On my last day in Paris, the only thing left on my ‘doables’ list was the Cimetiere Du Pere-Lachaise which is on the edge of town in the 20th Androssiment. This cemetery is where many notable writers, musicians, and persons of the arts are buried. I was on a quest to see where Jim Morrison, of The Doors music group from the 60s, was buried. Just one of those things which some people would never even think of doing nor be remotely interested.
It was in 1968 when I saw Jim Morrison and The Doors in concert at an outdoor concert south of San Francisco. A few of us piled into Donnie’s VW bus and made the drive. Sue had a crush on Donnie and I was with Donnie’s friend, Peter, who would, unbeknownst to me at the time, become the father of my first-born child. A ‘love-child’ is what some would say; my son is what I say.
Anyway, back to Paris. These are some photos I took from the bus. It wasn’t until later that I saw the little boy peering from the window; my eye had only caught the animal heads attached to female bodies which I thought was a bit weird.
What’s this? Who knows…
In Rick Steves’ Paris handbook, he suggests taking the #69 bus which can be caught over on the Louvre side of the bridges, aka the Right Bank. It was easy to find the bus stop and a pleasant ride through an area of Paris I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Several quaint neighborhoods, vegetable stands, and monuments which, unfortunately, meant nothing to me since I no inkling to the monument’s significance. Ignorance is not bliss; I actually do like to know what I’m seeing. Guess this is a time when a guide on an organized tour would be helpful. Other than for tips such as these, I stay clear of those tours. Most of the time, I am a very independent traveler. Maybe too independent at times as I know I miss a lot, but I also gain an extraordinary amount of insight into a country just by wandering and accidentally finding nooks and crannies I would have missed if I had been on a tour bus. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
Just inside the gates of the cemetery there was a booth where I picked up two sheets of paper filled with names, numbers, and maps with instructions in French. The cemetery is huge and trying to figure out the locations of the cemetery plots was challenging. I did what I could and asked people directions when it looked like they knew where they were going and that they maybe spoke English. Unfortunately, for me, I didn’t read this list very thoroughly otherwise I would have also looked for Isadora Duncan while looking for Jim Morrison.
Marcel Proust is in 30/Div. 85. It was not easy to find the divisions even with the sporadic signs.
Seeing this view of the acreage was one of my “OMG, you’ve got to be kidding.” moments.
The Division marker for the area of Jim Morrison’s grave.
Several more Morrison mourners appeared during the short time I was taking photos.
Following is an excerpt from one of Rick Steves’ guides: “Enclosed by a massive wall and lined with 5,000 trees, the peaceful, car-free lanes and dirt paths of Père Lachaise cemetery (Cimetière du Père Lachaise) encourage parklike meandering. Named for Father (Père) La Chaise, whose job was listening to Louis XIV’s sins, the cemetery is relatively new, having opened in 1804 to accommodate Paris’ expansion. Today, this city of the dead (pop. 70,000) still accepts new residents, but real estate prices are very high. The 100-acre cemetery is big and confusing, with thousands of graves and tombs crammed every which way, and only a few pedestrian pathways to navigate by.
The maps available from any of the nearby florists help guide your way. But better still, take my tour and save lots of time as you play grave-hunt with the cemetery’s other visitors. This walk takes you on a one-way tour between two convenient Métro/bus stops (Gambetta and Père Lachaise), connecting a handful of graves from some of this necropolis’ best-known residents.
Jim Morrison (1943–1971) An American rock star has perhaps the most visited tomb in the cemetery. An iconic, funky bust of the rocker, which was stolen by fans, was replaced with a more toned-down headstone. Even so, his faithful still gather here at all hours. The headstone’s Greek inscription reads: “To the spirit (or demon) within.” Graffiti-ing nearby tombs, fans write: “You still Light My Fire” (referring to Jim’s biggest hit), “Ring my bell at the Dead Rock Star Hotel,” and “Mister Mojo Risin'” (referring to the legend that Jim faked his death and still lives today, age 66). Jim Morrison — singer for the popular rock band The Doors (named for the “Doors of Perception” they aimed to open) — arrived in Paris in the winter of 1971. He was famous; notorious for his erotic onstage antics; alcoholic; and burned-out. Paris was to be his chance to leave celebrity behind, get healthy, and get serious as a writer.
