A Montmartre street artist finds a willing subject. (photo: Rick Steves) The famous Moulin Rouge dance hall, where cancan kickers have been taking the stage since 1889, is on the fringe of Montmartre. (photo: Rick Steves) Montmartre, the hilltop neighborhood hovering on the northern fringes of your Paris city map, is in many ways the perfect French cliché: red-and-white checkered tablecloths, artist's easels filling petite squares, and bohemian cabarets offering up high-kicking cancans. The literal high point is the bone-white Sacre-Cœur Basilica, from where the City of Light fans out at your feet.
Just over a century ago, Montmartre hosted a perfect storm of artistic creativity and avant-garde thinking. Back then, life on the hill was a working-class commotion of cafés, bistros, and dance halls. Its low rents lured struggling artists whose canvases now sell for millions (Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo).
These days, the hill is equal parts charm and kitsch ..