Kicked out of a Parisian graveyard!
Updated: Feb 26, 2018
By and large, I try to make a good impression of myself as an American while I'm in another country. I hate the inaccurate way people around the world think of Americans. But what I hate even more is that the image that they have of us is so often NOT inaccurate. The fat, entitled American, talking loudly and saying nothing. They think they're the most important people in the room. They make banal observations about the completely obvious. And, in general, tend to utterly crap on everything around them.
But in some respects, I can’t escape my nature as part of the species "Americanus Abroadus" and I also live up to that image.
Case in point: the beautiful Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France. The final resting site for such artists and thinkers as Oscar Wilde, Molière, Marcel Proust, and, most importantly to me, the grave of Jim Morrison.
While most people my age spent the 90's cruising around in Chrysler Sebrings, listening to the Backstreet Boys, and “discovering” Starbucks for the first time, I was tearing ass through the desert with Revi in my old four-banger Mustang convertible, with the ragged, broken top down, in the middle of a monsoon blasting, “Land Ho!” by the Doors while the car cut through the rain like a knife at 100 miles an hour.
I'd always felt an emotional kinship with Jim Morrison, like we were the same kind of animal with the same kind of instincts and natures. And for that reason, ever since I was a kid, I'd wanted to visit his grave.
I took the Metro to the area where the cemetery was and then walked the rest of the way. I decided that, instead of asking someone where Jim's grave was, I would meander around the cemetery, taking it all in at a curious saunter, and then just find it by chance.
This graveyard first opened in 1804. The first occupant of its soils was a five year old girl. Like most of Paris, the cemetery has a sort of shabby beauty. The graves are as unique and idiosyncratic as the people buried underneath them, and they have only became more beautiful and extraordinary with the passing of two centuries. Some have become broken and cracked in time so that you are able to see within them. Others have had powerful trees grow through them, upending them. And others still are just covered in bird shit.
And some are perfect, as though the people had just been laid to rest there a day ago.
Jim Morrison’s grave has been the subject of much vandalism, both good and bad over the years. For example, on the ten year anniversary of his death, someone placed a bust of his head on his grave. It was beautiful. It was also stolen in 1988. People throw flowers on his grave and write on it. And write on the graves around his grave. Perhaps because of this, Parisian officials considered deporting him post mortem back to the US.
But instead, I guess they just decided to put a big fence around his grave and call it a day, which is where I found him.
Now, I confess, I knew this was a moronic thing to do. But I REALLY wanted a selfie with his grave! I know, I know, I’m a dumb entitled American. But it’s not like I was going to graffiti his grave or anything. Just a selfie.
And then, the other people who had been surrounding the grave left and there was a lull in the traffic (I swear, some of the people there were so dumb. One American man started playing “Light My Fire" on his tinny sounding cell phone speaker and Jim Morrison didn’t even write that song! Robbie Krieger did! And Morrison didn't even like it! Ok, enough of my rant.)
So, I got out all my camera equipment, measured the exposure, set the self-timer, put it on manual focus and a high aperture to make sure I and the grave would be in focus, and then screwed it onto my "selfie-stick." I jumped the fence, sat on the grave, pressed the shutter, and them waited for the fifteen second timer on my Contax G2 to count down.
I was only five seconds in to the fifteen second timer, when a security guard came walking around the corner and saw me. He started saying something to me in French- probably something along the lines of “What the f*k, dude! Did you not see the fence??? Get the F out of there!” but I couldn’t understand him.
It was an awkward situation, so I did the only thing that I could do: I ignored him. Just pretended like he wasn’t even there and went stone faced for my picture. As the ten seconds counted down, he became louder, his words more high pitched and faster, but still I gave him no response. He was about to go try and un-fence the fence when the shutter went off and the picture was taken.
I stood up, jumped back over the fence, and looked at him. Then I did the only thing I could think of doing of doing in this position: I signed the ASL words for, “Do you speak sign language?” and pretended to be deaf.
He motioned in sort of a universal sign language that he wanted me to leave the cemetery and then escorted me to the cemetery gate. I waved a friendly goodbye but he gave me no response. I’m pretty sure that he saw through my rouse- I did have earphones on when he was yelling at me after all. But I got my pic, and I got a story, and honestly, I think Jim Morrison would have been proud.