A Travellerspoint blog

Day 12, Part I: Paris Leftovers

sunny 80 °F

It’s Thursday and I’m still in Paris – I keep pinching myself to remind myself I’ve actually made it here – but with my flight home swiftly approaching Sunday, I’m aware I've entered lame duck status. Having already been to London, Paris would be my final “new place” of the trip, and I’m wishing I had more time.

With the intentions of spending time at three possible targets (Pere Lachaise, Cite de la Musique, and the Orsay), I make my way out of Montreuil around noon, and head first to Pere Lachaise, which I’m told is the most visited cemetery in the world. In my course on American Pop Music, I always reference this place in my Doors lecture, as Jim Morrison’s grave is a pilgrimage spot for many American rock fans. (Happily, I found the rumor of graffiti arrows pointing "this way to Jim" scrawled on nearby tombstones patently untrue!) I’d feel guilty sometime next semester if I spoke of visiting Paris but not making the pilgrimage myself – although I’m certainly interested in seeing much more than Morrison’s grave. Problem is, I’m really pressed for time – one of the few events I had actually pre-researched and written down on my (extremely loose) “itinerary” was a concert given by the young British early music vocal group Stile Antico, singing at 19:30 that evening in London.

I navigate a few trains on the Paris subway (old hat by this point), and enter Pere Lachaise at a side entrance, purchasing a map for 2 Euro. I had intended to spend only about an hour here, but it’s really a massive place and I’m repeatedly looking at the map and thinking “oh, I have to go there…” I try to stay conscious while visiting old cemeteries (which, admittedly, I seem to do have a penchant for doing) that I shouldn’t disrespect the vast majority of the “non-famous” by heading straight for the famous graves, so I do walk around quite a bit and take some photos of memorials and statuary which catch my eye.

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I’ll post pictures below, but a partial list of “famous” stops would include: composers Ernest Chausson, Gioachino Rossini (though I later found out his tomb is empty, as they moved him to Florence and is buried in the same church as Michelangelo and Galileo), Anton Reicha, Francis Poulenc, and Frédéric Chopin, musician Jim Morrison, jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani (buried very close to Chopin), famous 12 century lovers Heloise & Abelard, Sarah Bernhardt ('the most famous actress the world has ever known'), singer Edith Piaf, artist Amedeo Modigliani (tragically, buried with his pregnant girlfriend Jeanne Hébuterne, who leaped to her death five days after his), writers Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Proust, and Honoré de Balzac, playwright Moliere, and painter Eugene Delacroix.

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I spent the most amount of time at the graves of Oscar Wilde, Proust, and Chopin. Wilde’s grave is really a trip, as not only is it well attended, but its absolutely slathered in lipstick marks from people (women, presumably, though for a spontaneous goof I did the same) kissing it. All kinds of notes and poems and Wilde quotes adorn the grave, despite the sign explicitly asking people not to deface the memorial. Something tells me Oscar wouldn’t have minded.

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At the grave of Marcel Proust, I have my photo taken by a guy who tells me he was an English professor in America, who is making “the pilgrimage” to the grave of Jim Morrison. He asks me what I enjoy about Proust’s work and I relate the story of being half asleep on the train to Amsterdam, reading the section of In Search of Lost Time where Proust is describing the sensation of being half asleep!

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Chopin’s grave was moving to be at (though his heart is in Poland), especially given my recent memory of having seen this incredibly inspiring video (thanks Sisarina!) and playing it for my music classes. It’s interesting that Chopin’s grave gets far more “traffic” then does Mahler’s, due to the comparatively out-of-the-way setting of Mahler’s grave in Vienna. (And I suppose more people are familiar with Chopin?) At one point, an older man walks around Chopin’s grave, sprinkling what appears to be salt! As I’m leaving I give directions to a lost group looking for Chopin’s grave, and even sing a few bars of the E minor prelude to set the mood for them.

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Exiting Pere Lachaise around 14:30, and pressed for time, I hop in a cab and considering the time, take the rather bold move of asking him to take me to Cite de la Musique, which two of my graduate professors had recommended I see for “all things early.” The chunnel train for London leaves at 17:13, which gets me there just in time to make that evening’s concert, so I know this will be another “drive-by” museum stop. The challenges of ambitious traveling!

I arrive at the museum, pay the entry fee, and spend about 30 minutes exploring. It really is a remarkable place, containing hundreds of authentic instruments dating as far back as lutes from Greek antiquity. On display are numerous antique keyboards, tracing the development of the harpsichord of the 17th century leading into the pianos of the 19th, and the ornate details on the instruments are stunning. Sadly, I catch just the last few notes of a solo baroque violin performance of one of the Bach solo violin sonatas; one of the draws of this museum is that it features an actual musician who stays around and answers questions about the quirky-yet-fascinating world of early music performance.

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Leaving the museum, I have about 80 minutes to get back to Montreuil, gather my things, and head to the train station to catch the chunnel, so I decide to pay for another cab and speed away. I will leave the Orsay for a return trip, scheduled for someday... though honestly, I don't think I'd choose to come back to Paris alone again. Before leaving the comfy apartment, I take some photos, grabbing one with my gracious host Lea, right in front of the Louis Armstrong poster, which was the initial element that had drawn me to her apartment listing!

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As I’ve still got a few Metro tickets remaining, and having spent enough on cabs on this particular day, I take the Metro to the train station. A few stops prior to the station, I put my odds at 60% for getting on the 17:30 train. Sadly, I arrive at the ticket counter one minute after they’ve closed off entry, and I glumly purchase a ticket for the next train which leaves one hour later. (Incidentally, this train ticket is my most expensive purchase of the trip – 245 Euros, around $300 US! Note to future traveling self: this is what happens when travelers buy same day tickets!) This extra time, however, does grant me the opportunity to grab a few minutes drinking a 1664 and finally, reading Proust (yes, I actually did that) at an outdoor café across from the train station.

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Note: Because I did so much on this day – and because admittedly I'm posting what seems like billions of photos – I'm splitting this day into two entries. To be continued, across the pond...

Posted by coolmcjazz 10:22 Archived in France Tagged photography

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