“We don’t go to Paris,” my new neighbour announced rather grandly when I first moved to Montmartre. I thought she was kidding. Living right in the heart of Paris in Montmartre is as Parisienne as it gets. “We are Montmartrois,” she added with a strange finality. It took me a while to understand this distinction, which is rather like a New Yorker saying that they don’t live in America.
Montmartre, arguably the most picturesque part of Paris, does have its own unique atmosphere. The pace of life is gentler - you can feel a change once you descend to Clichy or Barbes; suddenly there is hustle and bustle, fast bikes and feuding drivers. The big drawback to life on the "Magic Mountain" is of course the stairs. Around Place du Tertre and Sacre Coeur there are no shops that sell anything you might need - like groceries, a lightbulb, cleaning products, tools... You can buy any amount of tawdry gew-gaws and novelty aprons but you're out of luck if you want a pint of milk. You have to go right down hundreds of stairs, or navigate perilously steep slopes to reach the nearest supermarkets - and then right back up with your booty, gasping breathlessly as you reach the summit.
Oh what great exercise! Well yes that is indeed true. I have the added bonus of six flights of stairs to reach my apartment. I've got calf muscles like Popeye's arms. But just you try getting around in the snow when they haven't gritted the roads. Just try and lug a heavy suitcase up when you can't get a taxi because it is raining. "You must be so fit," my friends all exclaim, "this is better than going to the gym." I'd like to find out how many people have had heart attacks from all the extra exertion involved in being Montmartrois.!(upload://95REjLk8TjqYlUnObpp7MrPwz42.jpg)
"Many residents of Montmartre died of alcohol poisoning," I overheard a tour guide yell into a loudhailer. Oh you could just scream some days when you're trying to read a book in the park and the tenth walking tour party comes by. "Artists - many of them died of alcohol poisoning here on Montmartre." Where did they buy the alcohol? It's quite a schlep to Carrefour. "La Goulue died from alcohol poisoning - but not until she was 72." Well there's a glimmer of hope for me. Lots of my friends are vaguely horrified when I tell them I buy my wine in wineboxes. I just got fed up of carrying all the bottles up (a couple of them broke when knocked against the steps) and then carrying all the empties down to the recycling bins. Wine snobs are not welcome up at my place - unless they bring lots of wine, of course.
I can't quite pinpoint the period when a sense of becoming Montmartrois occurred. It wasn't anything I willed to happen - it just crept over me somehow. Today I should really be going to Paris (see how I think this way now?) to buy some odds and ends but find the idea of that quite daunting. I feel like a cartoon country mouse that doesn't want to deal with the horrors of the big bad city. I know that this is perfectly ridiculous but perfectly ridiculous is what I have become. Montmartre IS ridiculous with its pastel coloured toytown cottages and Disneyfied quaint little streets; it's like living in a Hollywood film set version of Paris in the olden days. And 'Vive La Difference' I say. People from Paris don't come here ("it's only for tourists") and we don't go to Paris. Well... sometimes it's a relief to get away from hearing 'La Vie En Rose' played on an accordion for the hundredth time.