Thursday, August 11, 2011

Oo e Jim Morrison, sil vous plait?

At 5:30pm, the guards at Pere Lachaise Cemetery ring hand bells to chase out the living.

The bells of Pere Lachaise.  They ring them when it's time to go.
I love that they ring actual bells.  Something automated wouldn't fit in at all, and a loudspeaker recording would be horrible.  They've probably rung those same exact bells for hundreds of years.  And there's no reason to change anything.  You can hear the bell all through the cemetery, and its meaning transcends language.  The sun is going down.  It's time to go.

Map of Pere Lachaise.
I am drinking a beer at a small restaurant right outside the gates, now.  I'm sitting inside, but all the doors are open to the evening breeze.  Time to scribble.  Time to drink.  Time to try to make sense of what I've seen today.

I've enjoyed my afternoon with the Paris dead.  I should have left more time, though.  The place is huge, and fascinating.  Packed full of graves, which tumble in historical abandon down the hillsides.  One hundred and ten acres, in the 20th Arrondissement, and more than two hundred years old.  Still in use, though their rules are strict and there's a waiting list to get in...

A tumble of graves at Pere Lachaise.
I first heard about Pere Lachaise because Jim Morrison died in Paris and was buried here.  I was born the year he died.  I love his music.  I love his reckless musical abandon.  Perhaps those of us who are control freaks are always attracted to those who run free, just like those who are lost and adrift yearn for anchors.

I braved the Metro for this trip, and it was amazingly easy, despite my lack of French language skills.  I've taken public transit in a bunch of cities, and it really isn't any different here.  Public transit is made to be simple, so the maximum number of people can figure it out.  You just need to pay attention, read all the signs as best you can, and leave yourself time to be lost for a while.  (A small aside: at Princeton U., they don't put the names of the buildings on the buildings they are clearly aiming in the opposite direction.)
The streets and boulevards of Pere Lachaise are named, just like in any other city.
I started at the top of Pere Lachaise, generally working my way toward the main entrance.  The benefit of this strategy is that I was mostly moving downhill.  The downside is, I never did get a map.  I made do with the one in my guidebook, which helped me hit some of the highlights, although it could have been a little more specific.
Crypts and trees, all in a row.
Oscar Wilde resides near the northern entrance, so I visited him first.  And I wasn't the only one!  His tomb is large, impressive, slightly tacky and covered with lipstick kisses... and I think he'd like that.
"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."
-Oscar WildeLady Windermere's Fan, 1892, Act I

This cemetery is a peaceful place to wander.  Everything is so old and strange and full of ghosts.  A clock somewhere chimes five o'clock before I know it, and I haven't found Jim Morrison yet.
Who was she, I wonder?
Guarding the doors.  But is he keeping someone out, or keeping someone in?
Where is Buffy when you need her?
Edith Piaf's grave.
Aux Morts.  Monument to the dead.
Auschwitz Memorial at Pere Lachaise.
Ravensbruck Memorial at Pere Lachaise.


I stumbled upon Edith Piaf, and the communist wall, and sad, stark reminders of those lost in World War II -- soldiers and resistance fighters and people in the death camps.  So much history.  So many dead.

But where was Jim?
Angels guard the door.
Cul de sac.
A grand house for the dead.
I stared at my map a bit, and wandered a bit -- up this street and across that alleyway and down that way -- and then finally asked someone.  "Escuse... oo e Jim Morrison, sil vous plait?" I asked a young man who was sitting on a curb nearby.  Because I thought I was close.  I really did.

"Right there," he said.  And I glanced between two stones, where he was pointing, and sure enough, a bunch of people were queued up.


Jim Morrison's grave at Pere Lachaise.  Someone has been toasting him.
Some young punks were sitting beside Jim Morrison's grave, appropriately enough.  Smoking cigarettes, drinking and trying to look tough, but not quite succeeding, like Ralph Macchio in "The Outsiders."  Several of us older punks skipped the cigarettes, and settled for taking pictures.  And taking a moment.

Jim Morrison.

Is here.

Yet another talented young person I wish hadn't done themselves in with drugs and alcohol.

Ce la vie.  Perhaps that's the price of reckless abandon.

I found Chopin, too, before the bell began to ring -- a white rose and notes from young musicians decorating his stone.  One of the notes was written on the back of a Metro ticket.

Chopin's grave.  
Letters to Chopin in a dozen languages.  Some with music.
And what would I say to the dead, if I were to write them a letter?

Come on, baby, light my fire?

I <3 Jim Morrison.

1 comment:

Peter said...

My three favorite things from this blog post, in no particular order: 1) Jim Morrison is in Bohemian. Like You.! 2) You spoke French. 3) The note on the back of a Metro ticket.