There's a lot to do and see in Paris, so sometimes you just need a little direction. At the suggestion of a family friend, a octogenarian who lived in the city for years, I went over to Père Lachaise cemetery in Belleville. It's the largest cemetery in Paris and feels like a city itself with about 800,000 residents - many of whom are famous. Very famous. So famous that more visitors come to Père Lachaise annually than any other graveyard in the world. Walking around is sort of like embarking on a bizarro Hollywood homes bus tour. Mansion mansion mansion Spielberg's mansion! Grave grave grave Proust! Upon arrival, I decided I needed direction once more and that's how I began my search for Jim Morrison.When the cemetery was opened in 1804, people were less than excited about trekking all the way out to the 20th arrondissement for a funeral. So, in a brilliant marketing move, they moved the remains of La Fontaine and Molière over to the new digs. Since then, more have arrived. Most are French, some are super French (Marcel Marceau, I'm looking at you) and some aren't French at all (Chopin, Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas, Isadora Duncan). I found Chopin when I noticed a small, huddled group in the distance. They all had their maps out and marked off the name on their morbid scavenger hunt. "I think Edith Piaf won the Nobel Prize for Science," one woman wondered aloud. I almost asked if any of them had found the Lizard King, but decided that success would be sweeter if I found it on my own.
I walked around mapless, aimless but for a memorized "address" for Morrison. It's easy to get lost in Pere Lachaise, not just because of its massive size, its boulevards and winding rues, but because there are so many things to look at. It's a veritable outdoor sculpture park, filled with every sort of grave marker imaginable. Some had no names at all, some had three generations' worth. A somber group of people drove to the chapel for induction of the newest resident and a group of workers renovated the tomb of one of the oldest. A young couple scrubbed at a gravestone together, lathering their loved one's memory up in high, yellow rubber gloves.As I meandered, a man called me over in French. "This is a very famous French painter, Géricault" he told me after directing me to this site. He pointed out a few more to me "all French," before disappearing as quickly as he'd appeared. It must seem strange to him, that the most visited grave in the cemetery is an Irishman's - Oscar Wilde. I didn't dare tell him who I was on the prowl for. Here's the thing - I just really thought that my mother would like a picture of Jim Morrison's grave.
The newer memorials reflected more modern tastes and a lot were upbeat. Next to this guy was a similar marble slab with an artificial palm tree affixed to the top. Nearby, was a vertical stone that read "It Does Not Have Anything To Do With Anything." Seurat and Pisarro are both buried here and I would have liked to have seen how they were honored. But I was on a mission.A number of graves are opened or destroyed, a few seemed to have new names inscribed over old ones. People came in through the cemetery gates with big, plastic jugs - filling up at one of the available water pumps and then exiting. All of this - along with the fact that the cemetery is secular - gives the space a casual, lived in feeling as opposed to a dreary or austere one. I wish I could have taken better pictures, but the tree shading was flecked with sunlight. Every now and then, someone in a Jim Morrison (or, in one case, Val Kilmer) t-shirt would walk by, flipping through digital pictures contentedly. It gave me hope that my aim was somewhat correct.
Finally, tucked between tombstones and mausoleums, I found Jim Morrison. He's almost impossible to spot, but what do you expect when you just happen to die in Paris after spending five months of your life there? Prime real estate? He was originally buried with no marker at all, but soon the police placed a shield over it. Then, a bust was erected, but it was stolen (a new one is said to be in the works). A tree nearby has messages scrawled all over it, probably acting as a beacon for fans. Anyway, this one's for you, mom!