Thursday, September 08, 2005

Land of the Dead

Cimitère Père Lachaise is on the opposite side of Paris from me. I must change from train to metro, and from one metro line to another after that. When I finally arrived at the Père Lachaise station, I saw the giant wall surrounding the cemetery. It is really tall and topped with spikes. I didn't see an entrance gate anywhere so I just started walking along the wall... and walking, and walking, and walking. The wall disappeared behind store fronts and restaurants, but there were still funeral service stores, flower shops, and tombstone dealers along the street so I continued along with hope. Finally, I walked into a small garden that ran along the giant wall. I assumed this was some kind of formal entrance for the grand graveyard, but it was just a garden that ran along the wall.
When I did make it to the entrance, I was told if I wanted a plan of the cemetery that listed the famous headstones, graves, and other sights, I needed to go "over there," "up there" the security guard told me (in French) and he pointed. So I walked straight "up there" in the direction he pointed to the crematorium. There were other buildings there as well, but none had any kind of welcome offices-- or any other kind of offices, and there was a funeral going on, so I decided he must have meant for me to walk past this group of buildings. I continued my walk... and I walked, and I walked, and I walked. One thing about Père Lachaise-- it's fucking big. Sure, there are a few main paths (normally in cobblestone or pebble--both of which suck to walk on and I ruined my favorite pair of shoes), but step off the beaten, and you are forced to literally climb over jumbles of tombstones, crawl around sarcophagi, and bramble through weeds, roots, and crumbles of stone. And, just like every other street in Paris, none of the paths at Père Lachaise are straight, but rather wander into one another, change direction, and, sometimes, stop rather abruptly in the middle of nowhere. I walked from one end of the joint to the next, and found nothing. Not one kiosk (granted that would be extremely tacky in a cemetery), employees, gardeners, ect. I had to walk back through the maze of marble and ask the same guard what the hell he was talking about.
He was with a gardener who was showing off a brand new skillet he had just found in the street (there's a whole garbage foraging subculture in France that is worth its own post...). They politely informed me that I needed to walk to the other side of the cemetery and I would find maps available in a small office building near the front gate (an entrance much, much closer to the metro than the one I had entered from. I was just there. I had just walked back from there!). But the gardener-- who was pleased I like his skillet, offered to give me a ride through the "park." An offer I quickly accepted-- it's not like he was driving a hearst or a cold storage truck, just a little gardener's golf cart.
It was a long ride and the gardener tried to make polite small talk.*
-"You're German?"
~"American."
-"Is your family okay?"
~"Excuse Me?"
-"Do you live in the south-- in the hurricane states?"
~No, thank you for asking. They are all safe in the Northwest"
-"Ah, yes, good. It is a very, very bad thing."
~"I cannot begin to imagine."
-"No."
*awkward silence ensues*
-"We are here."
-"Walk down there and turn right."
-"Bonne Chance!"
Parisian cemetery maps suck. They are easily read, but not at all practical in use. It is almost impossible to get one's bearings, and then, to find one tombstone among 60. *sigh* I finally decided to make an effort in finding Jim's grave, and then, wander, get lost, and go home. I knew what general direction I needed to be going in, and walked, and walked, and walked, and then, realized I had gone too far. I did find it; there is a permanent guard placed just next to it, with scores of people-- most caring less about Morrison's tombstone than about watching/photographing the freaks and hippies making their pilgrimages. It is the cemetery's most popular gravesite, but something I would have easily passed over; it is very plain and surrounded on all sides by other tombstones and sarchopagi (therefore difficult to get a good look at). After paying my respects to Jim (having been born after he died, I will mourn the loss of Val Kilmer much more. Ah, Val Kilmer *flutter*), I just walked around, enjoyed the breeze, and the start of my favorite season of the year: fall. The leaves have been turning for a weeks now in Paris, but it was the first time the air had that autumn crispness that is so fresh (and believe me, a welcome addition to the sometimes overwhelming scent of dead leaves and rotting flowers).
I saw Chopin's grave. As I walked up to it, a very old, withered man approached behind me with a small ghetto blaster. He positioned himself right next to the guard rail (most of the Père Lachaise's famous residents have some kind of barrier surrounding them), and hit "Play" on his little stereo. The four or five of us taking pictures all stopped and for about 2 or 3 minutes listened to Chopin. When it was over, the little old man hunched himself over his cane and without saying a word, walked away.

