A neighborhood is a living thing. Not a shape-shifter, but more like a stage backdrop or a movie set that morphs with the seasons and the years until it’s not what it was but not yet what it will become. Somehow it’s still the same... and yet...
I’ve lived in Montmartre long enough to see it shed several of its skins. When I moved here in 1970, it was a mixed bag of blue collar workers who raised three kids in one- or occasionally two-bedroom apartments, and of artisans - plumbers, electricians, carpenters - and shopkeepers - the butcher, the baker, the grocer, the fish monger - plus just the right scattering of artists, actors and entertainers to keep things interesting. Everyone talked to everyone else as they went about their daily lives, which were somewhat overlapping and intertwined.
After about fifteen years, there was a gradual spillover from the neighboring Arab part of the arrondissement that lies to the east, North Africans who were being squeezed out, it seemed, by sub-Saharan Africans moving in. There was less talking and fraternizing then. In the park across the street, I observed clans of Arab mothers in djellabas talking and laughing together loudly while similar clans of French mothers whispered amongst themselves from the other side of the sandbox. Meanwhile, their children gleefully played together, not yet aware that kind of thing just wasn’t done.
|Place des Abbesses, with Kushi Teas (far rt) where the bookstore used to be|
|Charcuterie Durand, the former deli|
|Jacky, the butcher - still there|
|Pépone, the fish store - still there|
|Christophe, being replaced - no more bread|
The latest victim, which I discovered on my recent arrival, is the electrician. My electrician. A husband-and-wife team who, I’m told, have retired. They did all the work on my apartment, all the repairs, all the improvements, and sold me bulbs for all the lights that were continually blowing, a fact that became a joke between us (“You again?!”). Being close by, it was handy... and we became friendly. I always stopped in when I walked by, said hello, pet their son’s dog, which they babysat during the day, and exchanged neighborhood news.
|Manu, of Caves des Abbesses - in for the long haul|
So that’s my neighborhood. It’s changing, but the memories - or as they say in French les souvenirs - are still there.
P.S. One change that I do appreciate is Pedestrian Sunday. All the streets of Montmartre (from the various boulevards that encircle it right up to the tippy-top) are closed to car traffic (except the trusty little Monmartrobus) every Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm in the winter and 7 pm in the summer. If you live in that perimeter and want to drive or take a cab, you have to prove it to the cop by showing a special pass or something official with your address on it. Otherwise, it’s only people strolling, biking, skating or skate-boarding. Smiling and laughing. And the air is so much cleaner!