I’ll never forget the day I discovered the West Village in Manhattan. I had been working at Gear magazine, whose offices were on 15th Street and 10th Avenue—aka No Man’s Land circa 2001. Sure, there were a few bars and restos (Pastis! Hell! Florent!) as we were a stone’s throw from the Meatpacking District, but even that area wasn’t nearly as developed as it is today with its tourists teetering on high heels over cobblestones and designer clothing stores lining 14th Street. If you wanted to get anything “normal”—say, lunch that didn’t cost $20 or birthday candles for an office mate’s celebration—you had to go for a bit of a walk.
And so one day, in search of said candles, I started walking south on 9th avenue. One block. Two blocks. Three blocks. Suddenly, I was in named-street territory where buildings only went as high as five stories. Black wrought-iron railings hugged the steps of brownstones and arched entryways revealed hidden gardens and ivy crawled up buildings like Jack did his Beanstalk.
Where was I? I wondered.
The West Village.
It seemed like some sort of fairytale, far removed from the noisy, hustle and bustle of the crowded Manhattan I knew. You could hear birds chirping. You could find a hardware store that’s been around since 1884. You could plant your own garden on a patch of 8th Avenue.
Eventually, I found a Rite Aid and got the candles I needed. But as I walked back to the office, gazing at the quaint gardens and non-chain coffee shops and tree-covered cobblestone streets, I told myself I’d live there one day. And from 117 Perry to 24 Fifth to 50 Greenwich, I haven’t lived anywhere else since.
That is, until now. Well, technically until a few years ago when I did the exchange in London, but even that was temporary. And as semi-temporary as this still may be, when you sign a lease somewhere else, well, things become a bit more…stable.
Montmartre—the neighborhood I’ll call “home” as of tomorrow—reminds me of the West Village. Only I found it the opposite way: I went to see the apartment first. I hadn’t really been looking in the quartier way up north in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, because, well, it’s way up north. When I had visited it for the first time a few years ago, I remember feeling like it was so far from the other areas I frequented like the Marais (3rd and 4th), the 10th and the 11th—all on La Rive Droite (the right bank).
But as the end date for my stay in South Pigalle drew near, and the number of apartments I’d seen crept into double digit territory, I realized I needed to expand my search. So I went to visit this petit apartment on Rue Darwin and quickly realized I’d been ignoring the most quaint, charming and artistically historic pocket of Paris.
The apartment itself is cute. It’s semi-comparable space-wise to my studio in New York, and certainly no smaller than what I’m in now. It has good closet space, a washing machine, microwave and even a hotplate. (I’m working on the oven situation.) I have a real bed (but no sofa—also working on that), and a flatscreen I probably won’t watch. It faces a courtyard, on the 4th floor, so the light is pretty good. It’s modestly furnished, and while they’re not my style, there are two lamps: one says New York, the other Paris. Once I saw them, I knew the place was for me. There’s an elevator, which is good considering I’ll be living on the Butte—Butte Montmartre, as it’s known since it’s quite literally on a hill. If I didn’t think I was getting enough cardio in my daily exercise routine before, I won’t have to worry about that any longer. Not with all the steps I’ll be climbing to get anywhere—even if it’s to the metro.
Speaking of the metro, while the closest stop (Lamark) is practically within spitting distance from my apartment, it’s not necessarily a major line and it’s one of those stations that smells like both bleach and piss at the same time. You know, like they were trying to cover it up. The first time I smelled it, I thought to myself, Well that’s unfortunate. And then I realized that’s just its smell. All the time. Day or night.
The other thing that’s not great about this metro stop is that it’s way-the-F underground. It reminds me of the 63rd street station on the F line in Manhattan. At least here, there are two very large elevators, which come rather frequently, so you can avoid huffing and puffing up the spiral staircase that seems to go on, stankily, forever. (You live and you learn.)
But back to Montmartre itself. Just like the West Village, there are only a few train lines close by, albeit smelly, and streets that criss-cross without any sort of reason. The famous Rue Lepic curves around going west and then suddenly you’re east again, similarly to West Fourth Street. There are crowds of tourists and corners of quiet, too. One minute you can be amidst photo-snapping foreigners at the Sacré Coeur, the next minute you’re buying your chévre at the local fromagerie with no non-French speakers in site. (Except yourself, obviously.) Just like in the WV where in the morning you’re demanding sidewalk space from the cupcake lovers standing outside Magnolia and the afternoon you’re quietly browsing through books at one of the city’s last remaining bookshops, Three Lives and Co.
Here, there are small houses painted pink and a vineyard (a vineyard!), not to mention two remaining windmills from the Belle Epoque era that made the area so famous.
I learned about them the other day at the Museé de Montmartre, a small, under-appreciated gem of a museum that’s right around the corner (and up three long staircases) from my apartment. The museum itself was also the home of Auguste Renoir from 1875 to 1877. How’s that for a neighbor?!
While there’s still plenty to discover (like how to avoid all those staircases), it feels right to have chosen such a neighborhood for my first Parisian apartment. Its charm and intimacy is so inviting; yet so secretive, which is what drew me to the intersecting non-grid of the West Village all those years ago. To be able live and work amongst the ghosts of Montmartre past, yet to also be a part of its future, also feels like such a privilege. Kinda like the privilege of living in the West Village in New York City. I guess you can say, I live in the best of both worlds. (After all, I haven’t given up that apartment on Greenwich Avenue yet!)
Je suis une fille chanceuse.
I am a lucky girl.