Sandeep’s disappointment was palpable as we ascended the steep cobbled street towards Montmartre. It was my idea to check out the place. Sandeep had been to Paris several times but has not been to Montmartre even once. I insisted that we visit because it used to be the hub of some of our favourite artists, like Van Gogh, Modigliani and Lutrec. I thought it would be a shame not to walk on the streets they use to tread.
Upon alighting from the taxi, I understood right away Sandeep’s reservation in going there. The moment we stepped out of the car, we were mobbed by ‘artists’ asking to draw our portraits for a few euros. They were incredibly persistent and hounded us for several minutes until they spotted a new prey. Sandeep is passionate about art and has little patience for posers; Montmartre seemed to be teeming with them. A bohemian hang-out turned tourist trap.
But despite all this, I still found the place charming. In my mind, I stripped down the current touristy ambience of the area and tried to imagine how it would have been back then; the cafes, the pubs and the artists. I imagine it would have been quite scintillating with those colourful artists, writers and musicians swarming the place.
Before exploring the village entirely, we decided to have some lunch. We were eyeing an outdoor eating area but chose to eat in a proper restaurant where there’s an option to use the washroom. Upon entering the place, I had an eerie feeling that we made a poor choice as there were very few people eating there. In spite of the swarm of tourists outside, the restaurant looked strangely deserted.
A waiter who looked like the living caricature of Woody Allen came to take our order once we sat down. I stifled my laughter as he scribbled our orders on his notepad. He was very much the embodiment of the ‘French-Waiter’ cliche. Though the scowl on his face dampened the cartoonish hilarity of his waiter uniform, he still looked pretty comical in his cerulean tilted beret with matching cerulean striped apron.
There was nothing funny, though, in the dishes that he laid down on our table after a few minutes. In fact, the duck confit and the side dish of potatoes and veggies looked quite sad and ill-humoured.
I wanted to kick myself for choosing that place when after roaming around, I could see more restaurants that seemed to offer better food. Strolling in between the cafes lining the slightly elevated roads made me feel like I am really walking in a small French village. And the aroma wafting from their kitchens smelt divine and ambrosial. It was just how I imagined a European village would be.
We kept walking aimlessly but eventually reached the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. From the steps in front of the church, despite the huge crowd, you’ll be able to behold a breathtaking panoramic view of the city of Paris.
Paris looks gorgeous from up there, and no amount of hawkers and posers or bad food could diminish the romance and charisma of Montmartre.