Monday, November 7, 2016

Who's Buried In Paris?


The simple answer to the question that is the title of this post is "a whole lot of people." The detailed answer for me is a whole lot more fun.

Paris is one of the great cities in the world to spend time roaming around cemeteries. Maybe that sounds like a strange vacation activity to some people but for me, there are people buried in Paris who I want to say hi to, even if they maybe can't really hear me (I'll leave it up to you to decide whether they can or not). There are people buried all over France's capital city but the best ones are in the graveyards. I mean sure they have amazing churches where you can get within sight of Victor Hugo's or Napoleon's tomb or actually touch the final resting place of Marie Curie, but the real fun is spent in two of the world's greatest burial grounds: Père Lachaise (founded in 1804) in Paris' 20th Arrondissement and Montparnasse (founded 20 years later) in the city's 14th.

If you decide to go looking for someone in each of these wonderful burial grounds, chances are they are located on the maps that these places make available to tourists. You can find Père Lachaise's online and you can borrow a laminated hard copy of Montparnasse's when you show up there (a copy is also available online here). Want to know where Jean-Paul Sartre, Oscar Wilde, Camille Saint-Saëns or Edith Piaf ended up? They are all on the maps along with 169 other folks. But once you get there, there's no guarantee they are easy to find. They aren't marked with big neon signs or even small non-neon signs. There's some fun to be had hunting among the rows of tombs to find whomever you are looking for. Just a warning, though: you may come away disappointed. Some of these graves are overgrown with moss or other plants and you may have to leave without spotting your favorite author or composer or artist. We looked for Guy de Maupassant in vain in Montparnasse and eventually just gave up.

Now I didn't go to Paris to see the graves of Sartre or Wilde or Saint-Saëns or Piaf. I wanted to visit some folks more famous than these four and some who were a whole lot more obscure. And we had to get some significant help to find two of them I wanted to find. Unfortunately, there was nobody right there to help with Maupassant. Below are my top ten. I hope you will make your own and find your own special meaning in these two amazing places.


10. André Citroën (1878-1935), Montparnasse
I wrote on this blog years ago that I'm not much of a cars guy. And it's true, I'm really not. But I'm sort of fascinated by these little cars that roam around Europe that you can't get in the United States. And Citroëns, the namesake automobile of the guy that we found buried along the main path on the east side of Montparnasse Cemetery (Montparnasse is split in two halves by rue Émile Richard), are little cars that are all over the streets of Paris.

Citroën, whose name means "lemon" in Dutch (yep that's just a random note) started his automobile company in 1919 after supplying armaments to the French forces during World War I. His main claim to fame as a pioneer was as the inventor of the double helical gears, which apparently were revolutionary and which I'm not even going to attempt to explain here because I can't really begin to understand this stuff. After all, I'm not a cars guy. If we'd have found Maupassant, Citroën would probably have gotten bumped off this list. We didn't, so he's on it.


9. Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891), Père Lachaise
If there's one man responsible for the character of much of the city of Paris today, it's Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the Emperor Napoleon III's hand picked guy to expand the city limits and redefine the nature of monuments and parks in the city. If you find yourself walking through a park in Paris or down some grand boulevard that connects one magnificent structure to another, odds are Haussmann is responsible for it in part or in whole.

Under his command, workers in Paris spent from 1854 to 1870 building parks, train stations, markets and civic monuments and creating wide streets to connect them all logically.  Of course, widening streets involved wholesale demolition of large sections of the city, displacing about a quarter of a million business people and residents alike without any sort of argument or appeal process. I can imagine Haussmann was not a guy to be trifled with and I'm not sure I would have liked him, but there's no doubt I enjoy what he did some 150 years or so later. He's buried in the Haussmann family crypt near the main entrance of Père Lachaise.


8. Charles Garnier (1825-1898), Montparnasse
One of the signature works of Haussmann's rebuild of Paris was the new Opéra in the city's 9th Arrondissement. Charles Garnier was the architect of that building and it was by far the piece de resistance of his career. In fact, if he hadn't designed that building, I wouldn't have looked for him this past September.

Now I'm an architect by profession so wouldn't it be natural to include Garnier a little higher up the list? Well, yes. But, no. Despite the fact that I love the Paris Opéra building and so desperately want to see a real opera there one day (note: I WILL be going back to Paris at some point), the design of the building itself, and probably Garnier himself, was pretty backward looking considering it was designed and constructed at the dawn of the industrial revolution. He could have done so much more with changing technology and industrial production techniques considering it was the most important commission in the city at that time in history. Because he didn't, he's at number eight on my list.

