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Josephine Baker in Montmartre

Posted on by Sherry Jones

Josephine Baker adored Paris. “J’ai Deux Amours,” her signature song, said it all: “Two loves have I: My country and Paris.” Unlike with her many other loves, however, her feelings for the City of Lights were requited in full measure. The people of Paris loved Josephine Baker, too, passionately, exuberantly, and faithfully, even after her death.

Arguably the most famous woman in the world and certainly the highest-paid performer, Josephine debuted in Paris at age 19 in “Le Revue Negre” in the Theatre Champs-Elysees. From then until she died, in 1975, La Josephine lived throughout the city in luxury and splendor: in an apartment of marble and gold on the Champs-Elysees, in fancy hotels, in a mansion in the wealthy suburb of Le Vesinet, and more.  Closest to her heart, perhaps, was in the eclectic artists’ and musicians’ enclave of Montmartre, home to Pablo Picasso, Pierre-August Renoir, La Folies Bergere, Bricktop’s jazz club, and — yes — Josephine Baker.

My trip to France in search of Josephine begins in Montmartre, where tourists and locals rub elbows at the boulangerie, musicians play accordions and guitars on the streets, accompanied by the clink of espresso cups on saucers and forks and knives on plats de jour, and revelry continues even on the hottest nights until the wee, witching hours; where the city’s highest hill poses a challenge that even, thanks to the Funiculaire, the faintest of heart can meet, and where the cathedrals have bouncers, asking, “Can you read?” of the tourists discussing their day’s itinerary before turning around the sign admonishing SILENCE.

I fell in love almost at first sight with Montmartre. I imagine that Josephine did, as well. See these sights, the first of many I’ll show you from the magical 18th arrondissement, and you’re bound to understand the infatuation:

Montmartre's streets pulse with life and celebration until the wee hours, thanks to an influx of tourists visiting the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral plus the vivantes who populate the neighborhoods throughout the large area.

Montmartre’s streets pulse with life and celebration until the wee hours, thanks to an influx of tourists visiting the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral plus the vivantes who populate the neighborhoods throughout the large area.

 

 Do the people who named this shop know that "Princesse Tam Tam" is the name of one of Josephine Baker's three movies? I hear there's a swimming pool named after her in Paris, too (http://content.time.com/time/travel/cityguide/article/0,31489,1937013_1936990_1936854,00.html)--although as far as I know, she wasn't a swimmer, as well as a sign in the Montparnasse neighborhood designating an area as "Place Josephine Baker," making her the first African-American to earn this distinction. After death as in life, Madame Bakair, all but forgotten in the United States, continues to entrance the French.

Do the people who named this shop know that “Princesse Tam Tam” is the name of one of Josephine Baker’s three movies? I hear there’s a swimming pool named after her in Paris, too (http://content.time.com/time/travel/cityguide/article/0,31489,1937013_1936990_1936854,00.html)–although as far as I know, she wasn’t a swimmer, as well as a sign in the Montparnasse neighborhood designating an area as “Place Josephine Baker,” making her the first African-American to earn this distinction. After death as in life, Madame Bakair, all but forgotten in the United States, continues to entrance the French.

 

At the very top of the Montmartre Butte--the pinnacle of the city of Paris--stands the beautiful, imposing Sacre-Coeur Basilica, dedicated to the heart of Jesus, made of basalt excavated from thr city's own mines and, presumably like heart of the risen Christ, growing whiter with each passing day. The cathedral, built in ??, was a favorite of Josephine, who adopted Catholicism as well as Judaism in addition to the Pentecostal religion that brought her so much mirth--getting her kicked out of church for laughing--as a child in St. Louis. To get there, I eschewed the "Funicular" tram and climbed, instead, all 198 steps, as I imagine Josephine doing. She didn't come by those sculpted thighs sitting on her derriere.

At the very top of the Montmartre Butte–the pinnacle of the city of Paris–stands the beautiful, imposing Sacre-Coeur Basilica, dedicated to the heart of Jesus, made of basalt excavated from thr city’s own mines and, presumably like heart of the risen Christ, growing whiter with each passing day. The cathedral, completed in 1914, was a favorite of Josephine’s, who adopted Catholicism as well as Judaism in addition to the Pentecostal religion that brought her so much mirth–getting her kicked out of church for laughing–as a child in St. Louis. To reach its lofty heights, I eschewed the “Funicular” tram and climbed, instead, all 198 steps, as I imagine Josephine doing. She didn’t come by those sculpted thighs sitting on her derriere.


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