"Here, here, it's here! I found it, watch me waving my arms!" as I finally walked upon the most visited stone head in the world, after erring for 30 minutes.
We have been looking for the tomb of Jim Morrison (singer of the Doors, who died in Paris in 1971) for a while, along with two other sets of tourists who were wandering for a much longer time than we had. The Père-Lachaise cemetery is a vast park in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, a huge enclosure full of resting places, trees, birds, funeral flowers, and wandering humans.
The maze is almost always haunted (pun intended) by semi-lost tourists looking for that one particular famous person deceased that they have wished to get a glimpse of in their final state of peace. Plenty of those here. The cemetery has several "Divisions" and specific corners and locations for various religions, as all are represented here. This is not a Christian cemetery; this is an all-denominations garden built in 1820.
Even though we knew the tombstone is located in Division 6, Plot 30, from the map posted at the entrance, no other indication was available. We walked from Division to Division, 8, 7, 9, 8 again, without finding it. I knew from experience that it was at the top of the cemetery, towards the back wall, but I also remembered that each time I visited, it was a struggle to find it.
You would think that the official ground keepers would have posted signs and directions by now, in view of the fact that Jim's grave location is always the most requested by all visitors. But no, they want to make it hard to find, it seems, probably because it builds the tension and the joy of finally getting to it.
As soon as they saw my arms, the groups gathered together to ogle the revered tomb. It's quite modest, has no erected header, is low on the ground, hidden behind other graves, and is protected by a complete circling of metal barricades, the same ones used by the police to rein in protesters at rallies. His tomb is also the only one with a permanent surveillance camera focused on it, for in the past, many young people took pieces of the stones, stole chunks of its marble base, and tried to spend the night locked in the cemetery to sleep on it.
It got a little better, as the 1970s idol lost a few fans, of old age no doubt; but it still seems that new generations of adoring followers are coming to see where he lays. Imagine if he had a Twitter account? No doubt that he would have millions of followers.
I was happy to have finally located it first, for all those admirers getting distraught for not finding him. On Jim's headstone, his father requested the following inscription to be engraved: "KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY", appropriately meaning "According to his own demons."
The park is uneven at best, on steep slopes of eroded and decaying cobblestones. This place is old, very old. No heels recommended here. The language spoken the day we visited was clearly not French, but a lot of English, some German, and lots of Scandinavian who also master the English words like no other.
Several monuments honor the victims of wars, but also of catastrophes, such as airlines disasters -- four of them are represented here.
Other celebrities also have their own problems with their last place of rest on Earth. Take for example the reporter Victor Noir. His verdigris effigy, a full size replica of his body lying down as if sleeping has been somewhat defaced (no, not the right word) by women throughout the years, as his semi-erected penis (of stone) has become a symbol of fertility, and the legend has it that woman rubbing against his tool will get pregnant.
The erotic myth requires placing flowers in the upturned top hat after kissing the stone man on the lips and rubbing his visible penis. This shall bring fertility, or a blissful sex life, or at the very least, a husband within the year.
I don't know what it does for men. The place of "friction" clearly shows up on the statue, as the verdigris color has become of a different shiny color after all these years. Cemetery workers have never bothered to clean or restore it, since the same thing would most likely happen again. Some say it represents the rigor mortis of the organ that takes place after death.
The man was not such a celebrity, no Anderson Cooper here, but the lifelike reality of his model made him the perfect victim for sexual attraction. Fatal? After all, he is dead, he is lying down, and his penis is clearly visible under his pants of stone.
So the ritual will probably continue for decades - no statistics on how many women actually got pregnant after the exercise. The statue is of very good quality as it does not even look that worn down, beside THE spot, for what I could see.
Victor Noir died in 1870 in a duel with Prince Pierre Bonaparte (at the time the favorite way of dying for your beliefs) the great-nephew of Napoleon, after he took offense of the writings of Noir in the newspaper he was working for, La Marseillaise. Noir might have been one of the first journalists to die for his words and his opinions. The life-size sculpture represents him as he fell down after being shot, with his hat a little apart by his side, as it had rolled away when he hit the ground.
Balzac, Chopin, Molière, Edith Piaf, La Fontaine, Proust (Where fans often leave a Madeleine), Colette, Oscar Wilde (in a wild grave) are also entered here, among hundreds of other celebrities, and have visitors of their own, albeit rarely as fanatical as these of Jim or Victor. Rumors has it that the ground underneath the cemetery is not doing so well, and many of the bones have been moved elsewhere, a fact impossible for me to verify.
The numerous alleys and sidewalks are wicked and on a descending slope, and the very advanced age of the place might indeed require moving the skeletons or losing them to loose decay.
Siné, a former collaborator of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper you've heard of this past January, bought a large sepulture here - even thought he is not dead yet - big enough to contain 60 people, with a funky headstone in the shape of a cactus and the ironic quote: "Mourir? Plutot crever!" (Which loosely translates in "Dying? I'd rather keel over!)
In any case, nobody gets buried here any more, unless the family owns a perpetual concession. Just about one million people are entered here. No new spots can be dug, no room left. Cats and rats roam the cemetery, but after all, it is a gigantic garden. Visitors bearing sandwiches and rain water aplenty in all those flower pots makes it a paradise for all.
Just like if you were there, this very detailed virtual tour lets you select the tomb you wish to visit by taking you there, listed in alphabetical order.