There’s nothing like a good cimitiere on a wet day in Paris.
We understand that cemeteries are intended to be places for grief, remembrance and quiet reflection. But when a cemetery is filled with the graves of people who moved us with their art, writing or music, visiting final resting places leads to ‘oh yes, I remember him/her and that song/film/book/play.’ We can’t deny that it is entertaining too. In a quiet reflective way of course.
Parisian cemeteries are full of the dead famous. Pere Lachaise is the largest and best-known, Montmartre is the bohemian one, and Montparnasse, in the southern part of town, is also home to a host of passe celebs.
Montparnasse knows it can expect tourists, so when we enquired at the main entrance we were provided with a simple map, in English, of who was who and who is buried where.
Soon we were cheerfully and reverently strolling along the leafy lanes and hopping between graves to find our favourites.
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre lie together near the main entrance. Andre Citroen of motor car fame, writer Susan Sontag, actor Phillippe Noiret, Alfred Dreyfus (who had the affaire), playwrights Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, sculptors Brancusi and Zadkine, composer Camille Saint-Saens and poet Charles Baudelaire all RIP here. To name but a few.
Significantly, the more famous the artist, the more simple the grave. This is a good decision, in my humble opinion. An elaborate tomb seldom matches the beauty and power of a great artist’s work and putting a monumental angel on top looks like try-hard, wannabe, wishful thinking.
We have a strong preference for fresh, and preferably living, flowers on graves. The plastic ones look cheap, tacky and soon fade anyway. If you can’t say it with fresh flowers, better to say nothing at all.
We noticed too a curious, presumably recent, habit of leaving metro tickets for the departed. We were too polite to check whether they were used or unused. If used, could it be the admirer saying, ‘I travelled all the way across town and spent EUR1.27 to visit you, Simone’? If unused, is the gesture implying that the dear departed may be taking their next journey through the turnstiles by public transport?
As we were leaving, a funeral cortege arrived, bringing the latest permanent resident to Montparnasse. It was probably someone who made no great public contribution to the world; few of us do. But the chances are good that it was someone who was loved by family and friends, who will be much missed and fondly remembered.
Here, without comment, is a selection of final resting places we located: