Michelle Gable, Writer

Michelle Gable, Writer

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Montmartre: “squalid holes beyond the light”

June 26, 2013 , , , , ,

My novel takes place in several parts of Paris, in the modern day story line as well as the Belle Époque. One of the key areas for both narratives is Montmartre.

The name means “mountain of the martyr” and was derived from the martyrdom of Saint Denis, who was evidently beheaded and then proceeded to walk six miles carrying his head and continuing on with his sermon. Let it go, dude, we get it. My husband’s name is Dennis so the minute I heard this I got the warm fuzzies, lopped off heads notwithstanding.

La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Montmartre is in the 18th arrondissement, historically one of the most colorful and creative areas of Paris. Like any good artists’ lair many argue it’s become too hip for its own good and now true artists can’t afford to live there. In any case, folks originally settled in the area after Napoleon gave all the good Parisian land to his buddies. The poor people and ne’er-do-wells were pushed to the outskirts where they built their own city-within-a-city, a place not under the laws and regulations of Paris.

In other words, party time! This gave rise to places like Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), to name a few.

I’ve seen Montmartre first hand, although I’ve only even been to Paris for work thus what I’ve seen was quite limited. This meant a great deal of time spent researching the area, and as any writer can tell you sometimes the research is a lot more fun (and less painful) than the writing itself.

I’ve previously mentioned the book How Paris Amuses Itself provided if not a lot of hardcore factual data (in fact, very little) but a great sense of the people and the time. The author had quite a few things to say about Montmartre, which of course was further encouragement to feature the area prominently in my novel. A few gems from his book:

“Montmartre is the kingdom of artist Bohemia. The Butte is honeycombed with the ateliers of painters and sculptors and the modest sanctums of struggling poets and musicians. This is only one side. The other side, like the degenerate half of some visages, is all that is vicious and criminal. Back of every blaze of light in Montmartre there is a shadow, and from out of many of these dark corners flutter to the lights of the Boulevard de Clichy, like nocturnal moths, scores of gaudy women-too frequently the spiders who dare not venture in the sun and whose claws have been known to have been smeared with the blood of the helpless more than once, crawl from these squalid holes beyond the light.”

Or, you know, sometimes there are prostitutes.

“Montmartre is ablaze after midnight, and the cafes along the Boulevard de Clichy are swarming with women to whom to-morrrow is much the same as to-day–women who from one year’s end to the other seldom see the sun, whose days begin at midnight and whose mind, body and soul have long ago passed to the trusty keeping of the devil.”

“Still later you will find this nocturnal demoiselle, the idol of the generously drunk, picking up her skirts in a bacchanalian revel between the hours of three and four in the restaurant of the Rat Mort.”

That the author of this book frequented the area goes without saying.

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