Friday, December 11, 2009

Le Cimetière de Montparnasse

Located in the 14th arrondissement, Cimetière de Montparnasse is just one of the many cemeteries in Paris that invite curiosity-seekers, cemetery tourists, and folks in need of a quiet respite from the brouhaha of constant people motion. With limited free time, I picked this particular place simply because it was in the arrondissement I happened to be poking around in. Well, not all true that. Unlike other folks obsessed with Jim Morrison's or Oscar Wilde's grave site, Jean Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett's were my dead-'n-gone fixations and Le Cimetière de Montparnasse contained both. The same cemetery also was home to Man Ray's, Eugene Ionesco's, and their respective spouses' resting places.

Man Ray is buried with his wife ("Together Again") Juliet Man Ray in a grave marked with "Unconcerned but not Indifferent" etched out in a loose handwritten style on one of the two headstones. Empty plastic film containers along with some flowers were placed near the headstones.

The guide maps that are given out free at the main entrance were accurate enough to get you to the general area of the cemetery where you then meandered up, down, left, & right in the vicinity until you came upon your searched site. Or, like me when it came to finding Man Ray's grave, you could ask one of the helpful cemetery workers for assistance. Each of the fellows I put my inquiry to was extremely patient; I just wish my French ear was sharp enough to catch and comprehend their little asides they threw out as they left me by each site. I'm sure these pithy remarks would have made my Montparnasse memories more vibrant.
Samuel Beckett's grave site was simple with clean lines. I moved a bouquet of flowers to allow a camera shot of his name (To prevent any spiritual backlash, folks, I immediately placed the flowers back in the EXACT SAME SPOT (No Beckettian JuJu on me!)). At the foot of the grey-white speckled marble, a pamphlet written in dedication to Beckett, in Italian, was laid out, open to a page that the author signed with a "For You, Sam" salutation. Suzanne Beckett is also buried with Samuel Beckett, as is Rodica Ionesco with her husband Eugene Ionesco. The joining together in death all made sense to me for these people.
...But...Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir being together surprised me. Actually, not the being buried together part, but the actrual act of being buried at all, specifically Sartre's body. Somehow, I assumed that being the Ultimate Existentialist, Sartre would NOT be buried at all.
Not being an Existentialist but being a royal Pain in the Ass (a condition that covers many philosophies), I barked on through that day and the following to anyone within my yapping as to "Why is Sartre the Existentialist even buried?" My daughter's fellow students quickly learned to skeedaddle upon espying me entering their domain. I was the verbal equivalent of the beggars parked at most Metro entrances, preying on your loose1 or 2 Euro coinage. With Sartre, I'd expected a casting of ashes to the wind, flecks of existentialism forever riding air waves in and about Paris. The finality of a sealed box 6 feet under at Le Cimetière de Montparnasse seemed so....uhmm...anti-existentialist. The interesting location of the grave (it's the grave closest to the main entrance/exit (depending on one's viewpoint) of the cemetery) suggested to me that perhaps he was still waiting to escape the walls of his confinement.

The day that I happened to be walking in and around the grounds of the cemetery were mainly overcast with an occasional shaft of sunlight shotting through. Perfect conditions for soul-searching and gravestone-gaping. When not bugging the workers in the cemetery for locations, I had a Nano plugged in with Tortoise's TNT on constant replay. "I Set My Face to the Hillside"? A perfect song for the rumination.

One last note, Cesar Baldacinni's grave was amazing. The 12 year old site was remarkable in the weathering that it's gone through, the sculpture's sharp edges still holding up to the Parisian rain crying down on it.

Click on any image to see a larger version

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Re: "Beckettian JuJu" -- it's too late for that, my friend! (Or is it?)
And I have to ask: is Morrison's grave still a big deal? It has seemed to me like his star has been in a steady decline since Stone lavished the love. But maybe I'm only speaking for myself, here.
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