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.
Despite that, I always feel a sense of euphoria when I stumble upon second hand bookshops overseas.
The musty smell of the shop, the yellowing pages and the cheap price of books give me more thrill than shopping for clothes unless the garments are second hand and cheap.
Here are a few of the hidden treasures I’ve found during my travels:
BOOK OFF, Japan
BOOK OFF is one of Japan’s second hand book store chain. I was introduced to it by my host family in Fukuoka. At the end of my summer school, I sent home a heavy box of Japanese manga.
Popular manga usually go for 200 yen for a book while older manga are 100 yen. Foreign language books are not cheap though.
When I visit Japan (which is not often), I always have my eyes peeled for a branch of BOOK OFF on the streets. (There’s even some BOOK OFFs in Paris, if you are ever there.) When I see a BOOK OFF, I can’t help popping in to see their collection.
During my last trip to Japan, I had a free day waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Gintama Land. I found a BOOK OFF on the second floor of a building and spent hours in the shop, thumbing through comics.
Books in BOOK OFF are always in pristine condition. They look even better than most of the books on my shelf back home.
The Japanese usually read books stores while standing (it even has its own phrase “tachiyomi“). On weekends, it’s quite a sight to see everyone standing, reading while facing the bookshelves.
Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes
I was looking for a place to have lunch in the center of Nantes when I came across a second hand bookstore “Bouquinerie du Centre”.
The selection wasn’t a lot but it had titles which weren’t easily available in Singapore.
Trying to look smart, I picked up a few Simone de Beauvoir’s books which looked easy enough to be read. Le deuxième sexe wasn’t available, unfortunately.
But I must confess that the books are still in the suitcase since my move to my new rented room in August 2011.
Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco
While in the Mission District looking for lunch (again!), I found Adobe Bookshop. The shop was in a state of orderly mess with stacks of books arranged alphabetically according to author and genre.
I browsed the rows and rows of books, squeezing through bookshelves and found a man snoozing in one of the armchairs.
While I was looking for something to buy back home, a man came into the shop. He said he accidentally bought the same book and asked if he could exchange it for another. The shopowner agreed.
The old gentleman came to my aisle and was looking up and down for the author’s row. When he asked me if I knew where the author’s book was, I helped him in his search. We found it.
He then asked if I had my lunch as he was going to grab a bite. Although he didn’t feel threatening, I pretended that I just ate because I don’t think I should go around having lunch with strangers I’ve just met, even if it was in a book store.
While browsing, I overheard the shopowner telling a customer that the shop will be closing down as the landlord wanted to increase the price of the rent. I looked at the price of the books and wondered how the shop manage to stay open in the first place.
When I paid for my books, the shopowner asked if I was from overseas. I answered, “Singapore”. He then said that he was collecting foreign currency and if I had any money from Singapore to exchange with one of the foreign money in the plate.
I did have a S$2 note and I chose a pre-Euro coin from France. I said my thanks and left with my books.
I think the shop would have closed down by now. I feel sad.
This post was inspired by this week’s #Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT): Hidden treasures.
Have you stumbled upon hidden treasures when travelling? What was it?
I’ve been known to be a penny pincher during my regular days. While I don’t become worse when travelling, I do keep an eye on my budget.
Fortunately, I am not too sporty so I do not spend my extra budget on anything that requires me to move my arms or legs too much. (Cycling does not really count as exercise as it is considered transportation.) I’m immune to theme parks so that’s another savings.
I love to eat but my unfortunate purse means I only eat cheap food–never 3-star Michelin restaurants. Visiting museums is my weakness but most are afforably priced.
So where do I splurge when I travel? Musicals and performances.
A musical in France
Since I first heard Le Roi Soleil‘s soundtrack, I swore to myself: “I will see a French musical live!” (A sample from the soundtrack, also the most romantic song on earth.)
When I was planning my trip to Paris last year, I accidentally found out that Mozart, L’opera rock was performing in the country. I had been listening to the soundtrack of the musical ever since I accidentally (again!) stumbled upon the music video for L’assasymphonie which I thought was tres bizarre in the beginning.
Unfortunately, the troupe ended their Paris performances and were travelling around the country. I checked out their schedule and, on a whim, I bought a ticket for the show in Nantes.
