Pere Lachaise - Monday January 28 2002
setting: Paris, France
Hôtel Practic was as noisy as ever this morning, but since our biological clocks were a little better adapted to local time, the sound of singing vacuum cleaners and morning toilet flushes was less of a disturbance.
Except for the London leg, I'd deferred to Gretchen for all the planning on this vacation. Today in Paris was no exception. Indeed, I explicitly told her that I didn't really want to know what we were doing today, that I'd just follow along and it would be a series of surprises. This was in perfect keeping with my pathological anti-logistical nature.
First thing this "morning," we walked to the nearby Memorial Du Martyr Juif Inconnu (the Memorial to Jewish Martyrs) and looked through the gate at the monument (now being rennovated). It was centered around a low, squat greenish column featuring the names of concentration camps, several of which we'd never heard of. This was one of the very few reminders we'd seen of World War II and the German occupation of Paris. I get the feeling that the French like to sleep through unpleasant times. I seems like an espeically French method for dealing with troubles of the world: Latin leisure presented as Teutonic calm or Gælic whimsy.
Nearby, we found ourselves in a distinctly Jewish neighborhood. It wasn't that stop signs and shop shingles were in Yiddish, but all the gentlemen were wearing yarmulkes and the ladies hid their hair beneath bad wigs. And nobody was snacking on long breads stuffed with jambon.
For lunch, we went to an genuine vegetarian restaurant called Piccolo Teatro near our hotel in the 4th Arrondissement. Aside from being vegetarian, it was a pretty authentically Parisian place. For example, the waitress didn't speak English. We both ordered the same thing, a saladesque dish rich in tempeh. It was a little weird by American vegetarian standards, but perfectly delightful all the same.
From there we walked to the Picasso Museum and did the complete tour. The story behind the Picasso Museum is that, upon Picasso's death, his heirs paid his estate taxes entirely in art, and it was enough to fully stock a museum. In addition to familiar and unfamiliar Picasso works, there are also ancient Greek reliefs, African masks, and works by Picasso's contemporaries, such as Henri Rousseau. I love Picasso to death, but something about that museum made me incredibly sleepy.
We rode the Metro eastward to the most famous cemetery in Paris, Pere Lachaise, and began walking around in it without any idea of where things were. We did know that some important people were buried there: Camille Pissarro, Oscar Wilde, Max Ernst, Georges Seurat, Frederic Chopin, and Jim Morrison, and I guess we thought it was more interesting to run across them randomly. But in a cemetery of this size, this was clearly impossible. For awhile, we just enjoyed the tombs as anonymous structures. Many tended towards the lavish, complete with gothic spires and stained glass windows, although some were in various states of decay. Crumbling tombs always struck me as injury added to the insult of death; the whole point of stone memorials is so a mortal can leave an indelible mark on the material world, not that he ever did much more with his life than mow his lawn every Saturday and go bowling with his bonehead guy friends.
After awhile we found some random guy with a map and, with an idea of where we needed to be, we went in search of Jim Morrison's grave. If you're less than fifty, American, and find yourself in Pere Lachaise cemetery, you're under some obligation to visit Jim.
Finding Jim wasn't as easy as I'd expected. I remember seeing photographs of Jim Morrison's grave all piled high with candles and surrounded by a halo graffiti. But the upkeep of Pere Lachaise has evidently improved since those pictures were taken, and Jim Morrison fan graffiti was minimal at best, usually appearing as feeble scratches on the sides of sarcophagi, often concluding with directions such as Jim->. Unfortunately, the bulk of this graffiti was some distance from Morrison's burial plot. As one drew closer, the graffiti vanished. As we searched through the graves, Gretchen and I became separated. When I next found her, she was guiding a group of French tourists she befriended to Jim Morrison's grave.
All the graffiti around Morrison's grave had been completely scrubbed and sandblasted away and a plain-clothed guard was stationed nearby to see that things stayed as they were. I took one glance at Morrison's unremarkable headstone and then went looking for artifacts, eventually using a long stick to retrieve a pin from inside a rotting iron crypt nearby. On the pin was a drawing of a knotted X of rope and the words RAT TRAP AND SCOTLAND AGAINST DRUGS.
From Pere Lachaise, we walked back into the 4th Arrondissement and eventually found a British Pub called The Bottle Shop, owned by a friend of one of Gretchen's Park Slope friends. We sat at the bar and asked if this friend of the friend was there, but he wasn't. So we ordered some beers and reveled in the fact that we were no longer walking. The Bottle Shop seemed like a fun little place and very English-friendly. Up above our heads hung green and white striped chicken piñatas. By the time we were done with our beers, the bartender who had served us was gone, so we left without paying like the hardened sociopaths we are.
That bartender had given us a few ideas for places to eat, but the only place we could find was an Italian restaurant over near the Bastille. Truth be known, we would have been happy with any place that didn't serve English or French food.
View a gallery of pictures from this adventure.