GLOW, a festival of light in the Dutch winter

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

Eindhoven isn’t exactly on top of many tourist itineraries and, despite having a couple of truly excellent museums, there are few compelling reasons to make the trek here. It doesn’t have much in the way of a well preserved medieval centre like many Dutch towns, and if you want to see canals lined with glorious Dutch Golden Age buildings, you’ll definitely be disappointed. Eindhoven is no Amsterdam.

Once a year, however, Eindhoven puts on a must see event, the GLOW Light Festival. The town is the birthplace of electronics giant Philips, it was here that they developed their lighting business manufacturing lamps and light bulbs. Today, Philips is the largest manufacturer of lighting in the world. Although they no longer have their headquarters in Eindhoven, this heritage lives on in the GLOW Light Festival, of which they are one of the founders.

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

The festival commissions artists from around the world to build some magnificent light sculptures and installations in multiple locations across Eindhoven. We went to it last year and loved it. This year was GLOW’s tenth anniversary and we managed to visit on the one night of the week-long festival when it wasn’t raining – the weather is one of the hazards of hosting an outdoor event during the Dutch winter.

The festival follows a route through Eindhoven, with light installations transforming public spaces around the town. Whole buildings, including the modern city hall and the ancient church, Sint Catharinakerk, become canvases for light projections. This year the 3D projection on Sint Catharinakerk was themed around the weird and wonderful work of Hieronymus Bosch, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of his death. It was spectacular.

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

Other highlights of the tour included three giant inflatable ‘light people’ perched precariously on the top and side of an office building, called Fantastic Planet; the Tunnel of Light in the centre of town; the Axioma projection on the city hall; and the ‘Knock Your Socks Off’ projection on another building.

There were 29 exhibits on two distinct but connected routes, in total the route was around 7.5km and on a cold night we were thankful for the regularly positioned gluhwein stalls. While the Science Route was predominantly Dutch artists and (presumably) scientists; the City Route brought Dutch artists together with others from a variety of countries including Australia, France, Spain, Germany and Finland.

Last year over 700,000 people visited GLOW. If our experience trying to get a hotel room on the opening night is anything to go by, even with the bad weather this year will be even more popular. Deservedly so, it is a fabulous event to illuminate the dark winter nights of northern Europe.

It’s not all light and fun however. One of the installations that made a big impression, were 500 items of children’s clothing with names on illuminated by unltraviolet light. These represented the one child a week that has died from abuse in the Netherlands over the last decade. We hadn’t realised this until a volunteer saw us looking at it and came over to explain.

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

GLOW Light Festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands

Zwarte Pete, a tradition in need of change

It seems like anybody in the public eye who expresses an opinion opens the door to a firestorm of hate on social media. Your chances of being abused are increased if you’re female or a person of colour. If you’re a black woman commenting on the annual Zwarte Pete debate in the Netherlands, not only can you expect racist and misogynist abuse, you will also receive death threats. Videos showing you being lynched, Klu Klux Klan style, will be circulated online and viewed by thousands.

I always thought the Dutch an open-minded and tolerant bunch. Yet this has been the response to a well-known black Dutch TV personality who expressed an opinion on Zwarte Pete. In the three years I’ve lived here, my views on Dutch tolerance hasn’t changed much, after all they put up with me. My eyes have, though, been opened to the fact that, like in Brexit Britain and Trumpish America, there’s a sick undercurrent of xenophobia and misogyny.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

I know most Dutch people think Zwarte Pete is a piece of harmless fun for children. I know many say that Zwarte Pete is a positive role model, one their children want to emulate. I know a lot of Dutch people feel their culture is being judged, even threatened, by anyone who questions the ‘tradition’ of white Sinterklaas and his black sidekick, Zwarte Pete. That just seems illogical to me.

