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Kicking It: A month in Paris, Day 5

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal

Special to The Village News

Saturday October 6, 2012: We wake up to another drizzling gray sky. Oh, well. We are Parisians now, weather be damned. Our plan is to visit the White Basilica perched on the horizon across town.

Setting off from the left bank, our bus bounces along tree lined streets over the Seine to the Arc de Triomphe circle where we will transfer to the bus that takes us out to Montmartre.

We traipse across several busy streets at the cross walks to end up at the bus stop we believe is ours. Hoping to confirm this is the bus going to Montmartre, in my best pidgin French, I ask the driver if we’re headed there?

At first, I thought I had insulted him because he instantly stomps on the brakes. All of us still standing lurched forward as he opens the folding door at the red light.

In his best pidgin English, he says we are “on the wrong bus.” Oops, it seems to be our fait accompli trying to get around Paris.

Our driver points across the way where we need to go to catch the bus to Montmartre. It’s on the ‘other corner.’ But, of course, it is.

Actually, he drops us next to the busiest roundabout in the world, the not so merry-go-round Arc de Triomphe. There are 12 avenues dumping traffic into a four-lane racetrack, with all of the cars rocketing around the Arc at grand prix speeds, this melee of honking horns is a disorganized swarm of pandemonium. We can’t cross through this!

There isn’t any way to cross at street level from this side of the Arc which is why, to get to that other corner, we’ll need to go underground. The stairs taking us there under the road lead into a tunnel below the mayhem. We pause long enough to read about how to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and agree to leave that for another day.

As we scoot through the passageway we hear “La vie en rose” playing on an accordion. VJ comments, “Now that’s what I thought Paris would sound like.” It is our first moment.

Stepping up out of the tunnel, we land at the top of the Champs-Elysée. The crosswalk leads to our pre-designated corner with a few minutes to spare just before the bus to Montmartre arrives. In those few minutes, I spy the Louis Vuitton MotherShip. But what a dichotomy, across this grand boulevard sits a McDonalds.

It is another bouncy ride through traffic filled narrow streets to get us to the Piqualle bus stop. From our bus seat we can just make out the dome. Now, all we have to do is make our way up the hill to Le Basilique du Sacré Coeur.

Naturally, as we step out, it starts to drizzle again. Even so, we join a cluster of jaywalkers crossing the busy boulevard as we’re all serenaded by a cacophony of honking horns.

Once across, we literally trip up the uneven cobblestone alley lined with tiny shops all filled with souvenirs. But why does every shop have a bin filled with material scraps outside its front door? Are there that many quilters in Paris?

Anyway, dodging our way through the tangle of humanity, we slip by the guy hustling his shell game and sneak past all of the other people waving stuff in our faces, finally getting to the bottom of the steps leading up to the Basilica.

And wouldn’t ya know, just like the lawns across from the Louvre, clusters of hawkers impede our way. As they swarm around us, I thrust a flat palm out and say “no.” Hmph. It works. They politely turn to find friendlier customers as we find a low wall under some oleander trees to eat our lunch.

I know why this is called the “Hill of Martyrs.” There must be as many steps up to the church as Christ’s trudge to the mound. Finally making it to the top, we pause on the landing to catch our breath and to enjoy the view. Naturally, it’s now raining, so this time, I’m happy to see hawkers selling umbrellas. We buy a pair for 20 euros.

Glad for the protection inside the chapel, we are immediately hushed by a docent. It’s a reminder, this is a house of worship. Quietly we continue along the track skirting around the pews filled with devotees to their prayers. The runner takes us by gigantic statues of saints regally poised on tall pedestals, by multiple prayer alcoves decorated with elaborate frescoes, and many candle-lighting stations with kneelers.

Continuing behind the altar and around to the other side, a lady looks up from her rosary just as I come into view, we share a smile and a nod. Maybe she’ll add a Hail Mary for me on this Hill for Martyrs.

Exiting through two massive 15th century doors, we pause on the steps long enough to catch the sights. It is a spectacular view of the entire city. We can see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe; actually, we can see all of Paris from here.

With our parapluies (umbrellas) at full mast, we cut across the church parking lot, and around the corner to find the village. In addition to the Basilica, Montmartre is known for its artists’ colony. The courtyard is pretty empty today, guess the rain is keeping them away. Walking up the main street we spot a café and snag an outdoor table. I have an espresso with a lemon twist and VJ orders a glass of red wine. It feels good to sit down.

We watch as a bus passes our table and stops close by. It appears we’ve found our ride back down the hill. Well, it seems like this day is filled with adventure ergo our ride down the hill. The driver squeezes through car-lined streets, brake-brake, brakes around narrow corners, creeping down the hill just in time to catch a ride back to the 7th. It is a harrowing trip down and reminiscent of slinking down Lombard Street in San Francisco, only this street is skinnier.

To be continued…

Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected].


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