Some time I go – it matters not when – I found myself lost in the Paris district of Montmartre.
Traveling with my wife and her sister on a tour of Europe with no expense spared but our own, we recently arrived from London, entertained by distant cousins, the family branch electing to stay home all those centuries ago. I desired Napoleon’s Tomb and moving on; however, a multi-day museum pass made the days tolerable enough. Traipsing the haunts of Modigliani, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and van Gogh proved pleasant, even if that monstrosity to good architectural taste, the Eiffel Tower, loomed in the distance.
Now separated from my companions, I also found myself at a loss not knowing even rudimentary French. That morning, Sarah (sister-in-law and French speaker) said,
If we get split up, meet at the Abbeys of Montmarte.
All well and good, except Montmartre boasts two historic churches and exactly zero surviving abbeys.
The newer of the two, Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, located on the highest point in that city, serves as a double monument: first to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and quelling of the Paris Commune of 1871, second as embodying the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The older of the two, église Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, according to legend founded by Saint Denis – patron saint of France and basis for the name “Montmartre” (Mount of the Martyr) itself – and in which Church history claims Ignatius Loyola took those orders leading to the establishment of the Jesuits, indeed once possessed an abbey.
This latter complex I assumed the correct one; however, the structure was a reconstruction, the original destroyed in the French Revolution and the abbey nonexistent. Surely, after our discussion of the impossibility of visiting the Bastille, one knew to take better care. The distance appeared to be a mile on my map, eight minutes if I was willing to run or slightly longer – and more expensive – if I hailed a cab. Fifteen minutes sounded right, but perhaps a better way existed.
Stopping at a newsstand, I debated how to proceed. English? I feared the “haughty/ignorant American” stereotype. French? Nonexistent. German? Best not.
Summoning inner strength and what I hoped was semi-coherent French, I approached the newsman and tentatively asked “rapid Abbeys des Montmartre?”
A look of amusement crossed his face as he pointed behind me. There, under glass and wrought iron, marched the word
M E T R O P O L I T A I N
announcing the Abbesses station on Paris Métro Line 12. Leaning on the rail, my wife and her sister, laughing. “A few more minutes and we’d come get you. Honest!”
Notes, Disclaimers, &etc.
The places are real, the people are real, but the events are fictitious. As I’ve never been to Europe, any errors are mine and mine alone.
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