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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Montmartre and Peillon


I love my places high and my neighborhoods charming - bucolic and oozing with character, history, fine architecture, and artists. My neighborhood in New York City, the Village, certainly has many of these attributes. But to get the full package, I go to France.

My favorite indulgences are the village perché (perched villages) in the South of France - small, hilltop medieval villages. I have been obsessed with these places, at one time compiling a database of 269 of the most wonderful and cross-referencing them with my collection of books on French villages. I created database entries for comments and checkboxes to note which books recommended which villages.

Too small to find in the Michelin Map index, I laboriously located all of the villages through map exploration, tagged them in the maps, and added the map coordinates to my database for future reference. I included the official French département. The printed result became a guide for my travel to Provence, the Alpes-Maritimes, and Vaucluse.
I visited dozens of these villages, often to the chagrin of my travel companions. On one family trip, my sister was completely befuddled as to why I would do this and why anyone would want to travel that way. I think she saw it as analogous to paint by number. I like numbers and my desire to accumulate villages visited knew no bounds. My favorite is Peillon, perched in the hills, with stone houses clinging to a cliff face at 1000 feet.

There is still some artistic flavor to Greenwich Village, but most of its art history is in the past. Its legacy of beat poets, artists, musicians, writers, dancers, actors, and performers reads like a who's who of the American arts. The neighborhood has become much too expensive to really qualify as any type of artistic bohemia. However, musicians and performers are common, and occasionally, one may still see someone painting in the streets or parks of the Village.

Today's artists here typically either travel in and out of the city or are some of the few remaining beneficiaries of rent controls, living in below-market rentals.
Much of the Village has been commercialized and is heavily touristed, but no one has taken away the charm of many of the neighborhood streets and its collection of hundreds of 19th century row houses. The West Village is particularly beautiful.

In Paris, I get all this with hills (over 400 feet) in Montmartre, an area also known for its history of artists. Those who worked in or around Montmartre include Vincent van Gogh, Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Modigliani, Claude Monet, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Henri Matisse, Renoir, Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Somehow, street painters there today still seem to have a little more authenticity, but I would imagine a Parisian might see them the way we see painters in New York City - as exploiters and sellers of an artistic past to tourists.

As I stroll the Village, I head for the hills. In the distance, I think I see Montmartre and Peillon...

9 comments:

René said...

Stop it, Brian, you're making me homesick.

Mary said...

I think you're showing your age (and mine) Brian. It won't be until years after we are gone, in whatever sense, that today's real artists will be recognized. The forms art will take can't be seen on our side of the time divide.

Beth in NYC said...

I've only been to one of those hilltop towns, St. Paul de Vence, and I was completely charmed. It was a beautiful place, truly evocative of life centuries ago. I haven't been back to France since then (a long time ago!) but I hope to someday. Thank you for the reminder!

Brian Dubé said...

Mary - that's true if there are any artists. In New York City, I have seen the slow attrition due to costs of living.

Beth - St Paul de Vence is very nice, but actually fairly touristed and large compared to the hill towns further from the coast. Places like Peillon have no streets big enuf for vehicles, no shops and maybe one small restaurant. Remarkable - like a time warp.

Mary said...

The artists are here in NYC!

My upstairs neighbor for one. Her show in Chelsea was a revelation. (She does seem to have independent means, though--to be living in a co-op in this building.)

An artist friend of mine said "Money chases Art; money drives Art out"

Greenpoint in Brooklyn seems to me to be where the Village was in the 60's. Independent designer's shops...little food shops...book stores...galleries...

For the artists, look to the outer reaches of Greenpoint and Williamsburg...to Gowanus' studios...to Long Island City...

This isn't something you don't already know!

Luc said...

Hi Brian. You probably meant to write about MontmartRe. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montmartre

Brian Dubé said...

Luc - correction noted. Thanks!!

Bobamherst said...

Very interesting post, as are all of yours,but didn't you mean "beneficiaries" of rent control?

Brian Dubé said...

Bobamherst - correction noted - thanks.