Friday, September 23, 2005

Sometimes, I can be a tourist in my hometown. Don't laugh. I already know this post isn't cool.

“WE…ARE… THE… famous dead people, we’re the famous dead people.”

I sing this little song I made up, with Benoit, every time I go to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It’s like a little ritual, a little ritournelle, to prepare us for the bonheur that is always our cemetery walk. I love my quarter in Paris, not the least because it sits right next to the cemetery.

The cemetery is huge, with many winding laneways in the southern portion. It’s easy to confuse which laneway you’re supposed to be on. Of course, if you’re privileged enough to call it your own private garden (and not be dead), then you really take less time to hunt down graves, and more time to enjoy the scenery. I feel, the best time to see the cemetery is right now, in the fall. The leaves are rustling, the crows are feasting on chestnuts and sun slants brightly onto the tombs. The air is mysterious and melancholy, and each weather-beaten stone tablet seems ready to bear another winter of rain and wind.

Located on the side of a hill, the cemetery dates back to 1804, when Bonaparte moved all the cemeteries outside of the Paris. Since it was so far out of the way, for that time, the administrators launched a little marketing strategy by moving the graves of La Fontaine and Moliere into the cemetery. Soon after, they also moved Abelard and Heloise to a joint sepulcher. Soon people were flocking to be buried with these famous people!

There’s a surprising collection of people. There’s kind of a musical corridor, where the famous musicians are grouped. Here, you can find Chopin next to Bellini, whose opera Norma is so notoriously difficult, only a few sopranos have ever been able to do it justice. One of them is Maria Callas, whose ashes are also at the Pere Lachaise Crematorium. Of course, for the bores, there’s always Jim Morrison. Today, there were a bunch of throwback deadheads hovering around his fenced off grave, reeking of cheap liquor. I can’t think of a more pathetic display than this motley crew before a rather plain grave, littered with cigarettes and, today, a rather shabby looking toque. Apparently his body isn’t even buried there.

For the thinking man/woman, Lyotard, Merleau-Ponty, Auguste Comte and Pierre Bourdieu are also buried there. Bourdieu is serendipitously placed next to Brillat-Savarin, the first philosopher of gastronomy. I like to think of Bourdieu having a chuckle being such close neighbours with this superlative representative of the aesthetes.

For the amateurs of film, there are not only bad actors, like Marie Trintingnant, but also good ones like Sarah Bernhardt. There are also major pioneers of cinema, like Melies and Robertson. Robertson is rather a strange man, of the renaissance kind that blends magic, mystery and science. On his grave are the etching of a crowd gazing at awe as a hot air balloon flies away, and on the other side, a crowd recoiling in horror before spectres, skulls and ghosts. Robertson was the first to perfect a kind of magic lantern parlour trick where he projected slides of paintings of ghosts onto the wall. Scary!

Speaking of scary, there's also the Baronness Stroganoff, whose tomb is cursed. Rumour has it that she has offered a large monetary prize to anyone who can spend a night in her tomb. The first man died of fright... the others have simply gone mad. I find her grave, littered with heretical symbols and strange hexes, simply frightening.

On the esoteric side, there's also Kardec and Raymond Roussel. You have to read the notice from the Paris City Hall, on the back of Kardec's tomb, to understand the full limit of his lunacy. It tells you that there are no vibrations coming up from the earth so don't touch the tomb... Kardec was the head of the spiritualists movement... Roussel, well, apparently the inside of his grave is divided into 37 parts... Does that mean he was cut up into 37 bits? In life, he lived on a boat, eating the same extravagant meal everyday, and writing surrealist bits that were to influence the likes of Duchamp.

There’s also Nerval, lying face on to Balzac’s more ostentatious grave. Delacroix, Corot, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst... y’know… famous dead people. Anyways, long story short… it was a nice walk.

And then Benoit said to me: “there's less of a chance of us living here [the 20th arrdt.] for 20 years than there is for us to be famous. But you know Sammie, it’s a bit silly to dream of being buried in the Pere Lachaise.”


and regarding last night, I was grumpy, tired and distracted. not a good party panther. sorry for the lack of humour, but live jazz piano of the hotel kind makes me angry. there is NO reason for that! That, plus taking the metro for over 45 minutes. Ugh. When is he going to get a scooter??