Zwarte Pete is a racial stereotype that draws a straight line to the slave trade via the Scramble for Africa; a stereotype used to legitimise European superiority and rule over other peoples. Given that the Dutch played a major role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and were one of the last European countries to ban slavery, Zwarte Pete is a tradition that needs to be challenged in a modern, multicultural society.

I went to see my first Sinterklaas parade in 2014 and was shocked by people ‘blacking up’. It was like being transported back in time, and not in a good way. I skipped 2015 but, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to go to the 2016 event. I’d heard that the debate had progressed and, rather than blacking up, Zwarte Pete would become Blue Pete, Purple Pete and Orange Pete. Maybe in some parts of the Netherlands that’s true, but in The Hague we had traditional Zwarte Pete again.

Traditional Zwarte Pete is little more than a Golliwog caricature. The Golliwog is a symbol of a racist past, one I remember from my childhood in England. Created by American author Florence Kate Upton, Golliwog books sold very well in Europe. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the first book in the series was called, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. The Golliwog is described as “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome”. Later he transformed into a kind, fun and friendly character. That sounds a lot like Zwarte Pete.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pete parade, The Hague, Netherlands

There is some movement towards reforming the tradition. Many in the parade had makeup that looked like soot, the story being that Pete came down a chimney, a bit like Santa Claus, and that’s the reason for his black face. There were even some dancing chimney sweeps (they were the most entertaining thing in the parade). That seems like a workable compromise between traditionalists and reformers.

Traditions can change, and some things are best left in the past. So here’s to continuing the debate, and the evolution of Zwarte Pete into something that isn’t offensive. Saying so is likely to cause offence to many who defend the Zwarte Pete tradition, so thank goodness I’m not on Twitter.

Musée des Arts Forains, a history of 19th century fairgrounds

Inside Paris’ Musée des Arts Forains, it’s possible to recreate the sense of wonder and excitement people must have felt when the extraordinary mechanical contraptions, carousels, rides and games, of a 19th century funfair rolled into town. If you lived in a sleepy town somewhere in Europe, the spectacle of this exotic ensemble purporting to bring the mysteries of the universe alive must have been overwhelming.

Funfairs would be shipped from place to place by train, no small undertaking when it required eighteen or more carriages to transport everything. Today, hundreds of original funfair items grace the 5000mMusée des Arts Forains. Wandering around the collection has a dream-like quality, enhanced by subtle lighting and a guide with a flair for showmanship. It really is a place like no other.

Wooden Horse, Carousel, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Wooden Horse, Carousel, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Fairs existed for centuries in Europe. Originally, they were places where people gathered to buy and sell goods, but gatherings of people also meant entertainment. This was the origin of the funfair. The Industrial Revolution saw traditional fairs decline in popularity but, in the second half of the 19th century, they were replaced by funfairs with revolutionary mechanised rides. The Golden Age of the funfair lasted for around a hundred years.

One of the great funfair inventions was the carousel. These rotating circular platforms were often decorated with horses, pigs, sheep or chariots and were originally rotated by hand or horse power. In the mid-19th century they became ever more elaborate and were powered by steam engines. Soon the horses were going up and down and, by the end of the century, they were being driven by electic motors.

The Musée des Arts Forains has several carousels, we went on two of them: one that was quite old and only had stationary animals, but the second was a classic later 19th century horse carousel, where the horses actually ‘gallop’ while music plays. It was brilliant. We also saw the marvelous Parisian Waiter Race, where you can make your waiter move by rolling a ball into numbered holes.

When the ball drops through a hole your waiter is propelled forward, racing while trying not to spill a drop of wine from the tray. The details of the moustaches, dicky bow ties and bottles was wonderful. At one point on the tour our guide played a mechanical organ and had us dancing around the museum. All of which was a prelude to the grand finale … the manège vélocipédique.

