Anyone who has made the trek to Paris’ 20th arrondissement probably did it to visit Père Lachaise cemetery. It seems odd to say that a cemetery is beautiful but this one most certainly is. Wide cobblestone paved footpaths are lined with the most majestic trees. Sepulchres (like tiny houses for the dead) dot the path alongside more humble grave markers.
I’ve been here many times, most often to show someone where Jim Morrison is buried. It’s so interesting to me that people born in the 1980s come to see a dead rockstar from the 70s. But as my nephew, F-ing Mike, pointed out this trip, “People are strange”.
Last time the sisters visited Paris we ran out of time and didn’t make it to see Jim. They moaned which wasn’t quite fair seeing as how we’d seen all of Paris in only four days. I assured them that Jim Morrison would still be dead next trip and I was right. He’s still dead.
It’s not hard to find Morrison’s grave because no matter what time or day you visit there are tattered and tattooed thirty-somethings staring at their phone maps as they make their way there, very often missing the more remarkable sites around them.
On this Paris trip we took the sisters to the cemetery for the express purpose of… well, you know. We made some wrong turns and though we were enjoying ourselves we did try to remain quiet and respectful. We approached the area where Morrison is buried from the backside and we’re pondering whether we should leave the footpath to get there or take the longer way around. We were huddled around each other whispering when from behind a large tombstone came a man who looked as though he had been buried there some years ago. My first impression: Gene Wilder circa Willie Wonka. He was clad in all black from top to bottom, his clothes were wrinkled and his shoes dirty. “What are you looking for?!” He shouted, his black and grey fuzzy hair bouncing. “Jim Morrison,” I answered as though on the witness stand.
The man’s arm went to the air and his forefinger pointed to the sky, “He died!” He proclaimed, standing still as a statue and then he laughed. Then we laughed. Somehow and suddenly this bizarre man became our impromptu tour guide. We barely got a glance at Morrisons’s grave before we were whisked—whisked I tell you— to the graves of Marcel Marceau, Sarah Bernhardt, Frederic Chopin… he would began to tell us a story in heavily accented English but quickly get distracted. Then he would grab an arm (usually mine) and hurry us across graves and gravestones to the next location, “Shh shh shh, look here”, he whispered as he lifted the metal top from a grave. “Look inside”. As I lowered my camera to take a picture from afar he hollered, “Why are you so far away? Get closer!” My head sunk underneath the metal as I snapped a closer shot. Then off we went to see the broken penis at Oscar Wilde’s grave.
He showed us graves that were being dug up to make room for new graves, lawns scattered with ashes of the cremated. He told us the cobbled streets were made of broken tombstones from long gone graves. He kept telling us that you could be buried there for €80,000 or you could be cremated for €3000. “Me?” he laughed, “I will be baar bee kyew!” This became something of a mantra as we tromped over sacred graves as he continued to talk of baar bee kyew!! Others began to take notice as we skipped and skirted our way through the cemetery.
I kept giving a backwards glance at the others and used my eyebrows to convey we might be murdered or some such. But by the time he drug us to Victor Noir’s tomb and explained that if we rubbed the bronze statue of Noir’s somewhat…ahem…gifted parts.. we could have twins, pregnancy or gain a husband (to which I and my sisters said hell to the no), our guide, Raphael, had become quite endearing.
As we palmed him €40 (bargain!) and left to find our way out of this glorious cemetery we could hear Raphael saying to some passers by, “Jim Morrison? He died!”