A Bittersweet Memoir of Montmartre

Brilliant memories of the wonderful times spent in a delightful, historic city overseas has filled this aperiodic world-traveler’s thoughts recently with too few days of boundless joy, rousing merriment and zestful wanderlust to boot. I’ve been rummaging through a battery of personal travel photos filed away in a lonely, old folder that’s been gathering mega-mounds of micro-dust, if such a thing is possible. It’s been quite a while since I’ve looked at them and found some I had overlooked the last time in passing.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower at Dusk

All of this reminiscing has me harking back to one morning in my hotel, when staying in the capitol city of France. I was examining a tourist brochure to decide which attractions to see, when an entry for Montmartre caught my eye. One of my favorite painters, Vincent van Gogh, spent a couple of years living with his brother there while developing his art during the late-nineteenth century, a period in French history that featured this hilltop and its role in the political instability that was prevalent in Paris at the time. It seemed like such an inspirational locality and was not very far from my auberge. With cameras in tow, I decided to make the short journey there.

Paris: Montmartre is seen in background.

Butte Montmartre is seen in the background.

At the top of this small mountain, La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur sets prominently on the butte—French for “ridge”—the former dates back to the turn of the twentieth century. Some say the ediface was built as an atonement by the Catholic Church for the bloodshed that occurred there.

The summit offered quite a panoramic view of Paris, as it is the highest point in city. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, this historic overlook played host to a party of socialists: The Paris Commune, during the spawn of their insurrection after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War.

The provisional French government, and the Paris Commune, or the communards who were comprised of the working class, battled for power over the reins of the city government while Paris was under siege by the newly formed German Empire. The recently elected National Assembly moved its meeting place to Versailles, as Paris had become too turbulent to reside there; and the people’s party took over.

Woman and Children, pushing cannons

Contemporary sketch showing women and children, pushing cannons up Montmartre

Meanwhile, the denizens of Paris were defiant in the face of defeat and formed an armed militia, hundreds of thousands of troops strong. These Parisians were prepared to fight the German army if the latter were to enter the city to create havoc and pillage. Ordinary citizens, woman and children, helped to move large numbers of cannons that belonged to the former government, away from the path of the Germans, storing most of them on the Butte Montmartre.

The Prussians marched into Paris on a brief, ceremonial occupation, which was part of the peace terms with France. They left shortly thereafter without incident, but left a garrison of troops quartered behind, much to the residents’ dismay and disgruntlement. The regular army of the provisional government was ordered to remove the cannons from Montmartre but instead joined forces with the communards, as did other army units who were suffering from low moral.

As a result, the head of the provisional government ordered an evacuation of Paris by the regular forces that remained loyal, the police, administrators and specialists of every kind, who all relocated to be with the National Assembly in Versailles and were out of harms way. The Paris Commune took over governance of Paris afterward for a one-year period before the Army of the Provisional Government returned to retake the city and crush the insurrection.

Most of the rebels were encamped atop Montmartre, where they met a fiery grave either from execution by the military’s firing squads, or having been permanently entombed from explosives detonated by the Army of Versailles at the entrances to the area’s closed gypsum mines, where the insurrectionists had retreated deep into the subterranean galleries. Thirty to fifty thousand communards were killed, executed or imprisoned during and after their bloody uprising.

La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre

La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre

The grounds that surrounded the basilica had attracted many tourists, locals, artists, musicians, street performers; and had a carnival-like atmosphere. Admirers hung out and watched a fashion photo-shoot that was taking place in the church square, or rested on the steps up to the huge landmark. I shot a plethora of photographs, capturing the splendorous view of Paris, the exterior of the basilica with its many gargoyles, and the festivities that were afforded by the visitors and vendors on the grounds.

Photo Shoot on Steps of Sacré-Couer

Photo Shoot: Say Fromage!

View of Paris from Butte Montmartre

View of Paris from Butte Montmartre


Tourist and Locals, hanging out

Tourists and locals, hanging out on the stairs.

One of the many gargoyles protecting the church from evil spirits.

One of the many gargoyles, protecting the church from evil spirits.

I doubt most of the merrymakers present that afternoon were aware of the massive carnage which occurred on the ridge, prompting me to write this bit of history to go along with the photos.

French Restaurant

Chez Restaurant

On the descent from Butte Montmarte, I stopped at a little French restaurant, ate dinner and planned my next stop over a couple of glasses of wine. My favorite monument appeared on the first page opened in the travel brochure brought along with me: a shot of which is pictured as the lead-in to this essay. I imagined the Eiffel Tower must have looked spectacular at night, giving me something to do for the rest of the evening.

The following clip shows a virtual review of my adventures during a couple of days of my time spent in Paris, and serves as a closing to this entry. It’s a bit lengthy but amusing, showing video snippets of the Arc de Triomphe, Butte Montmartre and the basilica. The part of my attempting to find the Eiffel Tower starts at a 8:15 into the saga:

For full-size shots of my two trips to Paris, click: here.

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About Mike Slickster

As an early retiree with an honorary doctorate degree from the proverbial "School of Hard Knocks," this upcoming author with a lot of free time on his hands utilizes his expansive repertoire for humorous yet tragic, wildly creative writing that contains years of imaginative fantasy, pure nonsense, classic slapstick, extreme happiness and searing heartbreak; gathered by a wealth of personal experiences throughout his thrilling—sometimes mundane or unusually horrid—free-spirited, rock-'n'-roller-coaster ride around our beloved Planet Earth. Mike Slickster's illustrious quest continues, living now in Act Three of his present incarnation, quite a bit on the cutting edge of profundity and philosophical merriment as seen through his colorful characters, most notably evident in the amusing Thirty Days Across the Big Pond series, all of which can be found at Lulu.com.
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