4-PL Jim Morrison Tomb-RSynopsis:  A visit of the Cemetery Du Pere Lachaise, the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Orangerie.  Another rainy day.

Balancing camera and umbrella, I slipped and stumbled across the age-old, wet cobblestones at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise today, which put a strain on my lower back that I can still feel at the end of the day.   This was my second attempt to visit the cemetery.  The first one, two days ago, got drowned in pouring rain.  I had to abandon the mission.  But today, the light drizzle gave way to a bit of sun here and there and I could easily wait out the occasional short and heavier shower in one of the abandoned family graves which are remarkably like little guard houses; perfect for one person to stand in, protected.

With 800,000 dead, Pere Lachaise is a true necropolis, a city for the dead.  It is saddled over a hill which at the top affords a view across the city.  The soft organ tunes wafting out occasionally from the chapel and the light drizzle created the perfect atmosphere for the visit, topped off by black crows which seemed to call this place home.  69,000 full-scale tombs go all the way back to the early 1800s and range from solemn to preposterous, from simple to ostentatious from forgotten to vandalized. 

I came prepared:I had studied the map of some of the rich and famous and decided to seek out the painters and sculptors in particular and if I stumbled across them, acknowledge the poets and musicians as well.  Even with this limitation, I spent several hours roaming the grounds.  I found each and every grave I had marked except for one:Rosa Bonheur, one of the few but significant female painters of the 19th Century.  Even though I came across three official guides who were leading groups, neither one of them had heard of her nor could they help me out…  Go figure!  I think she deserves more than that.

As I was searching for her in vain up and down the narrow, wet graves in section 74, group after group walked up to Jim Morrison – a 1960’s rock star buried nearby.  Now I was the one who had never heard of him…  As always, ignorance goes many ways.  J Morrison’s grave had to be fenced in by the cemetery guards as his fans had started to take drugs there at night and have sex on his grave!  Oh my.  No such worries for Rosa Bonheur…

Another group of people who could not restrain themselves were the fans of Oscar Wilde.  His grave, too, is guarded behind a huge glass wall.  Reportedly, lipstick fan messages were written all over his rather striking sculptural tomb to the effect that you now can neither read the poem chiseled on the side of the tomb nor the dedication to the sculptor who created it.  Vandals!

Pere Lachaise is nothing short of a time capsule of French history.  To name just a few of the people I sought out today this will become clear:  Champollion, who translated the Rosetta Stone and rediscovered hieroglyphics;  Nadar, an early photographer who was known for cruising above Paris in his hot air balloon;  Caillebotte, an industrialist and patron of the Impressionists who himself was an accomplished painter; Gertrude Stein, the openly lesbian American ex-pat who ran one of the most famous Parisian private Salons and patronized artists and writers; and artists such as Delacroix, Corot, Seurat, Modigliani, Gericault, Gros, Ingres, David, and Pissarro.   And that is just the beginning.   Add the intellectuals, industrialists, politicians, actors, and writers and you have a truly astonishing spectrum of French society spanning two centuries.  I am glad I did not let the rain deter me from this visit.  I would recommend it to anyone even just for the ambience.

As there were hours left in the day, I took the subway to pay a visit to the Great Mosque in Paris, one of the earliest in France, built in 1926 in a distinct Moorish-Turkish style.  And since I have unlimited use of the subway and other public transportation in Paris with my weekly pass, I rode to the center of town to take in a few touristy highlights:  The newly restored Opera, Napoleon’s impressive Triumphal Column mimicking the Caesars of Rome and the Musée de l’Orangerie which features not only an impressive collection of 19th Century master pieces but most importantly eight humungous canvases of water lilies donated by Monet and displayed in two custom-built oval rooms.  After my visit of Giverny where these were painted in a special studio, this visit seemed only fitting.  Thanks, Fred, for the tip!

And so went another day in rainy Paris.  Good night.

4 comments so far

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  1. In my high school choir, so many years ago, we sang a haunting but very beautiful song of Pere Lachaise that I so warmly remember. I often find that music is my companion on trips – a welcome guest.

  2. I would be interested to hear more about the mosque. Also, did you see any burqas walking around town?

  3. What an interesting place. George wonders if you noticed the angel on Oscar Wilde’s grave. He said that when he was there some years ago the “word” was that someone smashed away the, shall we say, identifying feature of the male angel. Wouldn’t that must make Oscar twirll in his grave. LOL
    I’m not sure I feel really good about the whole Morrison thing. Apparently not only drugs and sex on his grave, but destruction on graves throughout that incredible cemetary by his “followers”. You’re right…Rosa can rest in peace from that kind of terrorizing.
    Onward and upward.

  4. I feel really lucky to have grown up in an atmosphere where I am equally impressed that you were at Pissarro’s and Gertrude Stien’s grave sites as I am that you were mere feet away from Jim Morrison’s grave site. He was crazy, but he was an amazing musician. So exciting!