The racing waiter, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The racing waiter, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The racing waiter, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The racing waiter, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The Can-Can, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The Can-Can, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Organ, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Organ, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The manège vélocipédique at the Musée des Arts Forains dates from 1885 is a thing of great beauty, and is still in perfect working order. It’s said that in the years between 1885 and 1947 when it operated, more than 12 million people rode on it, covering a distance equivalent to cycling to the moon and back again. At one time it was run just by peddle power, then it was converted to steam power, and is now run off an electric motor.

That, at least, explains why the vélocipèdes go so fast. Without doubt this one of the most exhilarating, not to say terrifying, rides in the collection. It has a top speed of 68km per hour which, in a small circle, legs pumping up and down like a lunatic, the g-force trying to force you from the bike, made me genuinely concerned that I was about to be catapulted across the room. It was the perfect way to end a truly magnificent visit to one of Paris’ most extraordinary museums.

The vélocipèdes carousel, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The vélocipèdes carousel, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The vélocipèdes carousel, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The vélocipèdes carousel, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, childhood revisited

It was only by chance that I discovered that the Musée des Arts Forains exists. Having visited I’m glad I stumbled upon it while looking for more unusual things to do in Paris. The museum houses an extraordinary private collection of funfair attractions, rides, games and memorabilia from around 1850 – 1950, much from the Belle Epoque. It’s one of the most exciting museums I’ve ever been to, as unexpected as it is wondrous.

Esméralda, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Esméralda, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Elephant, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Elephant, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

A museum dedicated to the history and craft of the funfair may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d make the trip to Paris just to visit the Musée des Arts Forains. It’s a magical place and, if you’re in Paris on a day when it’s open, I’d heartily recommend a visit. It’s an interactive museum with participation encouraged, being there is to be transported back to childhood.

Visits are by tour only, which will put some people off, but it’s not really possible to go around this amazing place without a guide. To do so would be to miss out on much of the history and background and, as brilliant as the exhibits are, our guide must take most of the credit for bringing them and their history alive, getting us all to participate, and making the tour so entertaining.

We arrived a little before the tour was scheduled to start, which gave us time to wander around in the courtyard admiring the 18th century wine warehouses where the collection is housed. As we read up on the museum and Jean Paul Favand, the actor and antiques dealer who collected all these extraordinary pieces, a couple of dozen intrepid funfair enthusiasts and families arrived.

The tour was split into two, adults in one group and families with young children in another. Both tours were in French, but our guide took pity on the several Anglophone members of his group and translated most of it into English. Which was just as well, even with some French, understanding the intricacies of 19th century funfairs would have been a struggle.

Hot air balloon carrying an elephant, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Hot air balloon carrying an elephant, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Fortune teller, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Fortune teller, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Unicorn-man hybrid, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Unicorn-man hybrid, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

What quickly became clear was that the funfair and fairground we know today evolved out of a truly pan-European cultural movement, which expanded to other parts of the world. In the 19th century, funfairs were upmarket entertainment, exclusively for adults with money to pay the entrance price. Poor people and children wouldn’t have been able to visit a funfair, take a ride on one of the carousels, or play any fairground games.

We, on the other hand, got to play some games and also had the privilege to ride two exquisitely maintained wooden carousels and a terrifying cycling carousel, all of which are well over 150-years old. The museum, which doesn’t receive any public funding, has a team dedicated to repairing and maintaining the attractions. The ethos seems to be that these are things to be enjoyed by using them as originally intended.

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Mermaid, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Mermaid, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

The first gallery we visited had a replica hot air balloon carrying an elephant, recalling the Jules Verne adventure, Five Weeks in a Balloon, in which an adventurous trio of Englishmen set off to explore Africa looking for the source of the Nile. The rest of the room was filled with some wonderful oddities from 19th and 20th century European funfairs.

The collection included a life-size elephant from the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition; a unicorn-man; a mechanical fortune teller; a statue of Esméralda, one of the characters in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame; and a horse racing game played by rolling balls into numbered holes – the higher the number the further the horse ‘runs’ when the ball falls through the hole.

