mildly more awake, I headed to Montmartre.
It is unsurprisingly busy with tourists here, but I have tried to walk the opposite direction to the crowds. Which is how I came to be sat in this quiet park behind the Sacré Coeur, sheltered from the artists who want to draw your caricature (I am too scared, or too vain, to see my flaws enhanced on paper).

Of course there are places where the crowds can't be avoided, like when I round the corner of the Sacré Coeur and find myself staring out at the extraordinary view of Paris.

I stop for lunch in a little restaurant where I drink coffee and eat a Croque Monsieur with one eye on my book and one watching the groups and families walking past. As I watch one English family squabbling I feel happy to be sat by myself, using my book as a lookout to hide behind as I people-watch.
On the two tables next to me sit two pairs of women in their late sixties, one pair French, one pair English. I watch as they have a conversation despite neither pair speaking the other's language.

As a group of elderly tourists shuffle past following a flag and a loud flag-bearer, the English pair explain mischieviously that the two of them are their own group.

"Those groups are much too expensive - trop cher - and we don't want to be told where to go or how to have fun!"

The French ladies laugh and say (in French) that it was a much better idea to be sat there drinking wine and watching the world go by.

How right they are.


I am sat in the cemetry in Montmartre. I am on a bench, under the bridge, looking out at a cobbled road and a roundabout iced with a decoration of flowers.
Behind the flowers are graves.

It should be sombre, and it is, but I also feel incredibly peaceful.
A father and his young daughter just walked past with watering cans. A woman with a camera just climbed onto a grave to take a photograph. Most of the graves here are cracked and weathered with age, but the watering cans remind you that these graves are still someone's dead.
Each gravestone is different. There are little stone houses engraved with family names and covered by stone rooves and guarded by angels. There are crosses, and arches and columns and domes.
Being here makes me think that although we may choose arches or angels to stand by our graves (and be very particular about which), we are really all the same. Perhaps that should be sad, but here in this cemetry in Montmartre I find it comforting.
And it really is beautiful here.
I could spend a day wandering through these sad stones.

A man just walked past in a black suit and a black tie. A family followed with rucksacks and maps.

As I leave the cemetry up some crumbling stone steps I see an elderly woman tenderly trimming the branches on a small tree that cries quiet leaves over a grave.
It has been a sad but peaceful afternoon here, but I think it is time to leave. It is already half past four and they close the cemetry at six. It may be tranquil here now but I still don't think it would do to get locked in a cemetry overnight...
I walk out from the quiet of the cemetry into the noise of the streets outside. Buses and cars and tourists and bicycles and children leaving school rush like a pulse through the streets. I make my way slowly down the hill of Montmartre into the beating heart of Paris.

I get home to my friend Juliette just before it rains.



  1. beautiful pictures! Paris is just wonderful :)

  2. Thank you! And isn't it just!

  3. I loved the cemetery too, so peaceful and for a graveyard, very picturesque x