A Thursday edition of the newspaper, Le Parisien, carried a story with recommended restaurants on Montmartre’s back streets. The morning quest turned into more. On this quest, I experienced the sights and sounds of Montmartre on a quiet September 2021 Thursday morning along not very crowded streets. The article spoke of various chefs, including a three-star chef on Rue Lepic. The whole idea was to locate the restaurants, see if they are open on Saturdays for lunch and head back home. I found the restaurants but the real pièce de résistance (the best part of the meal) were Montmartre’s back streets.
The Montmartre Restaurant Search
The first restaurant on Rue Lepic, is run by a former three-star chef, Antoine Westermann. For thirty-one years his Strasbourg restaurant was rated with three Michelin stars. In 2007, he asked them to remove him from the system, according to Wikipedia. In 2012, he opened Le Coq & Fils (as a side note, the name changed from Le Coq Rico in September 2021). I found a few of the other restaurants mentioned, L’Arcane, for example, along the way. However, as if being pulled by a magnet, I was drawn to walk the Montmartre streets and observe what I heard and saw around me instead of my original restaurant search.
Up and down the Montmartre hill I moved toward the vineyard and a colorful sight at Au Lapin Agile. The ochre-colored wall on Rue Saint-Vincent of the cottage acted as a background. The foreground was dotted with a colorful trotinette parking lot. I turned away from the empty quiet
Sounds on the Butte
Outside I listened for birds, and heard occasional footsteps or an accordion player near the funicular. I stopped and chatted with a woman on Rue Tholozé who was painting, renovating and cleaning her studio windows on the ground floor. She was preparing to put it on the vacation rental market. Her apartment was once a crêperie. Her entry door, which once belonged to the hotel that was here reads “Gaz” and “Eau” and reflects the period of time when some rooms in a hotel (or apartments) did not have cooking or heating gas nor water.
The voices I heard on the Butte (hilltop) of Montmartre were speaking mostly in European languages. The tours were in Spanish, Italian and English. The French residents are more numerous than the tourists. It was so quiet, only the Frenchman’s voice on the phone and his footsteps walking on the cobblestone sidewalk of Rue Norvins were heard.
At the Place Marcel Aymé, a couple was studying the information about the Le Passe Muraille figure walking through the wall. It is based on Marcel Aymé’s book of the same name. Later, these French tourists passed me chatting while walking on the cobblestones.
Freedom of Movement in Sacré Cœur
Sacré Cœur was practically empty in comparison to pre-pandemic tourism. This emptiness gave me freedom of movement. I could stop and video or photograph, even backtrack if I wanted to see something again. I stopped and listened to the nuns singing and read a sign about the bombs that fell next to Sacré Cœur in 1944 without a security person demanding that I move along.
I walked through the security gate and up the side steps of Sacré Cœur. The crowds were gone, with no line of shuffling shoes and only the sound of an angelic choir of nuns singing. My main reason to go inside was to take new photos of a plaque on the wall near the entry next to the first chapel. The year was 1944. During the night of April 20 to 21, while parishioners were praying, thirteen bombs blew up between the sanctuary and the nearby houses without any victims. The rector and the neighbourhood inhabitants knew that Jesus had watched over them and Sacré Cœur and offered this memorial in thanks.
I left the hip-hop music on the steps of Sacré Cœur and instead enjoyed the traditional accordion player under the tree. I descended with three others in the funicular and the quiet of that September Thursday morning. I was glad to have taken the restaurant detour and inhaled the sights and sounds of Montmartrre.
Paris Info – Official website of the Convention and Visitors Bureau