Montmartre Vignettes

MONTMARTRE VIGNETTES.jpg

Now over ninety years old, Monsieur Barbizon (Barbie) is seen with shuffling gait meanderings the back streets of Paris. A stooped over figure in distinctive beret, crisp white starched shirt, thin worn dark tie and black walking stick, tapping pavements and cobbles. He has an air of a cult figure within the close-knit restaurant and café community. Wherever he alights to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, old friends soon join him. Friends who have spent decades in his company, listening to his telling of tales true and imaginary. 

This book are those tales...enjoy.

Copyright © 2016 by Robert Lewis Heron. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Preface

Montmartre is a hill in the north of Paris, France. It is 427 feet high and gives its name to the surrounding district in the 18th arrondissement—a part of the Right Bank.

Many notable artists, musicians, poets and writers lived and created in Montmartre including Vincent van Gogh, Erik Satie, Langston Hughes, and Ernest Hemingway to name but a few.

The last of the bohemian Montmartre artists left in 1975. They left behind their drinking places and restaurants most frequented. Today the local population live with the artists’ aftermath—tourism and high prices.

Montmartre seems sad. The meeting places no longer recognizable, no longer filled with the voices of Picasso and Piaf, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

All like a graveyard where we pass through hoping to unearth discarded thoughts of long ago’ creatives’. Hoping we may be infected by a remnant of an idea lurking in a cafe, or around the next cobbled street corner. A creative germ waiting, just waiting to infect the unwary.

However, in the void left by so many incredible artists, we may still meet their muses—the residents who still work and live within these hallowed cobbled lanes. The people without whom the ‘creatives’ could not have become great, without whom so much art could not have been born. They are the fortunate few who lived through an infusion of art without equal. To the beautiful, beautiful people of Montmartre. We thank you.

Chapter 1

A Flâneur is a wanderer with no particular destination in mind. Some say the best way to experience the great cities of the world is to mindlessly stroll, loiter, or amble through their streets in search of their hidden gems and unwritten treasures and all yours to discover alone.

The Flâneur is the quintessential loner, the adventurer prepared to experience life one glimpse, one drama, and one story at a time. Be seduced by hidden sounds, smells, and the inner human drama that is the soul of a city. Of the cities best discovered in such wanderings is by far, Paris.

Monsieur Barbizon, known as Barbi, was such a free spirit, a Flâneur extraordinaire. Being Born in 1916 at 10 rue de l'Odéon without a doubt became fortuitous for Barbi. In 1926, his mother had made a strong friendship with Sylvia Beach, the American owner of a newly opened adjoining bookshop. Their friendship led to her son’s youth being spent cataloging and dusting bookshelves at The Shakespeare and Company bookshop, and later led to his profound love for storytelling.

Now over ninety years old, Barbie is seen with shuffling gait meanderings the back streets of Paris. A stooped over figure in distinctive beret, crisp white starched shirt, thin worn dark tie and black walking stick, tapping the pavements and cobbles. He has the air of a cult figure within the close-knit restaurant and café community. Wherever he alights to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, old friends soon join him. Friends who have spent decades in his company, listening to his telling of tales true and imaginary. 

“Monsieur Barbie,” announce waiters and waitresses, “please come here. Your table is ready.”

And, even though he had no reservation at that particular café or restaurant, his arrival was always expected, and a spot, deep within establishments, usually used by staff to fold napkins, or fill salt sellers, would be his place of repose.

“Monsieur Barbi, lunch?”

“Qui. Lunch is fine.”

And with that simple order, and no need for the presentation of menus, the staff would soon deliver to his table, little radishes, a good foie de veau with mashed potatoes and an endive salad, followed by apple tart. They knew this order my heart, and the reason behind why he would eat this and only this. For you see, Monsieur Barbie could recite, word for word, the complete transcript of Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’.

“I knew him you know. Hemingway,” Barbie would often say. “I was just a boy but I liked him very much. He taught me how to tell tales, make stories interesting, add and subtract facts. Always leave the reader enough space in a story to imagine their own story.”

The waiters and waitresses would always smile, nod, and ask, “and to drink Monsieur Barbie?”

“The same,” was always his reply.

Soon a rum St. James would appear.

 

Each day he followed the same routine: lunch, a drink sipped slowly, and soon Monsieur Barbie would start to write. Each day Barbie wrote of that day’s journey, his walk through Paris, his meeting with true and imaginary friends.

Today his walk was that of Hemingway. It had started in rain, a light drizzle, nothing untoward. But enough to have his imagination fire up. He had shuffled along Lycee Henri Quatre across Place du Pantheon and onward to the boulevard St.-German to arrive here on the Place St.-Michel.

 

He withdrew a black worn notepad, and a nub of a pencil. He always sharpened the pencil with his sharpener. A sharpener given to him by Hemingway decades ago. Delicately, he let the shavings curl into the drink’s saucer, gently blow across the pencils tip, and before commencing to write mumble to himself his sacrament, his favorite passage from ‘A Moveable Feast’.

 

‘I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now.

All Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.’

 

There was no time constraint for Monsieur Barbi. Sometimes he would spend all afternoon in the warmth of the café, and in winter, he would stay the longest. He loved nothing better than watching the young girls come and go. He liked to smile and enjoyed their smile in return. When writing well he would whistle or sing. Not aloud, but almost inaudible except to those who knew this little peculiarity, his slight eccentricity. When not writing well he may consume two or more rum St. James.

But today, they knew he had written well. For when he wrote with love and happiness he would leave his story on the table beside an empty rum St. James. The waiter, as all waiter’s knew, accepted his handwritten story as payment, and carefully pinned the pale cream page beside the other worn pages hanging proudly on the wall of the manager’s office.

Today’s short story was called ‘The Old Piano Tuner’. The café owner sellotaped it beside his other scribbled writings—‘An Old Woman in a Wheelchair’ and ‘The Solo Violinist’.  The lunch was now over for the day, and so the café owner sat in his swivel office chair and began to read his unique collection of short stories by his, and Paris’s friend--Monsieur Barbizon.