Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Search of Jim Morrison


It was all about the Mona Lisa. That’s all I wanted to see in Paris – that Mona Lisa smile. Everything else would be incidental. I was bound to see the Eiffel Tower, I was bound to cross the Seine, and oh yeah, I had to pay a visit to Jim Morrison. I owed it to my roots and the boys back at the bar. I had stopped by to pay my respects to Sartre and Beckett at the Montparnasse Cemetery. Now on this muggy August afternoon I was seeking out the Lizard King Himself.

I came prepared for my visit to the Pere LaChaise, as prepared as I was willing to be prepared, I had my camera and a bottle of wine. Unfortunately I didn’t heed the advice of the information I received online. My journey at Pere Lachaise began at the south end of the cemetery – everything was going to be uphill from there. It would have been all downhill had I started from the north end. That seems to be par for the course for me. I’m good at the research I just can’t be bothered with the follow through. I know the easy way, I just refuse to accept it.

Whoa, that was close. This cemetery is a lot more strict than Sartre’s resting place. There was a guard at the entrance and a stern warning that alcohol wasn’t permitted. Luckily for me I was merely imbibing wine. The French spill that over breakfast. My first order of business now that I had snuck by the guard was to find the final resting place of Mr. Morrison. I had a hard enough time finding de Beauvoir and Sartre and the sign/map at Montparnasse insisted I was there with them. I went this way, that way, this way again referencing the sign each time convinced that Sartre had gotten up in the night and moved to another district. I did eventually find him. Curiously enough he was where he was supposed to be. Morrison should be an easier target. I had been hearing about the pilgrimages to his tomb since, well since he died. Surely there would be a trail of roaches, beer cans and graffiti pointing me in the right direction.

The signpost that I was looking at differed greatly from my companions map in her guidebook. For one thing everything was numbered differently; for another thing half the street s were missing from her map. No problem really, I knew where I was headed – to the southeast quadrant, shouldn’t be more than a 10 to 15 minute walk. While we were comparing the differing maps we plotted out who else we would visit along the way. It would have been preferable to mark a few Xs in the guidebook but I was travelling light and without my knapsack I didn’t have a pen. For that matter my companion had nothing resembling a pen in her purse. “You’re the writer,” she said when I sounded incredulous that a pen wasn’t a staple in her handbag that seemed to contain everything else that I would never need on this trip. I picked up a pebble from underneath the signpost and scribbled Xs where Morrison was, where Piaf was and a few other minor influences that we would visit if we had the time.

Now the quest began in earnest. We passed through centuries of the dead. I tried not to stop and take pictures of the interesting crypts that we came upon. Having been sightseeing most of the day I knew that my camera’s battery power was running low, and I wanted to save whatever few shots I had left for my own personal holy grail. Even though the quest had begun in earnest I found that I was baffled by our guidebooks missing streets. I came across far too many streets that didn’t exist and I could sense that for the most part that I was wondering aimlessly. I would pause at each intersection looking up and down each avenue searching for tell-tale signs from the pothead pilgrims.

Nothing.

Georges Rodenbach distracted me at one point and I spent some time with him trying to figure out who he was. The script on his crypt was simple – his name and the years of his birth and demise. Who the Hell was Georges Rodenbach? My mind generated many scenarios; I have no idea how close I came to being correct. If you know of Georges Rodenbach then you know why I was distracted by his crypt. For those of you who do not know Georges his crypt is somewhat unusual, and does stand out from the other crypts nearby. You see, Georges is escaping from his crypt. I’m sure that you are Googling his name right now to see what I am talking about.

Eureka! Maybe. A large maple at the next intersection had Jim’s name written on it in thick black ink. Other additional information on the tree stated that his IQ was 145 and that he preferred redheads. Both assertions were news to me. So I had found my first clue, but where was the arrow. There had to be an arrow somewhere on this tree that would point me in the right direction. While I was scanning the trunk of the maple and other trees in the vicinity, the heaven’s opened up.

Paris had been threatening rain since my arrival but had held off until now. We sought shelter in a nearby tomb. Our stay would be brief I thought as a downpour that abrupt and that severe tends to pass by quickly. I uncorked the wine and paid respects to my host – Andre Weill. Andre passed away in 1914 in the battle for the Marne. A Lieutenant, Andre had celebrated his 22 birthday earlier in the month he died. His mom and dad would later join him in the family crypt as would other members whom had all died before Mr. Morrison in 1970. As I sat in the shelter of the family crypt I wondered when Andre last had company. Were there any living relatives who had come by in the 40 years or had they all died off as well?

My interest was piqued and I looked out upon Mr. Weill’s neighbours. There was the famille Bloch, the familles  Sommer et May and Michel Friedland. I wondered when they had last received company, invited or otherwise. I had hoped that they would not be offended by my unannounced visit. I toasted each and every one of my newfound friends. Though I was into the wine, I was respectful. I shared a hearty laugh when I explained to them that it seems a little bizarre that after all my time in Paris my first friends happened to all be dead.

When the rains subsided and the sun peaked through the omnipresent grey skies we set out anew to find Mr. Morrison. In mid-swig at another intersection trying to get my bearings it dawned on me that we had passed the Morrison crypt an hour or so before the rains. In my confusion my reference point for Jim was in fact Edith Piaf. While I was relating this to my companion a truck came racing down the hill screaming towards me, screaming to a halt, with a large black woman screaming as well. “Pas de boisson,” she screamed repeatedly while pointing at my wine. She continued to berate me in my mother tongue telling me to leave, that I should be ashamed of myself and that the cemetery was closing. But it wasn’t yet 6:00 I protested. It was only 5:47. We still had 13 minutes. While I was being scolded my companion saw this as an opportunity to sneak around the park warden’s white van and catch a glimpse of her quest, the crypt of The Little Sparrow herself.

No, that wasn’t going to work either. She was called back. We were to leave immediately. I felt sorry for my companion who had come this close yet was so far from Edith Piaf. I however took it all in stride. As I had passed Jim’s tomb on the way up I was bound to pass it on the way down. Either way, things were going to turn out for me. They usually do and I am always grateful for that.

The park warden continued ahead of us after ensuring that we were following her down the road and not making a run back to Edith. She berated a few other hapless visitors who were all as shocked as we had been a few minutes before. I snickered softly as I walked past her and her latest prey to scold. Let her be kept busy by others, let me and the dead in peace and let us continue on our way. I was surprised when she began yelling at me again. What was her problem? I was leaving as directed. Apparently I was leaving in the wrong direction. I was not allowed to leave the way I came. Unbeknownst to me, there was a side exit that she was herding myself and six others though. Her voice never abated. She continued to yell and yell. I imagined what her first day on the job must have been like. I imagined her to be meek and quiet during that first week many, many years ago.

She was still screaming at us when we were all outside the gate. I was oblivious to her tirade at this point as I started humming, “This is the end.”