Montparnasse Cemetery

Jan Leeming

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

MONTPARNASSE CEMETERY

Date: 6th May 2011

MONTPARNASSE CEMETERY One of the main reasons for my visit to Paris, apart from staying with very dear old friends, is to visit the tomb of Rene Mouchotte in Pere La Chaise Cemetery.

Yesterday on arrival and after a light lunch, Owen suggested we go to Montparnasse - which he and his wife had never visited other than to attend a funeral. Like Pere La Chaise, Montparnasse is a Necropolis though it houses far fewer famous personages. I'd noted that it was the last resting place of the author Guy de Maupassant, Cesar Franck, Saint Saens, Samuel Becket, Dreyfus and Henri Flamarrion (publisher of Rene Mouchotte's diaries in 1949).

However there was no comprehensive map available - only a very very rough and rudimentary plan on a hoarding. We took down the approximate locations of the tombs we sought but it was a fruitless search. It was getting towards closing time when one of the custodians approached and told us the gates would be shutting soon. Maybe it was my broken French and the obvious fact I was a visitor but when told that we'd found none of the tombs for which we were searching, he very kindly took us to that of Dreyfus (very simple with only his name and date of death and then many other family members who were also interred there) and Guy de Maupassant which were close by. We then hurried towards the gates - Quel Horreur! - they were shut. They were also about 5 metres high and totally unbreathable. I'd not got my mobile phone and Owen doesn't use one. The street dividing the two areas of the cemetery is a very quiet one with very little passing pedestrian traffic so Owen's cries of 'Au Secours' went unheeded. Then in the far distance I spied a figure and hurried back down the cemetery towards him. Thank goodness - he was one of the custodians doing a final sweep to ensure no one had been left behind.

I was immensely grateful and relieved to see him. It is one thing to walk around and pay respects in the Daylight sun but I really didn't want to spend the night there. Pere La Chaise is quite different. It is well laid out and mapped. Having visited a decade ago, I have a much better idea of where are the tombs. Having done a 'Virtual Tour' on the Internet, I could almost find my way to Rene's tomb with my eyes shut. The Cemetery has been closed to new burials for a long time - other than those who already have plots/tombs. There are thousands of memorials in this lovely park and over 200 are of the famous - from Chopin to Jim Morrison, from Oscar Wilde to Maria Callas.

Many of the tombs remain almost perpetually covered in flowers. Having visited several times, that of Chopin always has floral tributes. My first visit was primarily to visit the tomb of Heloise and Abelard - the 12th century lovers. That too always has single roses and bunches thrown over the railings which surround the tomb. Many years ago we lived near Susan George and Simon MacCorkindale with whom we became friends. They set up a film company and their first production was called 'Stealing Heaven' - the story of the ill-fated love of Heloise and Abelard and the grissly fate which befell Abelard at the hands of Bishop Suger the guardian of Heloise. They asked me to make a documentary about the film making in Yugoslavia. It was a fascinating experience and one in which I felt honoured to take part. The documentary was never aired but I have a copy and it brings back wonderful memories. The hotel in which we stayed was also playing host to Telly Savalas (the lolly-licking American cop) who knew Susie - and I have a very faded photo of him with two of his team.

Abbot Suger had a hand in the construction of the Basilica of Saint- Denis. A Cathedral Guide friend, knowing I was coming to Paris, suggested a visit. Originally I'd not given it a thought but when he told me about it's provenance and that it had been the burial place of most of the Kings and Queens of France, it became a definite must on the 'to see' list.

A Bientot. Jan

MONTPARNASSE CEMETERY

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