Wednesday, February 22, 2006

les moulins

Before it was annexed to Paris, the butte of Montmartre was a hillock of orchards, vineyards, and farmhouses. Many people moved very suddenly to Montmartre in the middle of the nineteenth century when Baron Haussmann demolished their apartment buildings (he usually picked the poorer areas of Paris) in order to create boulevards and grand lines of perspective appropriate for an imperial capital. Workers and families settled on the hill because rent was low and there was no tax on wine. It was a good life.


At one point, the hill of Montmartre had 14 mills on it (and it's not very big!). They were used to show Parisians which way the wind was blowing and to power early factories. Many of them disappeared in the first half of the nineteenth century, although at least one was used very late to grind pepper and, according to a historical plaque I read, to provide a lookout for the city when it was besieged by an invading army. Unfortunately for that miller, he was noticed by the invading cossacks (what war was this? The plaque was very unclear but I assume somehow the cossacks got attached to the Prussians in the war of 1870-1871) and they cut him into pieces and nailed the bits of his body to the beams of his windmill. His sons carried on the family business after that...


Two of the mills, often known together as the moulin de la Galette, were preserved and turned into ballrooms. Very stable and completely untippy ballrooms, you see.

This is where a former butcher named Zidler got the idea for the Moulin Rouge in 1889. (Architect Joseph Oller adapted the building). It's also where Renoir and other impressionists got the idea for some paintings.


Renoir's painting Le Moulin de la Galette à Montmartre is above, Willette's lithograph of a performance of the Moulin Rouge is below. Apparently Zidler and his associate Renard hid the orchestra inside the elephant. You can sort of make out a grand piano and a man standing at it, who was directing the orchestra.

Here is a fabulous description of the dancers from the official butte de Montmartre website, quoted without any editing. Note that "grille d'égout" means sewer-grill.

"He had joined together on its plate decorated by Willette a girl name "Grille d’Egout", because of the exceptional spacing of its teeth. Nini-Patte-en-l’air, la Môme Fromage (the cheese kid), la Sauterelle (the Grasshopper) , la Cascadeuse (The stunt girl) , la Guigue, Etoile Filante (Shooting star), Arc-en-Ciel (rainbow), Rayon d’Or , Clair de Lune (Moonlight), Violette, Pâquerette, Camélia (dite "trompe la mort"), Cri-Cri (who died on stage), Goulue (flabby). This universally known monument was superbly illustrated by one of its most assiduous customers, the painter Toulouse-Lautrec."

"Oui, la Goulue, elle était célèbre. Je lui ai parlé, sur les quais du métro. Je l'ai reconnue et je lui ai demandé de l'embrasser : "Vous permettez que je vous embrasse, ?" C'était très dans le genre. Un personnage du siècle. Elle était, pour moi, sans âge, grande, forte, très très grande, dans mes souvenirs. Elle aurait peut-être 125 ans aujourd'hui ? A Neuilly, il y avait un lion en cage qu'elle domptait... Arletty quoted by Michel Souvais. Les Cancans de la Goulue



The can-can, a very exciting form of the quadrille.

left: the real Goulue.

And finally, below: I wouldn't mind living in Montmartre.




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