Yesterday I went to Pere Lachaise cemetery to visit someone I am very fond of - Jim Morrison - and did not find what I was looking for. Pere Lachaise is a very large cemetery in a less central area of Paris, but it’s still very crowded. I felt very disoriented by the commodification of grief in this place: large, elaborate sculptures, and pedestrian roads winding through pillars and columns. Grief seems to have become an art in itself in the Lachaise cemetery, where expression of “deuil” (as it’s called in French) is embodied in vastly different ways.
In the World War II history class that I’m taking, we discussed the memory of french soldiers through different styles of memorials. I was put in mind of this lesson as I stared at large statues of what I thought to be greek goddesses, versus simplistic graves of smooth stone. It seems that some families are interested in elaborate architecture, heavily engraved crosses, and religious (or other) symbolism while others prefer a simple boxy shape and family name. One consideration worth noting, however, (other than differences in taste, religious beliefs, or political views) is money.
Money seemed to have greatly influenced the artistry of tombs, which interestingly in turn affects memory. For instance, I noticed that one grave in the “corner” was made of cement, and was only marked with dates. Very little pedestrian traffic passed by this grave, and it appeared cast in shadow, though it was raining. Water was dripping off the sides, and the cement was roughly worn - the effect was sad. Though these may seem like mundane observations, it really hit home the fact that this man or woman was buried somewhere out of the way, with little or no indication of who they were. Admittedly, it is possible that this individual wanted to be remembered in this way, but I interpreted its situation and aesthetic as being an attempt to, at all costs, bury this loved one in a high profile graveyard.
These musings bring me to some important questions: Do graves closer to famous people also cost more? Would a family rather have a well-situated plot, or a more heavily embellished tomb? Why did I feel so happy standing beside Jim Morrison’s grave, listening to The Doors?