Thursday, December 21, 2006

Day 3:

The morning was foggy and damp. There was only one thing to do: go to the graveyard. The Pere Lachaise Cemetery is located on the Northeastern corner of Paris proper, and it is situated on acres of hilly rocky land. The fog was even heavier on the hill, and I was one of the first people to arrive. For the majority of the time I spent there, it was just me and thousands of massive stone graves emerging from the fog. Pere Lachaise is important because it is a grand example of a Northern European graveyard - with above the ground crypts and chapels. However, what most people come to see are the graves of some of the world's most important people. As a publicity stunt, the first person to be entombed there was Moliere. The oldest inhabitants are Heloise and Abelard who are interred together forever. (Abelard was a famous Professor who came to Paris and opened what became the University of Paris. Heloise's uncle hired him to be her tutor, but they fell in love and secretly married. When she became pregnant and their marriage was exposed, her uncle had his lackeys break into Abelard's home and castrate him. Abelard then took monastic vows and Heloise followed suit; they never again lived as husband and wife but wrote some of the world's most beautiful love letters.) There are also Chopin, Delacroix, Ingres, etc. My main reason for the voyage was three-fold: Gertrude Stein, Jim Morrison, and Oscar Wilde. Gertrude Stein, the American ex-pat author, is in a very unassuming grave along one of the main roads. There are no flowers and very few mementos, with the exception of a set of dominos. After 25 minutes of searching alongside of a nice German hippie, I/we found the hidden grave of Jim Morrison. Unlike Stein's, Morrison's grave is covered in flowers and cards. Devoted fans have etched lyrics from his most famous songs on the surrounding tombs. I don't know if he would like it, any of it. He came to Paris for a break, but... anyway. My most anticipated grave was that of Oscar Wilde, who sought refuge in Paris after a scandal involving a male lover came to light in London. His wife took their child(ren?) and he was forced into exile. His time in Paris, I imagine, was not happy. After his death, he has become a martyr for gay men the world around. I was excited because I think The Picture of Dorian Gray is the best example of a truly perfect gothic novel - The Importance of Being Ernest isn't bad either. The grave itself is very tall and supported by an art nouveax (anatomically correct) male angel. Transvestites apply copious amounts of lipstick and kiss the grave - it is a melange of light pink and vibrant red lip marks. Just being there I felt like I was a part of something. I think, unlike Morrison, he would be happy with his legacy.

The next stop was the Centre Pompidou - the mother of all modern art museums. The building itself is built completely inside out. The Parisians hate it (but if they didn't hate something I think they would shrivel up a bit). The grand courtyard is brimming with the young and too-artsy sitting enjoying a cheap lunch or sleeping. It is hard to evaluate the quality of the exhibits itself. On one hand, I was a bit disappointed. The Centre Pompidou has an amazing permanent collection featuring, well, everyone. However, being a cutting edge museum, they have very few examples of this on display. On the other hand, they had a brilliant cinema (as a place and concept) exhibit that incorporated Picasso and Leger which made me giddy. Also I discovered a new-to-me artist called Robert Rauschenberg who created the concept of "combines"(a type of collage mosaic thing, of course - I had no clue). It was brilliant with 3-D paintings incorporating textiles, wood, and sheep. He is also known for helping invent modern dance. The whole exhibit was quite fun!

Lunch in the Jewish quarter, walk through the Marais district, a stop at Dumas' Paris home, and I had to head to the train station. Back home to Nantes. What a great trip! It was the first time I was able to bond with the city itself. Both times before, I was only there for a day. This gave me time to really enjoy the parts of Paris I have been longing to see - since the early days of my French obsession.


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