Today, I spent an eerie but interesting day in two of the most famous cemeteries in Paris, Montparnasse and Pere LaChaise. I didn't actually end up spending a great deal of time in either of them, as they were difficult to navigate and somewhat overwhelming.
I started at Montparnasse, mostly because I had to go see Beckett, but I got the added benefit of seeing the shared grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (two French writers). Then I found the grave Beckett shares with his wife Suzanne. It is so modest, as I had expected, yet there are fresh flowers on it (as on Sartre and de Beauvoir's), so it is sought out by visitors. I did a lot of thinking about how much time I spent studying his works for my honors thesis, and it somehow struck me that he was a living, breathing man. Of course, I know this quite well, but standing there in the middle of Montparnasse, he felt more real to me than before. I think generally being in Paris has made me think more about the life he lived, in addition to the works he wrote.
Then I went to Pere LaChaise, where I ended up achieving even less because I didn't have a map and the cemetery is enormous. I wandered around for a little while and took pictures of a few striking graves, like the one pictured here. It was kind of weird wandering through the tightly packed cemetery and taking pictures of graves which remain somewhat anonymous to me. It's really interesting how people want to be remembered, and how their memories do live on. In both cemeteries, I saw monuments with the word "souvenir" which is the French verb "to remember." Because it also exists in English as a more trivial word, I find I sometimes forget to consider it with the amount of meaning it merits in French.
I stopped at Oscar Wilde's grave (English writer), which is covered with lipstick. People come and kiss his grave, which I think is such an interesting tribute. I can't help but wonder how that began. Someone had left a beautiful blue rose on the top, and I couldn't resist taking a picture. Wilde is one of many famous people from the US or the UK to be buried in Paris--I'm sure there is an interesting story behind each of them. I happen to know Beckett's, but not many others. Overall, a very thought-provoking day.
In other, more pleasant news, I have pictures of the decorated department stores I mentioned! This is the enormous tree in the center of Galeries Lafayette, which is stunning. The outside of the building is also really cool; it lights up at night.
Right next door to Galeries Lafeyette is Printemps, another department store, and I think they compete by default every year for cooler decorations. Galeries Lafayette is much more traditional, and Printemps is bright and modern. I found the windows particularly hilarious, especially when considering the Christmas/Holiday scenes in Macy's windows in NYC. They alternate between bizarre scenes for kids, like bears with bubbles here (there were also models in space), and really intense high-fashion scenes. Amazing how many similarities and differences there are in the way our two cultures handle the oncoming holidays.
An additional note--I finally posted some albums on Facebook (with only a small fraction of my pictures, as you can imagine), for anyone who wants to check them out. If you're not on Facebook, but want to see them, let me know and I think I can figure out a way to do that--though I plan to eventually post everything on a site everyone can see.