It was now or never! While the show, the TGV ride and hotel stay set me back an extra few hundreds of euros, the chance to watch a real life performance was priceless.
The show rocked my socks off, though I was wearing none. I didn’t understand half the dialogue but music, gestures, dances and costumes do not need translation.
Being in the audience, peering at the stage was very different from watching it on Youtube which is still better than nothing. I felt goosebumps listening to the familiar songs.
The trip was also not a waste as it was in Nantes that I first “met” my travel idol, Nellie Bly, although my first impression of her was not great because of my poor French.
Dita von Teese’s “Strip Strip Hooray” show was on for two days when I was in SF. I could not get the tickets online but managed to get them from the box office.
Despite standing through the whole 3 hours, the show was fabulous. Not only were the burlesque performers entertaining, even the audience was really sporting. (Not so sure about the girl standing in front of me with a large headdress though.)
There was much booze and weed going on. The audience catcalled and cheered at the right moments. I felt like I peeped into a part of San Francisco that’s not found on the streets.
In the end, it was worth spending the $35 which meant three meals or an extra hostel’s night stay. Thank you for the incredible night.
How’s everyone’s week been? Mine was busy covering an annually tradeshow. Luckily, they keep us journalists pretty well-fed in the press hall so I’m a happy camper.
Today’s #FoodFri is a picnic lunch I had in the grounds of Fontainebleu Castel in France. As you can see, it’s not quite as scandalous as Manet’s <<Le déjeuner sur l’herbe>> but it was a peaceful lunch.
I bought the supplies from the Monoprix near the castle after I dropped off at two bus stops too far from my destination. I decided that I did not want to stress myself with ordering lunch en Francais so I bought couscous, chicken, yogurt and H20.
Being cold, pre-cooked food, it wasn’t the best tasting dish I’ve had in France but I’ve had a worse meal (instant noodles I brought from Singapore.) Sacrebleu!
I found a quiet spot overlooking the castle grounds.
Not far away, a kindergarten group was having their lunch.
I decided to skip Versailles and go to Fountainebleu because I know that if I ever come back to France with other people, I would be dragged to see the Sun King’s palace. Napoleon had stayed in this castle and there was an exhibition of his things in the castle.
#FoodFri, short for Food Friday, is a weekly post where I feature a dish I’ve had while travelling or a dish you should try when you come to Singapore.
On Tuesday, reports about the Singapore police arresting a 25-year-old “vandal” trended on Twitter and my Facebook wall. I’m not sure what the exact cause of arrest was, I think she was taken in for spray painting “MY GRANDFATHER BUILDING” on a pristine white wall and “MY GRANDFATHER ROAD” on a pristine gray asphalt.
Besides spray painting, she was believed to have pasted stickers at on top of the button of pedestrian crossing lights. I find the stickers whimsical, something Zooey Deschanel would do after she checks the directions with Siri:
According to the Singapore Vandalism Act, enacted in 1966, those who are found guilty of vandalism “shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years, and shall also, subject to sections 325(1) and 330(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010, be punished with caning with not less than 3 strokes and not more than 8 strokes”. (TL;DR version.)
It’s strange that we’re still using a law enacted in 1966 for the arrest. Back then, gloves were still a hit among the ladies.
Street art overseas
Discussing this with D, she said the point of argument should focus on “how art cannot be a crime?”
I remember being impressed by graffiti during my travels so I scoured my photo collection for some street art/acts of vandalism.
In Nantes, this caught my attention because of Darth Vader and Little Miss Vadar.
Make love, not arrests.
The city of Yogyakarta is famous for its graffiti.
The Mission in San Francisco is famous for its murals. There’s even an app for that.
I suspect the graffiti in KL were city-sanctioned and even sponsored by a paint company.
I hope Sticker Lady would be given a lighter sentence instead of prison time.
Recently we asked our Twitter followers the question: which destinations have you (or will you) visit primarily for the food? As you would expect, hundreds of foodies replied with their favourite places to get their fill. The clear winner? Italy.
Guess what, I’ve been to 7 out of the Top 10. I’ll head over to Italy, Thailand and India soon (fingers crossed).
I love food and I live to eat.
Here are some of my favorite food I’ve nommed during my trips.