It was hugely entertaining, but this was only first half of the exhibition, the next gallery contained the carousels…

Horse race game, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Horse race game, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Horse race game, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Horse race game, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

A winner, horse race game, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

A winner, horse race game, Musée des Arts Forains, Paris , France

Parisian Street Art: Beware the Kraken

All across Paris you find street art by the same artists so that, even after just a few days, you start to recognise the works even if you don’t know who’s behind them. One artist, who we saw almost everywhere, draws distinctive images of that terror of the world’s oceans, the Kraken. This is less Beware the Kraken and more Love the Kraken, the artist signs some of his or her works, Kraken Je t’aime, or with a love heart.

The artist behind Kraken Je t’aime remains a mystery. No one seems to know who they are, or why they take inspiration from a legendary but mythical sea monster that was the terror of the oceans, dragging ships and their crews to the crushing briny depths of the sea. For someone who remains such an enigma, their work is pretty prolific.

Kraken - Je t'aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken, Je t’aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken - Je t'aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken , Je t’aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken - Je t'aime, Street Art, Paris, France

Kraken – Je t’aime, Street Art, Paris, France

This selection of Parisian street art was mostly spotted around the Le Marais or Sainte-Avoye. So rich is the street art scene that you can see works almost everywhere in Paris. We saw more work by Invader, who must be one of Paris’ more frequently spotted artists, small pixellated ghosts, potted plants, and much more appear all over the place. There were more works from Fred de Chevalier, as well as more wheatpaste art and posters. Enjoy…

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Invader, Street Art, Paris, France

Fred de Chevalier, Street Art, Paris, France

Fred de Chevalier, Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

Street Art, Paris, France

I’m not sure if this toilet was intended as street art, it’s hard to tell. It seemed to add a certain something to the street as we walked down it so I’ve included it.

Street Art? Paris, France

Street Art? Paris, France

Along the Seine to Notre-Dame de Paris

The Seine is one of Europe’s most historic rivers, famously winding its way past some of Paris’ most iconic landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais, Place de la Concorde, Musée du Louvre and Notre-Dame Cathedral. It flows slowly from Paris to the port of Le Havre, and commercial boat traffic still plays a significant part of the river’s life. In the centre of Paris though, the Seine is the preserve of pleasure boats and tourist traffic.

Earlier this year, the Seine hit international headlines for all the wrong reasons. As it threatened to burst its banks and flood some of Paris’ most illustrious buildings, art collections in the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay had to be relocated to higher ground. Thankfully, the waters receded and Paris returned to normal, but for a moment the normally placid Seine turned from the river of romance to a raging torrent.

The Seine at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

The Seine at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

The Seine, Paris, France

The Seine, Paris, France

Our walk to reach the river at the Pont Royale took us through the grounds of the Musée du Louvre. We didn’t have time on this trip to visit the Louvre, but walking through the former residence of French Kings was a fascinating insight into contemporary tourism. For anyone familiar with the concept of Peak Oil, the Louvre must come very close to Peak Selfie.

Crossing the river onto the South Bank, we strolled past the familiar sight of stalls selling books, records, tourist memorabilia and reproductions of masterpieces found in Paris’ museums. We stopped on the Pont des Arts, the pedestrianised bridge that once hosted tonnes of ‘lovers’ padlocks’, to take in the view of the Ile de la Cite. Finally, we crossed the oldest and most famous of Paris’ thirty seven bridges, the Pont Neuf.

The Ile de la Cite is the bigger of the two islands that sit in the middle of the Seine, in what is considered the ‘heart of Paris’. It’s full of grand buildings and landscaped squares, all of which are overshadowed by the glorious Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. We hadn’t planned to visit the cathedral but as we walked towards it we decided we should, only to discover an enormous queue of people with the same idea.

Despairing of getting into Notre-Dame, we observed human life instead. This is also a selfie hotspot, but what caught the eye was a young couple taking wedding photos, massive white wedding dress included. It was a lot of fun, with tourists taking photos with the bride and groom. Meanwhile, a woman, in a very different white dress, was being filmed walking up and down in front of the cathedral in what can only be described as a sultry manner. All very strange.

