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Secret Life of a Nerd Girl: To Visit Jim?

ng26_womanAs a future inhabitant living in France on a tourist visa, I am often conflicted on which role to play when I visit one of Paris’s many touristic sites. This happened the other day when I went to Père Lachaise.

Père Lachaise is a massive cemetery in the 20th arrondisement. It is where Oscar Wilde, Honoré de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Emile Cohl, Gertrude Stein, Modigliani, Seurat, Delacroix, Marcel Proust, Édith Piaf, and Jim Morrison, among many, many others, are buried.

Some say the most famous cemetery in the world, and for some reason, the presence of Jim Morrison it even more famous. At the map of famous graves, the people in front of me were pointing at his name, which made me really not want to go looking for it. That would be so touristy, I told myself, I am more sophisticated than that. I should search out the real contributors to our culture, the artists and writers, not some live-fast-die-young American rock star. Even if there was a movie made about him. But I did note Jim’s location and started walking.

ng26_stonesI didn’t realize just how big and tightly packed the cemetery would be. Chock-a-block graves and tombs often with only a foot of space between them. Nothing like the spacious American cemeteries I am used to with shady oak trees, manicured lawns, and one body to a grave. In Père Lachaise, there might be several families bunched together in one tomb, their remains stacked in coffins beneath it, and many of the older tombs were in disarray. Cobweb-strewn, doors hanging open on one hinge, silk flowers faded to gray. It is the living relatives’ responsibility to keep the tombs and graves in good condition, and sometimes families simply die off. Another gloomy layer of the Père Lachaise experience.

There are newer residents in Père Lachaise as well, but that doesn’t make it any less spooky. In one nook I found a grave, about 10 years old, that smelled of bleach. Beneath the bleach was another scent, it smelled as if something had gone wrong inside the coffin, a leak or a spill, very strongly reminding me that I was walking upon an earth packed solid with dead bodies. I left that area as quickly as possible.

Getting more and more creeped out, I realized it had become very quiet and I hadn’t seen another living soul in quite a while. Then I saw three things:

1. A suspicious looking black cat running along the tops of graves.
2. One solitary black crow.
3. The doppelganger of a man I do not want to ever see again. He was a stomach-sinking, it’s-got-to-be-him, spitting image. He was wearing all black too. I followed the man in black, to be sure I hadn’t hallucinated him, but then he veered down a narrow path and disappeared.

Maybe I was seeing things. Yipe!

Starting to seriously suspect the cemetery was haunted, I continued on. A flurry of scenes from the movie The Doors were running through my head and I was plagued by indecision about whether to seek out Jim’s grave. I had read that his fans made pilgrimages to and partied on his grave to such an extent that now, according to Lonely Planet, there is a security guard stationed at the grave as well as a “code of conduct leaflet.” That of course made it more interesting, and I guess I wanted to see it the same way people want to see an actor or a famous painting.


But the security guard at the gate was tolling a bell to tell us to leave (again, creepy), and I didn’t want to be trapped in for the night.

On my way out I saw two crypts with “JIM” and an arrow carved into them, pointing in different directions. Was it a proper American’s visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery without seeing Jim’s grave? Perhaps I should have played the tourist this time, but I can always go back. One good thing did happen – on my way out I saw the doppelganger. I am not crazy. He had not been a hallucination, nor was he the real version who I thought he was.