Sacre Coeur, Paris

This is the view looking up from the base of the Butte, before we tackled the 220 steps to the top.

The building stays this blinding white despite the pollution because every time it rains there is a chemical reaction with the rainwater and the stone secretes calcite and this naturally bleaches the outside.

You can see quite how high we are here; this is the highest natural point in Paris, some 130m up. The Butte is a natural hill and it seems strange that Sacre Coeur was the first major building to be eretced on the very top, though in all probability it was not. There is strong evidence that the Romans had a temple to Mars up here, though the exact location is unknown. For those who can’t face the steps, there is a funicular railway that takes the strain, though it has to be the shortest journey you can take on a Metro ticket.

I wasn’t able to take any photos inside Sacre Coeur so if you ever go, do go inside. The interior is as lovely as the exterior.

Next: the artists’ square at Montmartre and the man who I saved from being run over…..

Paris scams and cons

Like any big city, Paris has its fair share of beggars and con artists. I find it obscene that any city in the prosperous West can allow such extreme poverty as I have seen. Paris is no worse than any but I shall never forget walking along the glittering Champs Elysee a few years ago, passing Louis Vuitton at the same time as a barefoot beggar, walking along oblivious of both the glamorous surroundings and his own rags. His feet were splashed with filth and his hair could have hidden a nest of rats. Shaming for any civilisation but the setting couldn’t have been more contrasting.

Paris swarms with beggars, most of them illegal immigrants desperate to stay alive and out of the courts. Some of the souvenir sellers are potentially violent and aggressive and the police do little to move them on. The trick is never to make eye contact and never engage in conversation or you will be pestered half to death.

A common scam is someone who comes up to you and asks if you speak English. If you agree you do, a letter and a photo of some wide-eyed children is put into your hand. The letter is a sob-story about escaping from Bosnia and leaving children behind. The beggar is almost always a young woman, sometimes pregnant or with a baby in arms. Walk away. It broke my heart. While you are talking, someone else may well be lifting your wallet.

A clever scam that I’d heard of took place here, just outside the Louvre:

You can just see the scam artist sitting on the wall waiting for a victim. She made a mistake trying me. The scam goes like this; a heavy gold men’s wedding ring is dropped in your path and as you approach, someone(in this case a woman) comes forward at a split second moment and picks it up and asks if it is yours. The idea is then someone rewards them for their “honesty” (haha) and gives them a substantial sum just to gain possession of what they think is a valuable gold ring. It isn’t; it’s made of brass and is worthless. The principle is that you can’t cheat an honest man. I said, “Not mine,” and walked on. Had I been alone, I might have suggested we take it to the Palais de Justice, not far away and hand it in. I’d probably have had abuse hurled at me if I were lucky…

Another scam for the unwary is the souvenir seller who ties on a friendship bracelet and then demands money. It’s usually tied so tightly it’s impossible to remove easily. Yet another is trying to kiss the hand of a lady, under pretext of gallantry and while doing so, removing her rings. This happened to my boss, but her rings were too tight to slide off. I never wear anything of any real monetary value when I travel, for this reason. Costume jewellery is easily replaced and has the added bonus of pissing off the thieves later!

The beggars who stand on the bridges and just simply hold out a hand are hard to avoid, and upsetting because these are usually the old and frail. I’d give money but it’s almost certainly never theirs to keep. There are gangs who “run” beggars and who take all but a tiny pittance of their earnings.

I seldom see such barefaced begging in London, because the police and the soical services make a big effort to deal with it, but I have seen rough sleepers in the mornings.

Poverty in the west is often linked to crime, organised crime at that. It saddens me that it happens but what can I do?

The Pyramids of the Louvre

Under this arch, a young man played the flute so hauntingly I dug out my purse and put a few euros in his hat…

It’s astounding the detail you miss by just marching on, eyes ahead.

Parisians were ambivalent about the Pyramids but seem to be happy with them now. But then Napoleon had a real obession with Egypt so maybe it’s in keeping after all…

Sunlight sparkled on the clear shallow water and made it unbearably inviting on a hot, hot day…

Excuse the pasty white pins!

Note the rows of shoes…..

Coming soon: Paris scams and beggars’ tricks.

A whistlestop tour of Montmartre

On our first evening in Paris we went out again after dinner to visit Montmartre, the artists’ district of Paris. Because both our drivers had finished their hours, we took the Metro.

The Metro is at once easier to use but less forgiving than the underground in London, but just as crowded and hot and unpleasant. Our station to exit from was Pigalle, which is the red light district, not dissimilar to Soho in London. The eyes of some of the kids were out on stalks….

The Basilica of Sacre Coeur is at the very top of the Butte, the highest point in Paris(apart from the obvious metal tower…) and was accessible by hundreds of steps and by trying to bypass the thousands of Parisians having fun drinking and dancing in the street. There’s also a funicular railway which I think might have been a better option had it not already been late at night.

Party mood filled the streets and I was whisked past a number of bars I could quite happily have settled down in for a glass or two. We paused for breath near the square filled with artists earning a living by drawing the tourists, and before the kids had further breath to complain they were tired, we started off again uphill. I moved on with regret; I’d earmarked some Euros to satsify my vanity by having an artist sketch me.

At the very top the gleaming white wedding cake that is Sacre Coeur looms like a fairytale castle above Paris and its steps were filled with revellers. Someone strummed a guitar and people danced and sang and called out for others to join them.

Having marched to the top, we admired the view. That is to say, others admired the view and I stood dropping with exhaustion and stress and waited till we could turn and return. The walk down the steps was fraught for me as I don’t like heights and lots of steps in the dark, dodging people who had had too much booze is a tricky thing at the best of times, but when you are as tired as I was, it was a nightmare. I got to bed that night at 1am, having started out the previous day at 11.30pm. I worried the whole time we were out that we would miss the last Metro train at midnight; then we would have been truly up a certain creek without a paddle.

It was somewhere I’d really wanted to see properly, and wander round in good time and daylight. I love art and artists and I was genuinely disappointed that we had so little time to enjoy the area and the atmosphere, and maybe have a glass of the wine that is grown on the slopes of the Butte itself.

But one day, I may go back and get a drawing done, and have a taste of that wine…..