The Ile de la Cite is regarded as the epicentre of Paris, and is also where the city’s earliest human settlement was founded. The Roman’s built their first outpost here around 50AD. The square outside Notre-Dame Cathedral is said to be not only the centre of Paris, but of the whole of France, psychologically at least. Today some of the most expensive real estate in the city can be found on the island, as can a sizeable number of tourists.

We wanted to have lunch but there didn’t seem to be many cafes on the island, those that we found were packed with people. We decided to head over to nearby Isle-Saint-Louis, which is home to authentic and elegant 17th century houses lining atmospheric streets, and just as many tourists. We gave up on the idea of lunch on the islands and wandered off to find a bistro in Le Marais’ bustling streets instead.

Ile de la Cite and Pont Neuf, Paris, France

Ile de la Cite and Pont Neuf, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

Stalls along the Seine, Paris, France

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Place Dauphine, Ile de la Cite, Paris, France

Place Dauphine, Ile de la Cite, Paris, France

The Seine at the Ile de la Cite, Paris, France

The Seine at the Ile de la Cite, Paris, France

Pont Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, Paris, France

Pont Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery and the legend of Victor Noir

The story of Monsieur Noir is legend amongst those interred within the walls of the Père Lachaise Cemetery. A legend that has led to his life-like bronze effigy becoming a sexualised fertility symbol. His death in 1870, and its consequences, seems of less interest to modern-day visitors than the contents of his trousers. In particular, the rumoured size of his genitals. It would be fair to say, the groin region of his statue does have a somewhat ‘exaggerated’ bulge.

Victor Noir grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Victor Noir grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Napoleon III, who was the nephew of the original Napoleon, became the first elected President of the 2nd French Republic in 1848. It didn’t take him long to seize power in a military coup and declare himself Emperor in 1851. In many ways, his later reign was an enlightened one, but in the early years he favoured repression, military force and deportation for his enemies.

Victor Noir was a journalist at La Marseillaise newspaper. The paper was owned by Henri Rochefort, who used it to oppose Napoleon III’s reign and attack him and his relatives. This included Prince Pierre Bonaparte, who decided to challenge Rochefort to a duel. As one of Rochefort’s seconds, Victor Noir was sent to negotiate terms with Pierre Bonaparte.

An argument broke out and Noir was killed. Pierre Bonaparte was cleared of any crime, sparking violent protests across Paris. Over 100,000 people attended Noir’s funeral. Later the same year France lost a war with Prussia, and the Emperor Napoleon went into exile. That might have been the end of Noir’s fame, but his memory has been kept alive by tales of his alleged sexual exploits, including many affairs.

When I was at school, doing a brass rubbing in a cemetery involved tracing paper, charcoal and an ancient monument. One look at Victor Noir’s crotch and you can see that brass rubbing has a very different meaning today. Most rub his genitals for the supposed sexual boost it’s rumoured to provide; some kiss his metal lips; others climb on top and simulate sex with the brass sculpture. It’s pretty strange.

Oscar Wilde's tomb, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

In other genitalia-related weirdness, somewhere in the world someone has the main part of the stone genitals from the sculpture that adorns the grave of Oscar Wilde. Quite what motivates someone to steal stone genitals is beyond me. This theft, and the fact that people couldn’t stop themselves from damaging the grave, have led to a protective glass barrier being erected (no pun intended) around it.

The genitalia of the Sphinx-like creature was a point of controversy from the very beginning, when Wilde’s tomb was being carved in 1912. At first they were covered with a bronze butterfly, but in 1961 someone hacked the testicles off and stole them. People used to kiss the tomb leaving lipstick marks on it. In 2011  the glass barrier was added and people now kiss that instead. This is also pretty strange.

