IT ALL STARTED QUITE innocently. A Sunday afternoon in Montmartre, a light lunch in the extraordinary Bistro La Petaudiére, a quick look into the Espace Salvador Dali and then a walk across the Place du Tertre in the shadow of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.
The artists were working at their easels in the centre of the Place du Tertre and the tourists – yes, such is the magnetism of Montmartre, that there are tourists even in January – were filling the thoroughfares on all four sides of the Place du Tertre either watching the artists at work or searching for tables for a late lunch.
The entrance to the Place du Tertre by the Brasserie au Clairon des Chasseurs is a bottleneck at the best of times but particularly so on this Sunday afternoon. A group of bare-footed street performers had pitched up completely blocking the thoroughfare. The tourists were being particularly tolerant even though they were in gridlock. Less so the artists. Tourists mean money and any distraction that prevents the flow of tourists is unwelcome. These street performers were definitely a distraction and therefore very unwelcome.
Despite exhortations for them to move on, the street performers remained resolute and continued their performance.
One artist was so incensed that he took matters into his own hands. He emerged from the artist’s colony in the centre of the Place du Tertre with a glass bottle filled with water. He sprinkled the water onto the road where the street performers were strutting their stuff and then he threw the bottle to the ground smashing it to pieces. In the best French tradition, a huge altercation then ensued in which everyone joined in.
In situations like this, waving a camera around to capture the scene was probably unwise, or so I judged, since I was right in the thick of it. Capturing the action in sound though is quite another matter!
For the French speakers amongst you, the colourful language is sufficient to capture the scene. For those of you who are anxious to speak French by repeating what you hear, a warning. Be very careful as to which of the words you hear in this sound clip you repeat in public – unless of course you too want to start an altercation in Montmartre or anywhere else for that matter!
Paris as seen from Montmartre: