Midnight in Montmarte
You just don’t know what you’re missing if you keep missing it.
I’m recently back from a week in Paris and so excited and inspired to bring more of the French life into my life, and also a little sad because I miss Paris. But mostly I’m trying to focus on the inspiration part.
I believe when life teaches you a lesson, the least you can do is listen up. So let me tell you something I learned.
It was the next-to-last, jam-packed day in a jam-packed week of breathing in as much Paris as my lungs could hold, and we were spending it in Montmarte.
Montmarte is a neighborhood, more specifically a large hill, in the 18th Arrondissement of Paris. It is home to trendy shops and restaurants, the Basillica Sacre Coeur (the Sacred Heart), the last working wine vineyard in Paris (Clos Montmarte), and roughly 7 billion stairs.
My daughter and I had planned a vintage shopping trip in Montmarte, leaving our husbands an afternoon to explore on their own, to be followed by dinner at La Maison Rose and a 9:00 p.m. show at Au Lapin Agile. That was the plan. Here’s what happened: our three o’clock 3-hour shopping adventure started late and lasted longer than 3 hours, and because it was the weekend of the annual wine harvest celebration, the streets and restaurants were packed so that dinner at around 8:00 became more like 9:30.
And the show? Ahh, well that’s where the lesson comes in.
If you’ve seen pictures of charming restaurants in Paris, you’ve probably seen La Maison Rose (the pink house). Built in the mid-1800’s, La Maison Rose became a restaurant when it was purchased around 1905 by Laure Germaine Gargallo, who was the wife of painter Ramon Pichot (a close friend of Picasso and mentor to Salvador Dali), a model for Picasso, and the object of affection of the artist Carlos Casagemas, also a very close friend of Picasso.
The story goes that Casagemas, his affection spurned by Laure Germaine Gargallo, attempted to shoot his would-be lover, and, failing in the attempt, shot himself in the head. Which then gave birth to Picasso’s blue period. Oh, those crazy Spaniards.
Despite this dark history, La Maison Rose is more famous for its charming and convivial atmosphere than its food; but the food was soul-warming and plentiful.
As dinner and a nice bottle of wine were finished at almost 11:00, we girls were pretty much ready to skip the show and call it a night. After all, we’d had a great day, a decent haul from shopping, a delightful dinner, and we still had the roughly 3.5 billion steps to walk back down to get a taxi. We were standing on the cobblestone street debating the subject, when my dear husband said “Well, I’ve lived (I won’t say how many) years without going to Au Lapin Agile, I guess it’s no big deal to miss it now, he he.” And since none of us wanted to be the cause of denying him another (I won’t say how many) more years of the experience, we all said “Bucket,” (except we didn’t say ‘bucket’), “let’s go!”
Here’s where I almost get to my point.
Au Lapin Agile opened circa 1860 under the name Au Rendez-vous des Voleurs, Rendezvous of Thieves. Home to artists and gangsters, pimps and students, the cabaret later became known as Cabaret des Assassins, largely due to the famous murderers depicted in portraits on the walls but also because it is told that a band of gangsters killed the owner’s son in a robbery of the establishment.
Then in 1875, the artist Andre Gill painted the sign that would suggest its permanent name – a rabbit jumping out of a sauce pan (although no food is served, only alcohol including their signature cherry brandy, so I’m not sure what the sauce pan was for). Neighborhood residents began calling it Le Lapin à Gill, Gill’s Rabbit, which evolved into Au Lapin Agile, The Nimble Rabbit.
We walked into the dark foyer and spoke to the owner in whispered voices, waiting patiently to be seated while lively music wafted from behind thick, red velvet curtains. When a short break in the music finally arrived, we were quickly ushered behind the curtain. That’s when the magic happened.
We were seated on small stools about two feet in front of the entertainer, a woman who was playing accordion and singing with a voice reminiscent of Edit Piaf, and I instantly felt like Owen Wilson transported back in time in Midnight in Paris.
It was a surreal experience – the audience sometimes clapping and singing along, sometimes silently spellbound, as performer after performer sang classic Parisian songs. The room was not much bigger than a large living room with Picasso’s famous painting by the same name hanging on the wall, and long community tables scarred with decades of guests memorializing their initials or proclaiming their love. There was a visceral sense of the artists and writers and bandits past who sat at these very tables, and you could almost see the smoke that would have been filling the room. We drank our cherry brandy and finally closed the place down at 1:00 a.m. It was a night I will long remember from a time that will never be forgotten.
So this is my point (finally) – I could have easily gone home content after dinner, warm with wine and shopping bags in hand, and missed one of the best experiences of my life. And the lesson I learned is this – treat life like an adventure and never miss an opportunity to do something different, something special.
As this year is hurling inexorably toward the next one, this will be one of my New Year’s resolutions – to seize every opportunity for adventure, new experiences, and just a bit of time travel.
Featured photo is courtesy of Serge Ramelli, PhotoSerge.com.
Bonjour! Je suis Kelley
Hi, I’m Kelley – thrower of parties, drinker of wine, and lover of all things French. I hope you enjoy my Lessons in Becoming French!