So here I am tapping out a few words. It feels as though this is a bit like one of those pieces that appear in the news during a quiet week when the politicians are all behaving themselves and celebrity scandal has gone off grid. But papers must still go to press and cameras must still roll at the appointed hours, and so are rallied all of those trivial and regional fall-back stories to plug air time gaps and spaces on pages. And so it ashamedly seems to be here.
I don’t write for writing’s sake, and this is, after all, supposed to be a blog about me getting out and about; and as I have become something of a social recluse for the time being, there has been nothing new to write about. Somewhat surprisingly, though admittedly rather gratifyingly, I was told this week by somebody who I didn’t even know read this blog, that as he hadn’t seen any new posts recently, he had been reading all the older ones. He also asked about my profile picture, the philosophising French carrier bag. Well, there’s a story……
Montparnasse is the second largest cemetery in Paris. It covers about 46 acres in the 14th arrondissement and is the final resting place of some of the city’s great and good, including artists, writers and thinkers. My friend and fellow traveller on that trip about six years ago is fascinated by necro-architecture and how, like abodes in life, graves can reveal the personalities of the dead.
Some were nothing short of art installations, the exhibitors’ final works in a gallery where they would be both present, and not.
Did any have a hand in those creations; set their living eyes upon them and envisage future reactions? Or were these the designs of others who had loved and admired, expressing who, to them, the dead had been?
Interesting then the plainness of the tombs of some of Montparnasse’s best known occupants. Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, celebrated intellectuals of their time, are identified only by their names and the dates of their lives, though the imprints of admirers’ kisses show they are remembered and revered. So often, less is more; that’s one of my own philosophies, anyway.
I like the photos that you find on headstones; a smile in a happy moment frozen in time. Who was behind the camera? What was the joke? Heartbeats immortalised.
Who can think of Serge Gainsbourg without a mental soundtrack? Younger readers, click and learn.
Considered to be quite racy at the time, with all the sighing and breathless utterances of desire and amore, Je t’aime is probably the song for which Serge is best remembered. It has become a tradition for adoring visitors to leave their metro tickets as a sign of how far they have travelled to pay their respects. I don’t think we left ours, but we may have spared a wistfulness sigh and hummed a few bars as we moved on.
Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 and raised in a New York Jewish immigrant community, Man Ray was one of the most celebrated artists of the Surrealist and Dada movements. I am not a fan of surrealist painting, but I like some of Man Ray’s photography. Much of it is provocative and some of it disturbing. Dada was as much a political movement as it was creative, and some powerful messages are expressed through Man Ray’s images. The simple message epitaph is equally open to interpretation.
The most celebrated work of Charles Baudelaire is Les Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil, an eclectic mix of sensory and sensual compositions which speak of appetites and desires and the exotic. I’m not keen on traditional poetry where contrived rhyme metre determines the words, but I do still have a battered old copy of The Flowers, from my youth, which I dip into on rare occasions.
How very fitting and amusing it was then that as we made our way to one of the exit gates we spotted an unusual plastic carrier bag near a composting receptacle full of decaying floral tributes. In a place of dead thinkers and dreamers it offered an inspirational philosophy for living.
And that’s the story.