My favourite day in Paris was marked by an unexpected encounter while exploring a site for the dead.
But prior to that, I took the metro to an art exhibit that proved to be absolutely magical.
I saw pictures online of La Nuit Étoilée while researching my holiday and thought it might be hype to increase upfront sales when numerous publications warned to get tickets in advance. I did book MONTHS in advance, just in case (also because I’m “type-a”), and was relieved that I did because the exhibit was indeed sold out on the day I attended. I understood why when I entered; the animated exhibit is a completely immersive, multi-sensory show where the viewer becomes part of the artwork. Set in three parts—showcasing contemporary art, Japonaiserie and the iconic work of Vincent Van Gogh—this is something that must be seen to be believed.
Afterwards, my friend and I took a short walk to an unlikely tourist destination in Paris: Pere Lachaise cemetery, final resting place of artists, philosophers and rock stars of the ages. It’s such a landmark that people sell maps at the entrance. Being my frugal self, I pre-printed a map from the internet … that proved worthless. My friend and I quickly got lost while searching for the grave I wanted to pay respect to, that of my favourite artist Gustave Doré. As we walked amongst row after row of eerily creepy—often open—nineteenth-century crypts, I took a moment to rest against a tree and try to figure out exactly where we were amongst its 110 acres.
“Maybe a spirit guide will appear,” my friend commented.
And no word of a lie, within two minutes of her stating that a Frenchman approached us asking if we needed help finding anything.
He introduced himself as Glen and informed us he was a lawyer that lived and worked in Versailles. He debated traveling to Normandy that day for a dip in the English Channel but decided against it because of a questionable weather forecast, instead opting to visit one of his favourite places in Paris - this very cemetery. He then inquired about what grave we were looking for. When I told him “Gustave Doré” he was impressed; it was apparently a rarity that anyone requested to visit that site. As we made our way over, I noted that someone had once placed a small rock over a now weathered paper note left for the artist. Glen and my friend chatted while I also gave silent thanks to a man that has provided immense inspiration and wonder to my life.
After Gustave, my friend wanted to visit Pere Lachaise’s most famous (or infamous) gravesite - that of sixties icon and lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison. This grave is quite controversial within the cemetery and there have been numerous calls to remove it over the decades since he passed in 1971. Today, one can’t even walk up to it. A steel fence surrounds it and several of the perimeter headstones in order to protect against further vandalism. Even in death, rock stars require crowd control.
Glen seemed keen to continue the tour and ended up showing us around for over an hour. As someone who appreciates the macabre, I specifically asked to be taken to the creepiest parts of the cemetery. He happily obliged. These included some truly beautiful and haunting headstones and crypts depicting ghosts, spirits and the afterlife. There was even a crypt with a stained-glass window detailing the folklore behind the will-o’-the-wisp, once believed to be a phantom light but since explained via science.
At the end of our day, Glen asked if we wanted to go for a drink but my friend was feeling a bit tired and we declined. Prior to parting, I exchanged my business card with him in the hopes of keeping a well-informed contact in the city but I’ve never heard back.
Was Glen a spirit? Was he an actual lawyer seeking reflection in the calm of the necropolis? Or was he just a dude trying to hit on two foreign chicks? All I know is that a cemetery is a great place to meet someone. Dead or alive.