It was nearly midnight. After a short metro ride to the Abbesses stop, Fermin and I had tucked ourselves away for a dinner of pizza and red wine. Our waiter had confessed his love for San Francisco and had enthusiastically shouted “Go 49ers!” when he brought us our meal. The night was dry and clear, and when leaving the restaurant I had begun to search the night sky for stars. Softly in the distance I could hear the faint sound of music. Fermin wanted a crepe, so up the hill we went. Our feet fell silent on the empty winding cobblestone streets, leading us to one of the many steep and narrow staircases that Montmartre is famous for. I let out a whimper. “Do you think you can make it?” He asked. I said I would try. As we climbed, the music became more distinct.
There at the top of the first stairway stood a woman leaning on the rail, peering inside a window. The night was crisp, and her breath hung like cigar smoke around her head. We squeezed by her as she was tapping her feet, swaying her hips to a song. As we passed I could see into a tiny room along the stairwell: a band of 5 men playing to a crowd of...one. The man who made up the entire audience sprung up and opened the door, and the woman turned to us and said “Go in! Go in, it’s free!”
We tucked our heads under the doorway; the ceiling was low, much like the lighting. We took our seats in the rusty fold out chairs, and we were promptly handed a beer. When we tried to pay, we were given a chuckle and a “non”. There were paintings on the ceiling, drawings hanging on the walls, and torn up bits of cardboard scattered like leaves all over the floor. Empty bottles of 1664 beer were on the counters next to a top hat asking for donations.
The singer was sweaty, passionately singing. He was missing someone; that much my French could tell me. He then stopped part way through his performance and stepped off stage and while the music continued another man quickly took his place. As inebriated as the replacement was, his singing was lovely.
The flute player whose hair was long and silver, and pulled back into a ponytail, closed his eyes and moved his hips swaying them to the music. The drummer looked as though he had fought and survived the entire French Revolution. He held a stern and steady glare straight ahead, with a jaw that seemed to hang an inch lower than usual. But his humor was perfect - later he stood at the mic and described the singer as having as many notes as “un morceau du fromage”.
The woman who had come in with us was seated in front- her quilted red velvet vest matched the curtains hanging behind the stage - she removed her shell necklace and began to use it as a musical instrument, keeping time with the drum and the guitar.
Lost in a haze of happiness, I soon found myself singing along to songs I didn’t know. We clapped our hands to the beat of the base and the drum, making small talk with other guests between sets. I asked Fermin if he thought we might be in someone’s apartment.
None of the five men on the stage (which was the size of a queen sized bed) were distinctively handsome; rather it was their passion for their art that made them seductive. Everyone it seemed, was an artist. Each of them waving, even pulling strangers in from off the steps encouraging them to come and join their audience. One of those passersby was a photographer. He moved like a shadow zooming in on faces quietly snapping photos, and later left just as quietly as he came. Outside the evening had felt cold, calm, and quiet - but here in this tiny room it seemed as though all of Montmartre was abuzz. It was here that all of La Butte's artistic qualities came alive; our quest for the crepe had long been forgotten.
At the end of the evening the musicians each took turns introducing and poking fun at each other, telling us how it was the love of music that brought them here; but it was the need to feed their families which often kept them away. The life of an artist is a constant search for both truth and beauty...and sometimes if you’re lucky you can find both in the same place. Such is Montmartre, it seems.
By the time we left, my face was aching from all the smiles and laughter. I rode the handrails to the bottom of the stairs, giggling the entire way down. Later while standing in the metro waiting for our train, I turned to Fermin and said “That was Paris being a seductress.”