As I sit outside a corner café in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, the sun disappears behind the buildings, staining the horizon pink and orange. It doesn’t matter that snow has begun to swirl in the air like sparkling dust; women still strut in sheer leggings and short dresses, people still crowd onto the smoky terraces. To enjoy life en plein air is simply the French way.
Tonight, I experience a different Paris than many others who come during the evening hours to Pigalle (French pronunciation: pi.gal). I eat a crêpe with a bit of Nutella—not nearly as smothered as I would like—with a cappuccino to help keep my fingers warm enough to write. Though it’s true that the Pigalle quartier has been overrun with sex shops, tourists and overpriced restaurants for decades, it still has a charm that is hard to resist. Pigalle is France’s closest comparison to Las Vegas: hundreds of neon signs illuminating the narrow streets and innumerable venues to satisfy whichever vice one desires. Perhaps that’s why artists such as Picasso, van Gogh and Dali enjoyed spending their time here as well (artistic “inspiration,” if you will).
The Moulin Rouge was erected in 1889, the same year at the Eiffel Tower, a veritable symbol of the exuberance that struck Paris during the Belle Époque. While the Moulin Rouge didn’t birth the cancan, it certainly encouraged its popularity. Over a hundred years later, people still spend a hundred euros to see the reenactment, while plenty more are content to see the simple, faux windmill from the street-side view. Of the latter, I stand between the lanes of Boulevard de Clichy to behold the Moulin Rouge in all her evening beauty. With cars rushing past and a Starbucks across the street, it’s a little difficult to imagine her during the era of corsets and frilly skirts. But her fiery colors compliment the night sky beautifully; she is just as photogenic and sultry as the women who occupy her.
I take my pictures and rest against a lamppost, ready to leave the quartier to its nighttime visitors, but also enjoying the electric atmosphere too much to move. The people who pass by slowly shift from tourists into young Parisians clad in tight dresses and skinny jeans, ready to start their night at the discotheque. Apparently, time has not changed the attitude of this district too greatly.