[To increase the level of spook, check out My visit to the Empire of Death before this post.]
I didn’t plan for my third day in Paris to be full of death.
In the morning, I visited the Catacombs. When I was doing my travel research, one guidebook or another recommended Montparnasse cemetery where among the dead laid Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.
I do not know much about de Beauvoir, apart from her being a famous feminist and a on-and-off partner of Sartre. I learned fake existentialism from a French-teaching armadillo on the University of Austin Texas’s Web site.
I do not remember how I got to the cemetery. I might have taken the train to Rapsail stop, since Google Maps is telling me that it’s a 1.5km walk from the exit of the Catacombs.
Following my trusty portable map and some road signs, I reached the Montparnasse cemetery area. There was a high wall separating the dead and the living. I wish it was a short gate so I could have jumped over it and get finished with my itinerary.
There was a high wall separating the dead and the living. I wish it was a short gate so I could have jumped over it and get finished with my itinerary.
I walked the a long stretch of road to the gates. For someone who do not know what is behind the walls, the vine-covered bricks might mean a private garden lay behind. A garden of the dead.
When I did reach the gates, I studied the map of the cemetery. The map was too high up for me to take a good picture to use as a walking guide. Instead, I studied where de Beauvoir and Sartre laid and mentally mapped my way there.
Looking for de Beauvoir
It wasn’t that easy finding their graves. I was expecting something grand with wreaths decoration which was why I missed out the grave when I walked past it a few times.
The tombsone was a pale marble, hidden among the other gray grave markers. Craved on the tombstone in gold were the names of de Beauvoir and Sartre and their birth year and death year. (Is there such a thing as a “deathday”?)
The tombstone was small, I had expected something flashier given how big they were when they were alive. There were a lot of souvenirs on the tombstone. If it weren’t for the seriousness of being in a graveyard, I might have laughed out loud at the gifts.
I particularly like the drawing of de Beauvoir and Sartre. A few lines from a de Beauvoir admire were scribbled on a piece of paper, probably torn out of a journal bought especially for the trip to Paris. A train ticket stub. A withering flower.
I regret not buying a bunch of flowers near the gates of the catacombs although it’s a little silly since the dead would not be able to smell them.
I didn’t expect de Beauvoir and Sarte to share one grave, like they aresharing an apartment. I thought that they each had their own plot of land, instead, they laid next to (or even on top) of each other.
Knowing what had passed between them during their final years, I wonder if the people who buried them were too romantic and decided that they must be together even in death.
While looking at the grave, I was overcome by sadness and wiped a few tears. What does it mean to live and be famous when in the end, we all would die and end up buried in the ground.
A walk in the park
After contemplating life at the grave of de Beauvoir, I decided to walk about in the graveyard.
The graveyard was shady, and very much like a park or a garden. I sat down at one of the benches and regretted not buying a picnic. Come to think of it, I might have lost my journal in the graveyard. I guess that’s much more poetic than losing it in the public toilet.
There was a grave marker in Chinese but I do not know the history of the two people who laid inside.
There was another lady in the graveyard that day. She was refilling her bottle at one of the taps. I was worried that she might be drinking non-potable water.
The cemetery ground was large. I didn’t find other famous people’s graves even though there are supposed to be more.
I did find some lovely graves.
Yes, really large.
I was surprised to see an apartment next to the graveyard. Being raised in a Chinese culture, any accommodation next to a graveyard means “bad things will happen”.
But Montparnasse didn’t look that much like a graveyard, so I suppose not much bad things will happen.