Edith Piaf grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Edith Piaf grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

What King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François de la Chaise, after whom the cemetery is named, would have made of this state of affairs can only be imagined. We continued our walk, unearthing other celebrity inhabitants of Père Lachaise, as well as passing less illustrious members of Paris’ most famous last resting place.

We found our way to the graves of husband and wife, Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. Signoret, one of France’s greatest actresses, played the Oscar-winning role of Alice Aisgill in the 1959 British film, Room at the Top … or “a savage story of lust and ambition” as the film was dramatically advertised. Signoret married Montard, an actor and musician, in 1951. They died six years apart but were reunited in Père Lachaise.

Memorial to Flossenburg concentration camp, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Memorial to Flossenburg concentration camp, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Memorial to the International Brigade, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Memorial to the International Brigade, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Memorial to Dachau concentration camp, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Memorial to Dachau concentration camp, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

We made an obligatory stop to pay our respects to Edith Piaf, before discovering a series of monumental sculptures to some of the 19th and 20th Century’s most devastating events: the killing of 147 people here during the Paris Commune in 1871, the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi Death Camps. It was a very moving end of our trip around this extraordinary place.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, a Who’s Who of the dead

The Cimetiere Père Lachaise is like a Who’s Who of the dead, with architecture to match the grandest burial monuments anywhere in the world. Exploring this fascinating place is like walking through a giant open-air gallery within magnificent landscaped grounds. It’s easy to get lost once inside the maze of paths. Unless you really want to see the grave of a specific person, wandering aimlessly is a relaxed way to discover the cemetery.

The avenues and small pathways that wind their way around the tombs make for one of the most attractive walks in Paris. That seems like a bit of a odd thing to say about a place full of dead people, but it’s both a peaceful and picturesque place to spend a morning or afternoon.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

The world’s most visited cemetery, with over 3.5 million visitors each year, opened in 1804. There are only around 70,000 burial plots in the 44 hectares of grounds, but in the intervening 212-years it’s estimated that over one million people have been buried here. Maybe double that number have been cremated. Despite those numbers it’s still possible to be buried in Père Lachaise, but you have to live or die in Paris, and the waiting lists are long.

Some very famous names are inscribed on the tombstones of the Père Lachaise, a roll-call almost too long to mention. Those that we sought out included Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Moliere and Colette. There are also moving monuments to more ordinary folk, as well as those who gave their lives fighting persecution or conflict, from the slaughter of the Paris Commune to the barbarianism of the Holocaust.

Some stories behind the graves are moving, others just strange. The composer Chopin, originally from Warsaw in Poland, may be buried in Père Lachaise, but his heart was removed and sent for burial in his home country. French playwright Molière was reburied here, his interment used as an advertisement to popularise burials in Père Lachaise. Also buried here is Samuel Hahnemann, medical charlatan and inventor of the pseudoscience, homeopathy.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Chopin's grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Chopin’s grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Hahnemann's grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Hahnemann’s grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Moliere's grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Moliere’s grave, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the cemetery is the often exquisite and moving sculptures. This is a place filled with magnificent mausoleums, Gothic graves and splendid shrines. Even though you’re in a cemetery your surroundings are so extravagant, it’s as if you were inside a museum filled with world-famous artworks.

While it’s a major tourist attraction, and in some parts of the cemetery you do see plenty of people, it’s easy to find yourself wandering silent and alone amongst the ghosts of the past.

Parisian Street Art: Montmartre

As well as being a hotbed of tourism, Montmartre is also a vibrant area for street artists to ply their trade. It adds a dynamism to a walk around the district, and seems fitting for an area that has such strong associations with subversive and provocative art over the centuries, and was the former haunt of Dali, Picasso, Modigliani and Mondrian, to name but a few.

It’s definitely worth exploring some of the back lanes and alleyways to uncover Montmartre’s newest wave of unconventional artists. Besides, it’s a generally accepted inter-galactic rule that you should always do what Yoda tells you.

