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Du Côté Nord de la Ville 09/11/2009

Posted by brendan in Leçons Culturelles.
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Plus Errant

We’re living on the northern border of Paris, around the corner from Jules Joffrin in the greater Montmartre area. My previous experience had found me in the southern outskirts with the impression that everything closes by dusk, and everything is a pain to get to. Thankfully the differences between the southlands and here couldn’t be more extreme.

Although only absorbed by Paris in the mid-1800’s, Montmartre is steeped in history. It’s crown jewel, the Basilica Sacre Cœur, was constructed by the Catholic church to atone for the Communards‘ revolt against the government. France’s patron, Saint-Denis, is said to have been executed by Romans on the southern slopes. Some of Europe’s most renowned artists and writers found refuge throughout the Butte, and the beginning of the 20th century bore witness to the rise of Le Chat Noir, Moulin Rouge and other cabarets.

Buildings betray the age of the neighborhood, but it has worn many masks over the years. When Baron Haussmann dismantled Paris to build his Grand Boulevards throngs of the displaced found cheap housing among the old plaster mines and workshops. Bohemians were free to pursue their art or pass the days at the numerous cafes. Eventually the yuppies followed and gentrification occurred.

Plus Errant

Curiously this didn’t render the entire area uninhabitable. During the 1950’s there was a huge influx of North Africans, primarily Algerian, following industrial and manufacturing jobs. They emigrated to the south-eastern slopes, known as the Goutte d’Or; it was here that the FLN established their Parisian offices throughout the Algerian war. Other Africans mostly Western, moved into the neighborhoods of Chateau Rouge, Marcadet Poissonniers and Marx Dormoy.

Today Montmartre may be the most integrated district in all of Paris. There’s an obvious African and Muslim presence as well as smaller subcontinent and Asian populations. The southern slopes of the butte, Pigalle, Abbesses and Barbes-Rochechouart are obviously lower income, grittier and louder– here is the starting point for many immigrants. The higher you climb the streets become cobblestones and the houses become almost regal– this is where the money resides. This is also the center of tourism around here, where the commercial seediness of Pigalle’s skin shows and remnants of cabaret nightlife give way to the postcard idyll of quaint Parisian cafes and the looming revisionism of Sacre-Cœur. As Montmartre slopes northward the tourist traps are shaken off along block after block of stairways, becoming a middle-class district tapering off into the banlieue of Saint-Ouen.

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