Kicking High in the “Beau” Village of Montmartre
Doni Belau, founder of Girls Guide to Paris, entertained us all at our monthly coffee gathering yesterday, Parler Paris Après Midi, with a virtual guided tour through some of the most beautiful villages in France, most of which I had never heard of before. Others in the group, long-time residents of France, were better traveled than myself and could add their comments to some of her ravings of these little-known spots that so many never get to enjoy.
One village she failed to mention, located right here at our ‘back door’ is Montmartre. At 130.5 meters high, it is considered to be the highest spot in Paris and is a principal tourist destination, but before that it was just a village — annexed by Paris in 1860 into the 18th arrondissement. It didn’t take long before the village became famous for its cafés, cabarets, “guinguettes” and balls such as Le Chat Noir, Le Lapin Agile and the Moulin Rouge.
It seems apropos and by sheer coincidence, to have visited the Musée Montmartre for the first time ever in the 20 years of living here this past Sunday just the day before the Moulin Rouge celebrated it’s 125th anniversary.
The Musée Montmartre is an unassuming small museum inaugurated in 1960 by André Malraux and housed in the oldest building in the ‘village.’ It is here where you find an interesting collection of paintings, posters, drawings and films recounting the history of Montmartre including the stories of the artists’ ateliers and the cabarets. Renoir’s Garden is part of the complex of the museum, replanted in his memory, as he lived in the house between 1875 and 1877. It is here where he painted “Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette” and “La Balançoire.” The swing itself is still there swinging in the lovely garden.
Below the museum sits the vineyard of Montmartre and perched above the garden is Suzanne Valadon’s atelier where she lived with her son, Maurice Utrillo and her partner, André Utter. The views from their perch and from the museum of Montmartre are inspiring.
There is one room in the museum devoted to the cancan, playing a 1954 film title “French Cancan” by Jean Renoir starring Jean Gabin and María Félix. It pays homage to this 19th-century period in Montmartre history. Now 125 years later, the Moulin Rouge (first opened on October 6, 1989), and the birthplace of the cancan, is celebrating it’s longevity, still performing two two-hour shows an evening, seven nights a week, 365 nights a year…and staying virtually sold out every night (97% occupancy rate!). Six-hundred-thousand spectators a year generate more than 65 million euros in the same spot where Jane Avril once danced along with other performers — the likes of Yvette Guilbert, Marcelle Lender, Aristide Bruant, La Goulue, Georges Guibourg, Mistinguett, Fréhel and Damia.
Two-hundred-forty-thousand bottle of champagne are consumed in those seats as they watch the “Doriss Girls” perform (created by Doris Haug). In 2010, 30 Doriss Girls dancers performed between them 720 high kicks in 30 seconds, claiming a new world record. The cancan is traditionally a chorus line-up of women with long skirts under which are lots of petticoats and stockings held by garters. The skirts are lifted, the legs are kicked high and of course, all meant to be provocative. “Cancan” means “tittle-tattle” or “scandal” — and yes, the dance did cause something of a scandal. Like most scandals, some tried to repress it and there were some arrests of people dancing in the street! But that didn’t stop such dancers as La Goulue and Jane Avril to be highly paid for their appearances at the Moulin Rouge and elsewhere.
I’m not sure in 2014 we view it as such a scandal, but nonetheless, it’s a fabulous show for a ‘little village’ like Montmartre.
A la prochaine,
P.S. Special condolences go to the our dear friend, poet and author Kathleen Spivack, and her entire family on the passing just this past October 1st of her amazing mother, Doris Drucker, at the age of 103. At a mere 99, she was still playing tennis! Doris was the wife of Peter Drucker, “an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation. He was also a leader in the development of management education, he invented the concept known as management by objectives, and he has been described as ‘the founder of modern management’.” (Wikipedia.org) On November 13th, 2013, Doris Drucker made a speech at the 5th Global Peter Drucker Forum. Here’s your chance to get a glimpse of this amazing woman who will be missed by her family, her friends and all those whose lives she touched. There’ll be a memorial service in her honor in January in Claremont, California. (Photo of Doris at 99, taken by the Claremont Courier.)
P.P.S. On your next trip to Paris you can get the answers to your most urgent questions about the City of Light that will save you time, hassle and needless expense with Practical Paris, written by veteran tour operator Karen Henrich. This handy guide, updated for 2014, is downloadable for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, plus digital formats (PDF) for the Kindle and iBookstore. Visit our Publications Web page to get your copy now!