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Proving that there is plenty of living artists – and not just the water colourists and caricaturists selling their work to tourists – Montmartre is home to plenty of interesting and creative pieces of street art. It seems to add to the spirit of the place, and flies in the face of the overwhelming commercialisation that dominates around the main streets and plazas.

If you’re interested in street art, Montmartre is a good place to visit. It also provides a good reason for getting off the (heavily) beaten tourist track to explore a few of the less visited streets and alleys that make up the area. You never know, you may be uncovering some new masterpieces…

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Street Art, Montmartre, Paris, France

Scenes from the streets of Montmartre

A village with a unique history sits on a hill, a city sprawling at its feet. That, at least, is how Montmartre feels when you wander its streets and glimpse the sweeping vistas of Paris that its elevated status affords. Even amidst the tourist hoards – and this is as touristy as it gets – Montmartre still feels special. This is, after all, the place that nurtured innumerable writers and artists, and is the home of the legendary Moulin Rouge.

Montmarte is famed for the alternative lifestyle that it afforded the many artists that have taken inspiration from it. Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec are chief amongst those who have immortalised this patch of the 18th arrondissement, its cabarets and Chartreuse-drinking ways. It’s an area that has become very touristed, but no visit to Paris would be complete without a few hours spent walking Montmartre’s lanes.

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

We had a lunch in Montmarte that perfectly defines why it’s different to much of the rest of the world. Descending down steep flights of stairs and narrow streets from Place du Tertre, and the crush of people at the Sacre Coeur, we found a quiet cafe on a corner to sit and relax. Fate had a far more interesting experience in store for us.

As we sat enjoying a glass of wine, a delivery vehicle drove past spilling liquid all over the cobbled street. We assumed it was water. It was vegetable oil, and it turned the street into an ice rink. People slipped and fell over. Cars almost crashed. Luckily, a couple of drunks decided this state of affairs couldn’t continue. Through a mixture of shouted warnings and elaborate mimes, they stopped cars and pedestrians to warn them of the dangers.

It was an entertaining couple of hours of unintentional street theatre, that brought the local community together to watch and critique the situation. This vignette of local life and local characters, seemed a long way from the crowds and tour groups that throng the main streets and squares of Montmartre, and the ever-present caricature artists roaming around looking for a commission.

Montmartre itself has come a long way from the predominantly working-class neighbourhood that was known for its revolutionary politics, and attracted artists, writers and intellectuals to its bohemian way of life. Subversive politics, and a rejection of the morality of the day, thrived in Montmartre’s vibrant cafes and raucous cabarets. It would be hard to make that claim today.

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

There are still some rough edges to the area, but tourism and gentrification have taken their toll on Montmartre’s bohemian legacy. I doubt a struggling artist like Van Gogh, or even an established artist like Toulouse-Lautrec, would be able to afford the rents today. They’d be horrified by the prices being asked in the area’s cafes and restaurants.

We started our wander around Montmartre at the Abbesses metro station, home to the I Love You wall, and made our way down narrow streets and up steep stairways taking in the area’s most famous sights: the Bateau Lavoire in Place Émile Goudeau, where Picasso and many other artistic luminaries lived; the 17th century Moulin de la Galette, a flour mil immortalised by Renoir and Van Gogh; the Lapin Agile cabaret; Montmartre’s vineyards; Sacré-Cœur; and the Place du Tertre.

Dalida statue, Montmatre, Paris, France

Dalida statue, Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Montmatre, Paris, France

Moulin de la Galette, Montmatre, Paris, France

Moulin de la Galette, Montmatre, Paris, France

'i love you' wall, Montmatre, Paris, France

‘i love you’ wall, Montmatre, Paris, France

Bateau Lavoire, Montmatre, Paris, France

Bateau Lavoire, Montmatre, Paris, France

It’s an evocative and, away from the crowds, atmospheric place. For all of Montmartre’s sights though, it will be our lunch and street cabaret that sticks in the memory.