Report From Paris: Hidden Gardens, an Urban Vineyard, Cheese and a Bottle of Rosé
September 16, 2012 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
I arrived in Paris last week to attend the design show Maison et Objet and absorb all I could from the concurrent Paris Design Week. If you follow this blog, you will recall that last year, my friend Anne, aka The Outdoor Stylist, generously arranged to loan me an apartment with two terraces and a view of the Eiffel Tower. That sort of good fortune rarely occurs twice. I was, however, able to find an adorable bargain-priced little alcove studio in Montmartre–an area in the northern reaches of Paris that I have in the past avoided for fear of being over-ridden with tourists. Turned out to be a great spot.
Paris, Day One
1:30 pm As I’d feared before arrival, I find the keys to my rented apartment are not in the designated 4-digit coded safe inside the 5-digit coded entry door. Having arrived without a working French mobile phone because I was planning to get a local SIM card, I am not able to call anyone to let them know there are no keys. I leave my bag inside the vestibule and head up the street where I walk into the storefront office of a fashion marketing company, and thank goodness I speak French, as I can explain the situation to the lovely ladies, with whom I do some serious schmoozing and ask to use their phone. Two phone calls and an hour later, the landlord arrives to let me in, and out of pity, carries my overweight bag up two very winding flights of stairs.
2:45pm After a quick unpack in the apartment, I head out starving to the corner café for an omelette and cup of coffee while I figure out how to login to “freewifi” to make a Skype call home where nobody answers. Fortified, I set out to explore the neighborhood in search for a SIM card for my unlocked iPhone. I pass some lovely private courtyard gardens along the way.
3:45pm The serendipity and fun begins. Without a map, I choose to go left instead of right, and stumble on an urban garden concept store, Les Mauvaises Graines (will explain the name later), that had been on my list of spots to visit–though I had no idea it would turn out to be around the corner from my rented apartment! Must be destiny.
I chat for a while with the uber-cool rock n’ rollish owner, David Jeannerot Renet, who invites me back in a few days to visit his nearby hidden terraced garden hidden. More later on David and Les Mauvaises Graines…
4:45pm David tells me about a wonderful wine bar, and directs me to the mobile phone place down the street where, voilà! I am able to get connected and can now call home for about 5 cents a minute. (Skype requires wifi.) I begin to wander the streets of my adopted Paris neighborhood. In French, I would be called a flâneur–an idle wanderer, urban explorer.
5:30pm I walk in a very circuitous route and up hundreds of steep steps (see above) to the Buttes de Montmartre, the area around the famed Sacre Coeur. Yes, even in the off season, the area is buzzing wall-to-wall with tourists, gazillion trinket shops and “artistes,” but it’s nonetheless an historical part of the city so I am happy to explore. I am sure I will spot Amélie any minute but she does not appear.
As the sun is setting over Paris, I arrive across from the hordes at Sacre Coeur, where I take in a postcard view of the city and Eiffel Tower in the distance.
I love walking around without a map while I enjoy the street entertainment…
and peek into hidden gardens and nooks…
Snapping photos of some cool observations along the way, I start heading back to the apartment on the rue des Saules where at the corner of rue St.Vincent, I realize I am gazing at grapevines and the site of Paris’s oldest and only still-operating urban vineyard, Le Clos de Montmartre.
Nestled atop the Butte Montmartre, one of the city’s secret gardens dates back to the the 12th Century, when the Romans built a temple in Montmartre dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine.
Church-owned vineyards at the time produced wines for Montmartre’s cabarets and bars. In the 18th and 19th centuries though, vineyards in and around Paris gradually disappeared. A group of local artists appealed to the government in the early ‘30s to give them a patch of land in order to reestablish the Montmartre vineyards. The plan was approved in 1933, resurrecting the Clos Montmartre, and the neighborhood celebrated first harvest or “vendage” in early 1934. What survived as a local artists’s project today spans 1556 square meters, cultivating 27 varieties of wine including Gamay, Pinot, some white Sauvignon, and Riesling.
8pm My appetite once again revved up, and jetlag beginning to wear me out, I pop into a little market for some smelly cheeses, fresh figs, strawberries, grapes, and a 3 euro bottle of Rosé, which I settle into and begin writing. The next day will be Day One of the international design fair, Maison et Objet, and I plan to hit the ground running as early as I can get some strong caffeine into my veins.
Stay tuned as I report back on trends from Maison et Objet and Paris Design Week, and then from London where I will be a guest of Modenus and sponsors for BlogTour for 5 days during the London Design Festival.