Garnier's grave is a little difficult to find. It's not on the edge of one of the sections of the cemetery and takes some hunting. We almost gave up here but ultimately obviously didn't need to since we snapped the pic above.


7. Stéphane Grapelli (1908-1997), Père Lachaise


6. Laurent Fignon (1960-2010), Père Lachaise
Stéphane Grapelli and Laurent Fignon are both in the columbarium of Père Lachaise and can be located by knowing the location number of the boxes that contain their ashes. Grapelli is number 417; Fignon is number 1445. They are placed here together on this list not because they are both in the columbarium but because I went to seek each of these guys out not for myself but because of my dad.

My dad has a few great loves in life. One of those is jazz and another is cycling. Grapelli covers the jazz side of things and Fignon takes care of the cycling. For this post anyway.

Stéphane Grapelli is notable as a jazz man not only because he played the violin which is typically not considered a jazz instrument but also because he founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt, who invented a uniquely French style of jazz called gyspy jazz or jazz manouche. Grapelli and Reinhardt played together from 1931 (before the Quintette) until 1939 at the outbreak of World War II and then again briefly after the War. Jazz manouche still exists in Paris; we tried to find it with little success. Maybe next time...

Laurent Fignon, who died all too soon at the age of 50, was a two time winner of the Tour de France bicycle race in 1983 and 1984, an annual contest which my dad spends three weeks each July watching pretty much daily. Fignon almost won a third in 1989, losing to Greg LeMond by just eight seconds, the closest Tour de France ever held. I have more interest in cycling than jazz; I used to go watch bike races with my dad in the late 1970s in England and I keep track of the Tour de France each year because of him but I just haven't gotten into jazz at home yet (although I can listen to it live). Because of this, Fignon finishes ahead of Grapelli.


5. Gustave Doré (1832-1883), Père Lachaise
By and large, I hated English class in high school. To me, this is a little bit odd because I like writing and I love reading when I find the time to do it today. Maybe it was the subject matter or the forced nature of learning stuff or having to appreciate everything on a deeper level with foreshadowing and symbolism and man vs. man/nature/himself and all sorts of stuff like that. Above all else in English class, I hated poetry because I just didn't (and still don't) get it.

But there were things we were forced to read in high school that I liked and one of them surprisingly enough was a poem: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I liked this work so much that my mom bought me an illustrated version of it for Christmas or my birthday (as I recall it) one year. The illustrator of that book was Gustave Doré and ever since I received that book from my mom, I've loved his work.

Doré illustrated a number of famous works of literature in a variety of styles. His works for the Rime of the Ancient Mariner are dark and cold and creepy and filled with eerie symbolism. They are perfect to look at while reading along and they reinforce the loneliness and desperation that the mariner is feeling while searching for his salvation. Since the day I cracked that book my mom gave me, I've held Gustave Doré in high esteem.

Doré's resting place proved incredibly difficult to find. We spent a good 15 minutes or so going back and forth along the rows of graves in the section of Père Lachaise where the map showed Doré buried. While we searched there was a guy obviously watching us which was honestly a little concerning until he asked us who we were looking for and took us right to Doré's grave. I suppose he was just there to help us although we didn't know it. Good Samaritan I guess. Sometimes you need people like that when you are traveling.


4. Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), Père Lachaise
If I'm not much of a jazz fan (and I'm not), I'm only probably slightly more into classical music. But whereas I couldn't express a preference for jazz beyond a particular style (partial to dixieland and blues, if you allow me to call blues jazz), when it comes to classical music, I definitely have composers I love. Ludwig van Beethoven is definitely my number one guy. Second is probably Gioachino Rossini. Both composed instantly recognizable works which are loud and forceful. They hit you over the head so to speak, which I sometimes need.

If you claim you don't know any of Rossini's work, you are probably wrong. Think the Lone Ranger theme (Rossini's William Tell overture) or the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry gets that horrendous haircut (Rossini's Barber of Seville is the basis for that episode and the music playing is from that opera). Rossini's overtures have appeared in Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry cartoons and his Thieving Magpie plays in the background of one scene in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. You might not be able to name the work, but you know Rossini. Trust me.

Rossini was Italian and spent his early years rising to fame writing in that country. But in 1824 he moved to Paris and spent the rest of his life (44 years) living in France. When he died he was buried in Père Lachaise just two spots up the hill from Georges-Eugène Haussmann. His tomb (shown above with the name partially obscured by the trees) still stands in Père Lachaise but his remains are no longer there. They were moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence nine years after his death.