I took a couple hundred pictures, and will probably go back for 100 or so more. In the mean time, check out my link at right.





Okay, this one is difficult. It is difficult because, while from a widely known and popular movie (based on the even more widely known and adored book), you just don't ever see it anywhere-- except, perhaps, the occasional PBSmarathon.

"My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes."

20 pts. for film/character.
Good luck, I only have this memorized because I watch waaaaaayyyyy too much public television and last year, saw this show 4 times.
*HInt: delivered rather melodramatically by a tween girl






*I hate smalltalk. I am capable of it. Thanks to a socialite mother, I am quite skilled in the art of entertaining, bullshitting, and complete insincerity, but I rarely care enough to even try. I dislike being in the position of pretending. Why do people always assume that the person they have been forced into close quarters with wants to interact. When I am forced into a small space or intimate situation, I am never rude, but would simply prefer it to be as least invasive as possible. I don't like to talk to my neighbor on a plane, and I don't really care anything about the other women waiting in line for the bathroom!

13 Comments:

Blogger European said...

Great blog. Please don't stop writing about the human condition, your mind is so sharp!
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5:27 AM  
Blogger Serena said...

*sigh* I hate spam and was forced to act.

9:29 AM  
Blogger exMI said...

Chopins grave sounds much more interesting than Morrison's. Of course I could wander through a graveyard all day just looking at stones and imagining the people....

4:34 PM  
Blogger European said...

Anne of Green Gables!

I cheated, so you don't have to give me any points, I guess. But I do love the books and the movies. I've read them all multiple times, and the movies were great that one New Year's Even when I was still sick with my Christmas bronchitis... good times!

5:05 PM  
Blogger UrbanCannibal said...

I blame the wife, she owns those damned things on DVD - another curse from your Canadian friends :)
Anne Shirley - Anne of Green Gables

I am saddened by the fact that I know this

5:53 PM  
Blogger NewYorkMoments said...

Pere Lachaise is one of my favorite places in Paris! The first time I visited it I was 17, and then I went back several times when I lived there in '94/95.

Erm...this is your blog, so I'll stop here.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Cass said...

I also could spend a day just looking at gravestones. I actually enjoy being in cemetaries. And i will also mourn the loss of Val Kilmer.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Anne of Green Gables! One of my favorite books/movies. I taped it off tv so I would own it. I no longer own a vcr, but still...

By the way, what's with the rumor about moving Jim's grave?

9:34 PM  
Blogger The Dark Pig said...

Embarassing fact about the Dark Pig... played a chorus member in Anne of Green Gables The Musical

6:10 AM  
Blogger UrbanCannibal said...

I would like to collect all of your sympathy for admittedly knowing the aforementioned pig during his "theatrical" phase. Pity Me!

3:18 PM  
Blogger Serena said...

I would like to hear more embarassing facts about the Dark Pig!

Today was an interesting day and I would like to tell all of you about it, but I don't have any time to post right now...

2:01 AM  
Blogger BeckEye said...

Graveyards do make for great photo ops but I'm just a big wussy. I don't like even driving by 'em.

Your quote just semi-dislodged something I saw in a movie or TV show that I can't quite remember and it's driving me mad. Something about a tombstone that read "Here lies so and so's hopes and dreams", or something to that effect. I guess if I could remember who so-and-so was I could remember what this is from. If anyone has any idea, please let me know. I know it's slightly vague.

8:43 AM  
Blogger JgStephan said...

I wish you nice days in Dublin! Hopefully you do not receive anything from the riots.

3:27 AM  

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