Living under an assumed name in a nondescript sublet apartment near place Bastille (head west down rue St. Antoine, and turn left to 17 rue Beautrellis), he spent his days as a carefree artist. He scribbled in notebooks at Le Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, watched the sun set from the steps of Sacré-Cœur, visited Baudelaire’s house, and jammed with street musicians. He drank a lot, took other drugs, gained weight, and his health declined. In the wee hours of July 3, he died in his bathtub at age 27, officially of a heart attack, but likely from an overdose. (Any police investigation was thwarted by Morrison’s social circle of heroin users, leading to wild rumors surrounding his death.)
Jim’s friends approached Père Lachaise Cemetery about burying the famous rock star there, in accordance with his wishes. The director refused to admit him, until they mentioned that Jim was a writer. ‘A writer?’ he said, and found a spot.
‘This is the end, my only friend, the end.’ — Jim Morrison”
by Rick Steves
Leaving the cemetery from Morrison’s grave was easy, especially in comparison to the hour and a half it took to walk there. After stopping for lunch, I took the Metro subway (for the first time while in Paris) to get back to my hotel. Although it was somewhat confusing, the women in the information booths at both stations were very helpful, so it wasn’t as hard as I had conjured up in my mind. Most things are easier than what we imagine, aren’t they? We can work our minds up into such tizzies, at least I can, thinking of all the “what if” scenarios, when it would be much less stressful to flow with it and “Just Do It.”
That’s how I feel about travel. Be prepared, of course, but don’t over think it; just do it. Get your passport. Make the reservation. Do some homework. Pack your suitcase. And just go. Easy.
One of my new cousins wrote recently saying his wife (whom I think may have never left the county she was born in) was amazed by my courage to travel alone. I told him I wasn’t courageous, it was all a matter of determination and paying attention to what you’re doing so you get on the right flights/trains/buses and get to the right place. The rest is pretty easy.
Do your homework and have information at your fingertips, or at least know where to get the information. Be informed. Travel smart. You can’t be too shy, and if you are, you need to get over it. Pronto.
Join frequent flyer programs. If you use credit cards, use the ones that give you miles on your favorite airline. Sign up for surveys that give you frequent flyer miles, too. I’ve earned hundreds of miles doing silly time-waster surveys. Those miles add up.
Say you CAN, rather than you CAN’T. Believe in your own ability to get around on your own, or, travel with someone you know and whom you get along with very, very well. Someone who doesn’t nitpick and complain. Someone with a sense of humor. Do a test run with that person.
Or, go solo. Just do it. You will learn more about yourself and about the world than you can imagine. And, you will feel good that you managed a trip well and have lifelong memories. It’s an accomplishment to make you proud of yourself and instill confidence whether you are 23 or 63.
Make online or hard copy albums and/or photo books of your adventures so that when you are old you can easily reminisce and be reminded of your lifetime of travels.
The end of my 3 weeks of traveling throughout England and France arrived and I was actually looking forward to being home again. That is until I book the next journey. It takes me about 6 weeks of being back home before I get itchy feet again. What’s Bali like, I wonder? Are there really rats running around everywhere? Should I go back to Costa Rica? When is the next trip with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter? Where shall we go?
Travel is the journey into ourselves; the world opens its doors to our life lessons only if we are open to listening to those whispers in our ears. No learning=no growth.
Jim Morrison sings, “People are strange, when you’re a stranger…” We are all so very different and interesting. Yet we are the same, really, and there are no strangers. A smile, or even tears, are common denominators in every language. Walk through the door and travel.