3. Jim Morrison (1943-1971), Père Lachaise
I first visited Père Lachaise in mid-December 1994 on the first trip of my life to Paris. It was cold and there's not a whole lot of daylight there at that time of the year and the cemetery seemed completely empty that day. I remember seeing not a single soul within the graveyard walls that day until I got to Jim Morrison's grave. Where I found about eight people milling about just looking at the grave. I have to believe Morrison's grave is the most popular grave in Père Lachaise.

Jim Morrison, of course, was the lead singer of The Doors. He's buried in Père Lachaise because he died in Paris from what was documented as heart failure at the age of 27. Morrison had taken a leave of absence from The Doors after the release of what would end up being their last studio album, L.A. Woman. You won't be able to really miss Morrison's grave. It's one of the only ones (or perhaps THE only one) in the whole cemetery which is fenced off. By the orderly way stuff is arranged on top of the headstone, it doesn't look like the fence is effective in keeping all of the people away from the grave. It wasn't this way in 1994 and it's too bad they have to do this.

I like The Doors a lot. I have all their albums and I think Morrision Hotel is one of the best albums ever made. But Morrison lands at number three on my list because there are two others that I would visit before Morrison in these two cemeteries.


2. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), Montparnasse 
I've written a couple of times in this blog about my love for the Statue of Liberty. Bartholdi is the man responsible for taking Lady Liberty from an idea to a reality. And yes, I realize the photograph of Bartholdi's grave is the worst one on this post. His grave is the floating shadowed angel in the center of the photograph.

While Bartholdi was an accomplished sculptor who executed a number of commissions throughout his life, nothing comes close to the fame afforded to him by the two decades plus he spent working on Liberty Enlightening the World. If he hadn't been involved with the Statue of Liberty, I would have had no idea who he was and wouldn't have sought out his grave. I love pretty much everything about the Statue. It's one of my favorite works of anything in the world and I love that I was able to stand near what used to be Bartholdi.


1. Auguste Perret (1874-1954), Montparnasse
Everyone I have written about so far in this post I was able to find either by looking at the official cemetery maps or by searching on the internet. I could not, however, find Auguste Perret. So I went to Paris with just a hope that someone, somewhere would be able to point me in the direction of his grave. Lucky for me, there's an office at the main entrance of Montparnasse which can help.

Auguste Perret is one of my favorite architects of all time. His most famous works were produced during the time between the start of the industrial revolution and the blossoming of full blown Modernism with a capital M. It is my favorite period of architectural history because the struggle these architects were having coming to grips with new materials and methods of manufacturing produced amazing works of architecture. Perret pushed the envelope on concrete construction, one of those processes that the Romans seemed to have mastered but which we as people totally forgot after the collapse of the Roman Empire. If I had a Mount Rushmore of architects, Perret would be one of my first choices along with the Dutch architect H.P. Berlage and two others, one of whom would likely be Frank Lloyd Wright although I'd have to put more thought into that one than I have writing this blog post.

My search for Perret's final resting place the day we visited Montparnasse started with a "Nous cherchons Auguste Perret." The rejoinder as I remember it was "Is he famous?" and yes, it was in English. After a "yes" and an "I've never heard of him" the search was on. By the time my conversation with the man in the cemetery office was over, I had a map to Perret's grave and a promise that he would always remember Perret from that point forward. In case anyone else out there is ever looking for Perret, I'm posting the map at the bottom of this post.

The map got me to approximately the right spot and it took less than five minutes to find the grave, which turned out to be the family grave of Perret's wife, although I noted Perret got top billing. This find meant something to me. I've always been someone who has had heroes and Perret is one of the very few architects that fall into that category. I paused standing at his tomb and let him know that he was one of my favorites and a source of inspiration. He was one of the only two graves I talked to in Paris (along with Bartholdi). Hopefully that doesn't make me too weird. 

Notwithstanding our failed attempt to find Maupassant, roaming around these two cemeteries was one of the best things we did in Paris. There are some people buried here who have changed my life in some small way and so finding where they ended up meant something to me. The other great thing about doing this? It's free. Even if you just want to walk around and look for a few minutes rather than seek out someone specific, I'd highly recommend some time in one or more of these two spots. You might find someone with a personal connection to you. I never imagined I'd find as many as I did.

The map to Auguste Perret's grave. Area 27. 12 graves from the south edge; 14 graves from the west.

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