Googling the ghosts of Montparnasse cemetery
Paris is well-known for its cemeteries, the most famous being Pere Lachaise, where tourists seek out the tomb of Oscar Wilde. But I live next to another great 19th Century cemetery in Montparnasse - and when I go there I always take my phone.
It is funny how we love a graveyard.
You would think we would find contemplation of all that decomposition and mortality to be off-putting, but we do not. Or at least I do not.
Over the last 10 years I have become an aficionado of the pathways and sculptures and chapels and memorials of my local, Montparnasse cemetery.
By now I know all the famous graves - Serge Gainsbourg, the singer and poet, his slab covered with flowers and metro tickets left by fans in reference to one of his best-known songs.
Near the northern gate, the shared tomb of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, with always a piece or two of folded paper. Words of devotion from some earnest admirer, often in Japanese for some reason.
Continue reading the main story
Charles Baudelaire and Guy de Maupassant, the photographer Man Ray and the chess grandmaster Alekhine, Samuel Beckett, Susan Sontag, Jean Seberg…
It is very regimented, in a way that official things so often are in France.
The ground is divided into 30 “divisions” and there are uniformed attendants who blow whistles and hustle everyone out at closing time.
Lines of watering cans attest to the fact that this is very much a (excuse the pun) “living” cemetery, with 1,000 new burials every year, as old abandoned tombs are emptied and re-used. So much for the pious hope, everywhere engraved - “plot granted in perpetuity”.
Anyway, it is a lovely restful place, all the more welcome for being at the heart of a busy metropolis. And now I have discovered a new reason to visit - the smartphone.
By which I mean, the possibility offered by any internet-capable hand-held device to serve up the most extraordinary array of instant, fascinating information about people - dead people - who we would otherwise totally ignore.