When I made a mental list of all the places in Paris a sixteen year old girl might want to visit, a cemetery did not make the cut, no matter how famous. Much to my surprise, Pere-Lachaise was high on my lovely daughter's list of places she could not miss.
I had always wanted to visit Jim Morrison's grave. I was something of a Doors fan in my teenage years. When the Val Kilmer movie was released in theaters, my daughter was an infant. I took her with me in the middle of the afternoon. That must be where she gets her affinity for the Doors.
I visited the cemetery's website before our trip to get an idea of where the grave was situated. I found the graves I knew were there that I wanted to visit: Jim Morrison, of course, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Eugene Delacroix, Moliere, Isadora Duncan, Edith Piaf. To my surprise I found Bizet, Chopin and Maria Callas were also laid to rest in Pere-Lachaise.
We visited late in the week, a day or two before we returned home. We started out with the group, taking the Metro from Oberkampf, changing lines at Republique and deboarding at Rue St. Maur. We walked up Avenue de la Republique and turned onto Boulevard de Menilmontant. The neighborhood was different from the area around our hotel which was situated between Avenue de la Republique and Boulevard Voltaire. This area seemed more common, more like everyday people might live here. The smells coming from the boulangeries and food shops were heavenly. I wanted to stop and look in every window.
The day was gray and we walked through a light drizzle. It was unusually cold for March, and I wore an ankle length sweater skirt and wool cape to keep the chill away. From the street, the cemetery was not that impressive. Once we walked through the gates, though, it was old and musty and absolutely spectacular.
The first thing we did was search for Jim Morrison's resting place. The graves are laid close to one another; some large, some small, some very old, some recent. The cemetery is on a hill, and we started walking up, following curved paths and the occasional graffiti marker (the one below was scratched onto a bench).
Like everyone else, I'd seen pictures of the stone adorned with a bust of Jim Morrison and we'd seen postcards of it in some shops in Paris. I couldn't remember just how the new headstone looked, all I could remember was the odd Greek inscription, "kata ton daimona eaytoy", which has been variously interpreted as "according to his own demon", "down with his own demons", "true to his own spirit", and "to the divine spirit within himself", just to name a few.
We walked through the cemetery, following the winding cobblestone paths. The atmosphere is eerie and a bit macabre, especially on such an overcast and chilly day. Some of the crypts and graves we saw along the way were gorgeous with age.
We had heard there were sometimes crowds around Morrison's gravesite and were expecting to fight our way through or wait in line to get close enough for pictures or to place a flower on the headstone. But when we arrived, there was no one in sight.
It was obvious others had been there, the headstone and the grave were covered with flowers, along with the occasional joint, and empty liquor bottles were nearby. We added our flowers and one of the girls had a picture of her father's rock band that she left on his behalf. My daughter and I lagged behind so that I could pour my little bottle of vodka on the grave without other teenage eyes watching. My daughter hummed a bit of her favorite Doors tune as I poured the libation:
All your love is gone
So sing a lovely song
Of a deep blue dream
Seven horses seem to be on the mark
Yeah, don't you love her
Don't you love her as she's walkin' out the door
She stopped short and told me to turn around and look behind us. There was a cat watching us intently from the top of a coffin shaped crypt. He continued watching us for a moment and then turned his back as if we had bored him. I think I've mentioned before how imaginative and dramatic my daughter can be. She became quite convinced that the cat was inhabited by the spirit of Jim Morrison, come to watch the ridiculous rituals that fans perform at his grave.
We walked through the stillness alone, just the two of us, taking our time and snapping photographs. There were graves, crypts and memorials both beautiful and haunting.
My lovely daughter had to stop by and give Oscar Wilde a kiss and sing a little "La Vie en Rose" to Edith Piaf. We wandered through the narrow, curvy paths and along the wider ones paved with cobblestones, reading names both foreign and familiar. We lingered at holocaust memorials and spring flowers in bloom. A couple of hours later we found ourselves at the entrance on Rue des Rondeaux opposite where we entered. We decided to walk around the cemetery rather than backtracking.
We walked on the sidewalk along the high stone walls dotted with moss, turning to go back to Boulevard de Menilmontant. The stone wall stretched out in front of us, but the sidewalk ended abruptly along with the street we were on. We took a pleasant detour through quiet streets, passing an old church along the way. We passed apartments where we saw young boys playing soccer in a courtyard and followed a young mother pushing her baby in a stroller while her toddler ran behind to catch up. On a corner we were greeted by young men passing out flyers for a coming election, each one advocating a different stance, and good naturedly competing for our non existent vote. We smiled and took the colorful papers lined with French, pleased that we didn't look like the lost tourists we were. Just as we decided we had been wrong not to turn back, we came upon this staircase that led us back to the street. The Phillipe Auguste Metro stop was a welcome sight, and we descended underground to plot the path to our next adventure.