Before leaving for Paris, several friends, urging me to go said, "You never know when you'll have another opportunity to see Jim Morrison's grave." That's a joke, because I'm not a devotee or Morrison's. But I do like graveyards.
Paris has one of the best graveyards I have ever been in: Pere Lachaise. It is claustraphobic and expansive at the same time. It inspires contemplation of passing and celebration of life in the same instant. It is a collection of architectural styles and tastes. It is visually stunning.
It seems interesting to me that the first interments when it was converted to a cemetery were La Fontaine and Moliere. Those graves, next to each other, surrounded by a small decorative wrought iron fence, a tiny clipped hedge, and some red flowers are well tended. Elsewhere crypts crumble, trees sprout from the roofs of family vaults, and tiny alleys give way to winding paths of more graves.
I did see Morrison's grave (well we were right there after all) and I also saw the tombs of Gericault, Ingres, David, Daumier, Wilde, and so on. If you visit, stop at one of the stores outside the graveyard that advertise maps for sale. Cost is about $2 and well worth it to avoid being lost!
After a long walk through the cemetery I felt the need to draw something, but none of us had found anything to commit to. It was all rather overwhelming. I finally just sat down and started drawing. I don't do architecture, what better time to start. I started with ink in the top left, but abandoned that effort to simply draw with my Niji waterbrush and blue paint. (The ink roof still floats there in the sky.) There were trees everywhere and the added difficulty of drawing buildings that were crumbling.
A Frenchman and his girlfriend came up behind me at one point and I didn't realize at first he was trying to talk to me. The silence after one of his sentences made me realize he was waiting for a reply. I turned around and explained I spoke little French. I thought he'd been talking to his girlfriend about the view and now I understood he'd been asking me why I had chosen this particular view. I didn't have the language in the given time to explain it. He was disappointed when his girlfriend begged off trying to practice her English with me. He made kind comments and they left. (As I said earlier, every French person I met was nice to me.)
It was interesting to me that I felt a little bit of vulnerability drawing in France, that I do not feel when language is not a barrier. It has been so long since I've felt any hesitancy about sketching that this was quite novel. But it wore off as the week continued.
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Illustration © 2006 Roz Stendahl; All Rights Reserved