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TRAVEL: Getting to the bottom of the windmills of Montmartre.

They might be giants

CHRIS THOMSON

I’m on hols in chilly old France. And after a week roaming the galleries of Paris admiring paintings of windmills atop the city’s highest peak, I thought it might be time to learn a bit more about les moulins de Montmartre.

My apartment is on Rue Caulaincourt, in a residential part of Montmartre. It’s behind and down the steep hill from Sacré-Cœur Basilica rather than at the Paris-facing front where most other tourists, and hawkers selling selfie sticks, take advantage of the 180-degree view.

Over here on the northern side of la Butte, I’m one of the few tourists to be seen.

And that’s the way I like it.

La Butte Montmartre is well past its bohemian heyday – when Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir and Picasso drew inspiration from the earthiness and liveliness of the place – but it’s still pretty arty. Parisians think of Montmartre the same way many Perth people think of Fremantle – less rustic than in the past but with some remnant charm, and not a bad old spot to linger on a Sunday afternoon.

Thanks first in the 1890s to the flamboyant posters of Montmartre’s favourite adopted son, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and then in the early noughties to a movie by blow-in Baz Luhrmann, everyone knows about the Moulin Rouge. The famed red windmill is the spiritual home of the Cancan. But despite occupying a site on Boulevard de Clichy, at the eastern base of la Butte, Moulin Rouge is only a copy of the original that burned down in 1915. It’s not one of the former working windmills that for centuries have punctuated parts of Montmartre.

I learn that there are only two Montmartre windmills that fulfil this criterion of authenticity. Bloggers say these are the only two windmills remaining in a metropolis once dotted with hundreds of them. But the onetime windmill at Longchamp racecourse gives lie to that.

My morning hike up Montmartre starts after I find out that, like me for the past week, Lautrec stayed on Rue Caulaincourt for several years from 1887 to 1893.

Toulouse-Lautrec's likely home in MontmartreHe had a studio at No.27, which is now No.21, where he lived with a doctor who’d been a childhood friend. I’ve no reason to believe the bloggers who’ve posted photos of the building at No.27, pictured left, are wrong when they say this is the same building Lautrec lived in, rather than a replacement one. But there’s no historical marker of an artistic past on the front of the building, as is common around here. And the building looks to me a little modern for Lautrec’s era. But adding weight to the bloggers’ case are that real estate websites list the construction date in Lautrec’s time, there’s still no shortage of doctors in there, and the windows up top look like they’d be ideal for a studio. If writing this article were my day job, I’d call an art scholar or local official to confirm.

Van Gogh's house MontmartreBut it’s not my day job, so onward and upward to my next stop, just around the corner from Lautrec’s home. It’s the white apartment building, at 54 Rue Lepic, pictured right, where van Gogh’s art dealer brother, Theo, put him up for two years from June 1886. The building does have a plaque attesting to much of this. Vincent and Lautrec were associates, with the latter sketching the former in Montmartre with a glass of absinthe, a potent spirit that they both drank too much of in the bars of la Butte.

Vincent’s time in Montmartre and his personal exposure to some of the Impressionists up here transformed the way he painted, bringing out the vivid colours and more abstract style for which he would become posthumously famous. From the apartment, he painted views of the city. And from outside he rendered more than 20 images of the Montmartre windmills.

From Vincent and Theo’s pad, I embark on the steepish, but not long, walk up along Rue Lepic toward the two remaining windmills.

Moulin Radet, one of two remaining Montmartre windmillsFor a traveller ascending the cobblestone streets near the top of la Butte, the most obvious of the Montmartre windmills is the second one reached along this route – Moulin Radet. Confusingly, for the uninitiated, a French restaurant called Moulin de la Galette is located in front and lower than it, on the corner of Rue Lepic and Rue Girardon. Pictured left, Moulin Radet can easily be seen from either of the streets, particularly in the Parisian winter when a potentially obscuring tree is bereft of leaves.

Moulin Blute-Fin, one of two remaining Montmartre windmills.About 100 metres back down along Rue Lepic, the other original windmill is the Moulin Blute-fin, pictured right. The name Blute-fin comes from the French verb bluter which roughly means “to sift”. As pictured below, left, the windmill is visible from the fine Rue des Abbesses cafe strip that winds around the eastern base of Montmartre like a contour on a topographic map. But it’s easily missed from higher up on the hill because it’s well above street level. And in summer Blute-fin is obscured by dense foliage.

Moulin Blute-fin is one of the two remaining Montmartre windmillsBoth Montmartre windmills are on private property, meaning a street view is as good as it gets for the public.

From the 1830s, the two windmills and the area they occupy have collectively been known as ‘Moulin de la Gallette‘. Hence the name of the restaurant in front of Moulin Radet. Moulin de la Galette was a popular dance and drinking venue. Renoir’s painting titled ‘Dance at Moulin de la Galette pictures general shenanigans in the area in 1876. It is one of the best-known images in the world. You can see it, along with many other Renoirs, in Paris’s Musée d’Orsay. A ‘galette’ was a brown bread made by the millers here that was popular with peckish Parisians.

