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THERE'S AN ART TO SEEING MONTMARTE.

Byline: Ellen Sweets Dallas Morning News

Being in the City of Light is akin to the child's dilemma in the candy store: How much can you take in before the experience does you in? This sensory overload is due, in part, to the fact that the city is so generously endowed with history and Old-World elegance that, as with the candy store, you want it all.

As a result, you could spend scattershot weeks here and only scratch the surface. So one good way to navigate Paris' charm is to take your time. See it in stages.

If you think you are going to be here only once, then sure, visit the Louvre, walk the Champs-Elysees, have your picture taken at the Eiffel Tower and do the Gray Line Tour. The latter is always advisable anywhere; it helps narrow your focus based on what you see that you might want to see again.

If, on the other hand, you know you're going to do repeat visits, it's fun to see Paris a bit at a time, thereby widening the probability you will discover your own set of treasures others might have missed - such as those found in the winding streets of the Butte Montmartre (mountain of martyrs).

Visiting Montmarte

Always on the ``must-see'' list for tourists, it's home to an eclectic mix of people - artists, physicians, musicians and welfare recipients. Historically, it also has been a magnet to artists - painters, sculptors and composers.

At the top of Montmartre are two well-known points of interest: the Place du Tertre and the basilica of Sacre-Coeur. Both can be found at the highest point in Paris, and on a clear day, you have a breathtaking, 180-degree view of the city below.

The neighborhood is not particularly glamorous, and at the height of the tourist season, locals will warn you against pickpockets and thieves. But it is oh, so Parisian.

Artists still ply their wares at the Place du Tertre. In fact, it's almost impossible to get past them as they offer to do on-the-spot charcoal sketches. They can be pricey, but as is often the case with street vendors, prices are negotiable, especially if you let the artist persuade you to allow him to do it on spec.

In Montmartre, there are no modern steel-and-glass intrusions into neighborhoods marked by Byzantine, brick pavements unchanged for centuries. Streets end as abruptly as they begin.

I have friends whose friends live on one such street. Rue Andre Barsa lasts for about 2 minutes. To get there you can either walk up rue Lepic to rue Gabrielle, around a corner and down another little street. Or you can walk up 80 steps up the hillside at, I swear, a 90-degree angle. I walked the winding street route every time.

Little museums

The reward is at the top. In addition to artists and restaurants, there are two little - and little-known - museums. One is the Musee Montmartre at 12 rue Cortot, the other a Salvador Dali museum at 11 rue Poulbot. Both are worth seeing.

The Dali museum is deceptive: You enter what seems to be a quaint little storefront. But once inside and downstairs, you find the space unfolds like a stage-lighted cavern, revealing hundreds of sculptures, watercolors and sketches. Viewed against a background of appropriately ethereal music, it's the complete phantasmagorical experience.

Musee Montmartre is nearby, housed in a 17th-century building that was once the home of a member of Moliere's troupe. The man, Claude de la Rose, is said to have died onstage during a performance of ``La Malade Imaginaire'' (``The Hypochondriac'').

The area in which the museum is located dates to the 12th century, when Romans dedicated an abbey there. It was destroyed during the French Revolution and the last of the abbesses were guillotined.

The Montmartre museum served as a home and studio to many well-known artists, including Renoir, who painted ``The Garden of the Rue Cortot'' in the building in 1876. The work now hangs in the Carnegie-Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh.

There aren't many outstanding art works at the museum, but it is home to the original Toulouse-Lautrec poster of La Gouloue (Louise Weber) kicking it up at the Moulin Rouge.

It's also home to a wealth of incidental intelligence: You can learn about the quarry once located here; about how Montmartre's windy, hilltop location made it a prime spot for the placement of windmills used for crushing everything from stone for plaster to grains for flour.

Visiting the neighborhood

The hotel of choice for this visit was a relatively new place, Citadines Montmartre, one of a chain of clean, compact, no-frills hotels - sort of like a really nice La Quinta. It's on rue Rachel, just under rue Caulincourt and next door to Montmartre cemetery, where Zola, Stendhal, Degas, Berlioz, Offenbach and Francois Truffaut are buried.

From the hotel, you can walk across the bridge and up to rue Lepic, which winds past any number of charming restaurants. It's a major uphill walk, but it can be done slowly.Or, take the funicular for 20 francs (about $4), which glides to the top. I chose to meander.

Three days of semi-aimless meandering unearthed one treat after another - a historical designation here, an architectural marvel there; a charming terrace here, a stunning view there.

And while others regale with tales of shopping the Champs-Elysees, you can show off your sketch and tell them about Pierre-Marie Bonafos, the gifted saxophonist you heard at Le Tire Bouchon, the piano bar and creperie cabaret on rue Norvins; the musician who obviously had heard Coltrane's version of ``My One and Only You'' more than once.

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Photo

Photo: Artists still ply their wares at the Place du Tertre in Paris' legendary Montmarte neighborhood.

Ellen Sweets/Dallas Morning News
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Title Annotation:TRAVEL
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 1997
Words:962
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