The day before, I had stopped at one of the Paris train stations and bought a ticket to Luxembourg. Here was the plan:
I had a job interview in Amsterdam on Monday, so instead of waiting out the weekend in Paris, I thought I would work my way back up to Holland and visit some other cities. I noticed on the map that Luxembourg was nearby since, like most people, I had no idea where in Europe Luxembourg was to begin with. I bought a train ticket for Saturday afternoon to Luxembourg City.
That Saturday morning I hopped on the train to visit one last attraction in Paris. Keeping on my death-inspired tourism theme, I decided to go to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Now I know what you’re thinking … ‘OK, I understand the Catacombs, that’s actually interesting and unusual, but a cemetery?!’ But it’s not just any cemetery, it’s one of the most famous burial sites in the world. Not because of it’s age, layout or locale, but because of it’s occupants. Many of France’s most celebrated leaders, thinkers, singers, poets and authors lie entombed on it’s expansive grounds, including one James Morrison, lead singer of the Doors. In fact, I heard that Morrison’s grave had become something of a Hippie Mecca. From Wikipedia:
American singer and songwriter with The Doors, author, and poet. Permanent crowds and occasional vandalism surrounding this tomb have caused tensions with the families of other, less famous, interred individuals. Many other parts of the cemetery have been defaced with arrows purporting to indicate the direction toward “Jim”, though even these defacements have in many cases been defaced themselves, resulting in arrows that point in two directions.
I just had to check it out.
At the entrance I found a map of all the tenants and their locations.
Remember that this is the largest cemetery in Paris, there’s a lot of dead people to cover. I jotted down a quick list of people I might like to pay my respects to and their lot numbers, like Corot (#61) the French landscape painter, Moliere (#58), Proust (#90), Wilde (#83) and of course, Morrison (#30).
Everyone was spread out all over the grounds, so I decided to just wander around, make a concerted effort to see some famous graves, then get back to the city.
It was an overcast morning, perfect for a visit to a graveyard. On top of that, it had rained that night and some of the water still hung in the air like a cool haze, which gave the whole experience an eerie feeling. I wandered around the area of section D6, keenly searching for Morrison’s grave. I heard that they erected a barrier around the grave to keep people away from the actual gravesite. When I got to the area where he was supposed to be, I saw this woman in a bright orange, semi-tie-dyed skirt/halter-top combo with a matching headband, skipping, dancing and moving around an area as she listened to an iPod. I must be close …
Part of my confusion was because I expected Jim Morrison’s grave to be litered with joints, beer cans, graffiti and flowers, so after wandering around the hippie woman’s turf for a few minutes, I was surprised to find the grave relatively untouched. There were a few flowers lying in front and on top of the headstone, and there was a low metal fence that surrounded it, but other than that it was pretty tame. Jim Morrison would’ve been ashamed.
Just as I approached, the hippie woman stopped dancing and playing with a stray cat who happened to also be holding a vigil for the dead icon (the cat might’ve been hers … if so, I bet it’s name was Jim). Then she suddenly hopped over the barrier, stood on top of the grave, clasped her hands in front of her chest and gave a quick half-bow namaste. Then she hopped back over. My hands weren’t quick enough to get a picture of it, but it was quite a sight.
The marker for the grave has it’s own history too:
The grave had no official marker until French officials placed a shield over it which was stolen in 1973. In 1981, Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin placed a bust of Morrison and the new gravestone with Morrison’s name at the grave to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death; the bust was defaced through the years by cemetery vandals and later stolen in 1988. In the 1990s Morrison’s father, George Stephen Morrison, placed a flat stone on the grave. The stone bears the Greek inscription: ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, literally meaning “according to his own daimōn” and usually interpreted as “true to his own spirit”. Mikulin later made two more Morrison portraits in bronze but is awaiting the license to place a new sculpture on the tomb.
I wandered around the grounds some more while munching on a croissant aux amandes I picked up at a bakery on the Avenue de Flandre near the hostel. You could even hire a tour guide for the cemetary who will show you to the most famous tombs, without the hassle and phobia of getting lost in a graveyard.
As I got back to the city with plenty of time before my train. I thought I would take a walk to the Eiffel Tower to see it during the day, but got side-tracked by the Les Invalides and the Musee Rodin along the way. Les Invalides was originally a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, built in the last quarter of the 17th century. Now, it’s a military museum and most notably, the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte. I only took around the grounds, since buying a ticket would make much sense with only an hour or so to spare.
I did however buy a ticket for the gardens of the Musee Rodin. The gardens is a popular spot in summer for picnics and sunbathing, and pars of the gardens even have these cool wooden deck chairs set up. More than that, the grounds are decorated with replicas of Rodin’s most popular works, like the Thinker.
But by far one of the coolest things I saw at the Musee Rodin was on an electrical post on the sidewalk outside:
As people left the museum, they’d slap their entrance stickers onto this post, even going to the lengths of standing on the window sill of the building and reaching up as high as they can go, just so they could be the highest sticker on the pole (that, or many of the visitors are giants of freakish dimensions). Did I put mine up there? Of course.
I started walking to the Eiffel Tower, but was sidetracked yet again, but none other than an outdoor market (market!!). This one was pretty impressive, though it offered more prepared foods than things like fruit and veggies. But it also had farmhouse cheeses, fresh baked breads and delectable chocolates. I will certainly miss Paris …
I picked up a sandwich and a delicious baked goodie for the train ride, the continued walking. About a block later, I stopped and realized that I would have barely any time to take pictures at the Tower and even if I did, it was so overcast they wouldn’t come out very well anyway. I turned around and walked to the metro station.
When I left my bags in the storage locker at the hostel that morning, it was one of the only bags there. I placed it safely in the back. When I came to pick it up in the afternoon, a field of backpacks separated me from mine. I stumbled, stomped and side-stepped my way over each one, then had to do it all in reverse. Like a pack mule I trekked to the Gare de l’Est and got on my train to Luxembourg.