The local tourism office says there were once about 15 Montmartre windmills, mainly along the ridge of la ButteThis does not include Moulin Rouge, which it must be ceded is not technically ‘on’ Montmartre. In this regard, residents of the top of the hill are quick to stress the stratification between the village atmosphere of their lofty, leafy neighbourhood and the bawdiness of the red light district below.

Moulin Blute-Fin is one of the two remaining Montmartre windmills.Legend, relayed by a scholarly source, has it that in 1814, during the siege of Paris at the end of the Napoleonic wars, three sons of the miller who owned Moulin de la Galette were killed when trying to defend the mill against advancing Cossacks. The miller himself was purportedly hacked into quarters that were hung from the sails of one of his mills.

The miller’s family vault at Montmartre’s Petit Cimetiere du Calvaire has a little windmill on top. The now-faded windmill was once red, to represent the blood that dripped from the sails at Moulin de la Galette. Another legend is that the little red windmill inspired the name of the now-famed Moulin Rouge.

When it comes to the authenticity of Montmartre windmills, what spins around comes around.

Photos: Chris Thomson

Posted in Breaking news, Urban Trawl0 Comments

... to a city mentioned in four of her alleged 45 breaches.

FIFO Scaffidi plans another China trip

CHRIS THOMSON

EXCLUSIVE: Perth mayor Lisa Scaffidi, embroiled in a monumental travel fiasco, plans to jet off on yet another trip to a city named in four of her alleged 45 breaches of the Local Government Act.

Mrs Scaffidi, who the Department of Local Government this week accused of breaching the Local Government Act 45 times, after the CCC last year published opinions of serious misconduct after she accepted a free trip from BHP-Billiton for she and property developer husband Joe to the Beijing Olympics, now wants to use $4000 of ratepayer money to shoot off to Nanjing and Chengdu.

If approved, Mrs Scaffidi’s fly-in-fly-out visit will occur next month – between June 21 and 25.

Four of Mrs Scaffidi’s 45 alleged breaches relate to travel she undertook to Nanjing in 2009 and 2010.

Her next trip is purported to support promotional activities of a business alliance called StudyPerth, formerly known as Perth Education City, whose partial funding of her 2009 trip to Nanjing was also cited in one of the four Nanjing-related allegations.

Mrs Scaffidi has also been invited to participate in the ‘Innovation Forum for Mayors on International Sister Cities of Chengdu’ on June 24.

Chengdu and Nanjing are sister cities of Perth, and council Economic Development supremo Steven McDougall has recommended that Mrs Scaffidi be allowed to go.

Whether the jetsetting mayor gets to chalk yet another Chinese stamp up on her well-worn passport has not been considered by a council committee, as would normally occur.

Instead, Mr McDougall’s recommendation will on Tuesday night be considered only by the full city council, due, Mr McDougall advises, “to limited time being available to consider this matter”.

An unsigned invitation from the foreign affairs office of the Nanjing Municipal People’s Government “warmly” invites Mrs Scaffidi “to Nanjing again as out most welcome guests [sic] and dearest family members [sic]”.

In another invitation, the Mayor of Chengdu prematurely ejects that he is: “very happy to hear that you will lead an education delegation to visit Chengdu”.

The Department of Local Government has recommended that consideration be given to commencing disciplinary action against Mrs Scaffidi over her 45 alleged breaches of the Act.

Posted in Breaking news, Perth news0 Comments

Typo-prone Fremantle official recommends UK trip – for himself.

Sister city turns Fungal

CHRIS THOMSON

EXCLUSIVE: In a report penned by himself, a Fremantle council official has recommended he be funded to travel to the UK, and revealed that Mayor Brad Pettit wants to attend “the 20th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Fungal in Portugal”.

In his report to Fremantle council’s elaborately named Finance, Policy, Operations and Legislation Committee, City Business Director Glen Dougall has recommended that Dr Pettit be allowed to tack a visit to Birmingham onto his planned trip to ‘Fungal’.

Mr Dougall’s self-prepared report also recommends the committee endorse him to travel to Birmingham to attend the so-called Regional Waste Management Conference between September 13 and 15.

Mr Dougall has recommended that Dr Pettitt join him in Birmingham.

Regardless of the merits of Mr Dougall’s self-initiated trip, one thing on the nose about his report is that Fremantle has no city agreement with ‘Fungal’.

In fact, there is no such place as ‘Fungal’, Portugal.

Fremantle does however have a mutual admiration arrangement with the picturesque Portuguese city of Funchal, in the semi-autonomous Atlantic archipelago of Madeira, off the west coast of Morocco.

Perth’s port city consummated its relationship with Funchal in 1996.

Dr Pettit plans to breeze in to Funchal in early September to celebrate the relationship’s 20th anniversary.

Birmingham is a lazy 2500km flight from the azure waters of Funchal, and Dr Pettit reasons he may as well stay in Europe and join Mr Dougall at the Regional Waste Management Conference.

The committee is slated to debate Mr Dougall’s self-recommended sojourn on May 18.

In Portuguese, ‘Funchal’ means ‘a plantation of fennel’.

There’s nothing fungal about it.

Posted in Breaking news, Fremantle0 Comments


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