Hilltop rest

We’re all allowed to change our minds. And with the last flurry of snowflakes arriving just in time for the beginning of spring, I decided to forgo the toasty magnificently-entranced metro network that I so heartily championed in my last post, for a (carefully) frolicking jaunt in the snow, complete with (almost) waterproof adventure shoes. Who knows when we’ll be able to appreciate the beauty of a white winter covering again? If you’re listening global weather, spring is really NOT the time.

Whilst wandering around my beloved 18th arrondissement enjoying the beauty of Paris, amplified by ten with a generous dusting of the white stuff, I decided to finally pop in and explore a spot that I had been passing for years, firmly stuck in the holding pen of my list of future blog subjects. One day I promised myself, one day I’ll check it out and see what’s what, though time commitments, heavy shopping bags or incessant drizzle usually had other ideas.

I’m happy to report that this particular snowy day I managed to crack that age-old conundrum of converting that unstickdownable one day into the magical ‘now’, and steer my feet through the gate of the Cimetière de Saint-Vincent (6 Rue Lucien-Gaulard) to finally appreciate its sombre charms. And no, before you ask. In my willingness to explore, I failed miserably to make a note of the mysterious formula that can expertly turn a dream into a productive reality. I could have been a millionaire by now if I had only taken the time.

Paris is remarkably generous with her cemeteries, be it in terms of history, beauty or quantity, and though for some a turn around a graveyard seems morbid and curious, her biggest are right up there on the city’s list of popular tourist attractions. Of the three that can be found in Montmartre, Saint-Vincent is the second oldest and second smallest, and a mere stone’s throw away from Paris’ favourite village, Montmartre and its crowning glory, Sacre Coeur.

Finished in 1831 and now containing around 960 tombs, this elegantly sloping resting place is unlike its graveyard cousins in that its not the place to come big-name spotting, as the remains of most of France’s best-known figures are spread between the larger cemeteries of Montmartre, Montparnasse, Père Lachaise and Passy. But the cult of celebrity is nothing if not highly overrated, and instead here you can pay your respects to those historical souls who lived and breathed life into Montmartre centuries ago, from the revolutionary spirits and struggling artists and painters, to the grand families of the past lying in their elaborate familial tombs.

The hallowed cabaret spot Le Lapin Agile (yep, in that blog post holding pen), many of whose past patrons are buried here, looks over the wall at the south-eastern corner where one of it most famous regulars rests, painter Maurice Utrillo, buried with his wife Lucie. Many other creatives types including aspiring chanteurs, stage dwellers and canvas botherers are nestled close by, though thats about it on the fame quota. But not dear readers, quite the end of the drama.

The name ‘Ninette Aubart’ might not mean much to us, but it sure meant a lot to Benjamin Guggenheim, who fell in love with the beautiful nightclub singer and whisked her away for a romantic trip of a lifetime, aboard the Titanic (well he really wasn’t to know was he?). Sadly Guggenheim was one of the sinking’s most famous victims, but his gentlemanly instincts saved Ninette and her maid as he ushered them aboard a lifeboat before dressing in his best and accepting his watery fate. She returned to France a year later, her passage being allegedly paid for by Mrs Guggenheim, keen to bury any hint of scandal that her husband’s mistress could generate.

Left with next to nothing, she spent the rest of her life in France, and as legend has it, threw parties during the 20s that had to be broken up by police. She lived until 1964 when she died aged 77, and was laid to rest here, where the strains of modern Montmartre revels ring through the air. A fitting tribute of ever there was one.

6 Rue Lucien-Gaulard 75018, visit here for practical information.

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Dead interesting

IMG_1956What does one do on a beautiful autumn afternoon in Paris? Head to a terrace and sip on a glass of rosé? Stroll along the banks of the Seine and soak up the sunshine? Not if you’re Kim you don’t. You head to a cemetery.

My last seven days have been very much less than perfect (in a magnificent understatement), so you’d hardly blame me for looking for a giant hole to fall in and escape the world. But that’s not why yesterday afternoon I found myself in a burial ground, it just so happens that my usual long walk home takes me past the Montmartre cemetery and for the first time, I decided to have a wander through.IMG_1964

‘Paris is dead’, the hipster avant gardists might say. Well it seems alive and kicking to me, but it certainly is full of dead, this beautiful graveyard being one of many scattered throughout the capital. Given the host of other beautiful things there are to explore in Paris, a cemetery is a pretty tough sell. But for me, there’s so much silent beauty to be found, I might just take a detour through it every day. Plus if you’re in a bad mood, it can remind you quite convincingly that things could be a whole lot worse.

IMG_1947If it’s serene solitude you seek, there are fewer more peaceful places to sit and read, or contemplate the meaning of life (and death, of course). You won’t hear a peep out of the residents, and the traffic and city noise refuses to penetrate as if you’ve actually just stepped right into the underworld. I saw a few singular people doing exactly that as I wandered through, happily ensconced between the tombs, perhaps reading the histories of the souls who rested beside them.

Personally, the silence barely registers with me at all, and instead I feel surrounded by centuries of chatter, generated by the stories of those who lie buried beneath the ground. Their Paris would have been so very different to mine, and as I passed grave after grave looking at the dates bookending each life, I imagined the experiences they would have had, what they would have taken from, and contributed to this uniquest of cities.  Soon after this had occurred to me, I happened upon the tomb of Louise Weber, or ‘La Goulue’, the creator of the French cancan. You can’t get more Paris-stopped-in-time than that.IMG_1962

If the stories of ordinary Parisians of ages past weren’t interesting enough, there are plenty of writers, painters, scientists, politicians and celebrities of the golden age who are laid to rest here. In Montmartre you can find the graves of Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas Fils and Edgar Degas, though it’s the two bigger cemeteries of Père Lachaise and Montparnasse that contain most of the famous names. Here you can pay your respects to, amongst many more, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Molière, Balzac, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde (former) and Guy de Maupassant, Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (latter).

IMG_1963In this digital age where only the photo seems to be important, there’s something quite arresting about physically being next to the resting place of a great figure, as if you can somehow absorb part of their spirit just by being close. In any case, the time of elaborate burials is over, so you’ll be walking through a beautiful museum of mourning filled with statues, sculpture and messages of love, even if you don’t know the famous names. Doesn’t it do us all good to just sit and reflect every once in a while?

For more info about the three major cemeteries and some of the lesser know ones dotted in and outside the périphérique, click here.