Monday, February 15, 2016

Six Graves

The last two times that I've taught in Paris, I've been very fortunate in renting an apartment just a few minutes south of the Cimitiere du Montparnasse. It isn't as spectacular as Pere Lachaise, but for a relatively small rectangle of land it contains the graves of dozens of interesting artists, politicians, historians, actors and actresses, and more. Some will be more well known to French people than foreigners, but in the course of quite a few walks across the cemetery during my recent trip, I either sought out or stumbled upon the following graves.

Piero Crommelynck
Piero Crommelynck, along with his brother Aldo, ran a printmaking atelier in Montparnasse for more than half a century. Clients included Braque, Picasso, Arp, Hockney, Salle, Dine. As I've mentioned several times on this blog, my etching teacher worked in their studio for a time in the 1980s. So only a small number of people in the world (the tiny world of the history of printmaking) might feel their heart leap when they find this grave -- but I'm one of them.

Jean Seberg
The American actress Jean Seberg, who starred in Jean Luc Godard's 1960 Nouvelle Vague masterpiece Au Bout du Souffle. The pebbles have been placed around an old movie magazine showing stills from that film. I noticed that the grave had fresh flowers every few days.

Chaim Soutine
The great painter Chaim Soutine, who lived in Montparnasse for the longest time. It took a hell of a long time to find this grave, because I didn't expect this eastern european Jewish immigrant to be buried in a grave with a crucifix on it. For my photo, I found the most Soutine-like drawing in my sketchbook and placed it next to the grave.

Sartre and de Beauvoir
Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, buried in a joint tomb. Her apartment overlooks the eastern side of the cemetery.
Georges Auric
The composer Georges Auric. An obscure choice, perhaps, but I know his music a little bit through his association with Les Six, a group of French 20th century composers that included Satie and Poulenc, and his scores for films by Jean Cocteau.

And Brassai, the great photographer and denizen of Montparnasse who was friends with and photographed Picasso, Matisse, Henry Miller, Giacommetti, and whose shots of everyday life on the streets of Paris are part of our mental picture of the city from sixty to seventy years ago.

I don't know why I like graveyards so much. Maybe it's because they are always an oasis of greenery in the most urban of neighbourhoods. There's no special aura or magic that emanates from these graves, or anything like that. But if recognizing a name causes us to think even for a minute about a painting they did, a book they wrote, or a moment from their life, I think it creates another small link in the chain of memories that keeps our civilization going.

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