Accompanied by Dorette’s son-in-law, Paul Kuhns, I’m heading to Paris next week to attend the International Hemingway Conference. I also expect to visit again the most famous graveyard in the world, the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, established by Napoleon in 1804.
The cemetery is huge ― 110 acres ― with more than 1 million individuals buried there. Most were ordinary folks. But people from around the world come to see the final resting places of an unusual number of famous artists, writers, musicians and other public figures.
No, Hemingway is not there (look for his grave in Ketchum, Idaho). But Marcel Proust, the author of “In Search of Lost Time,” is. Dorette took this picture in 2005 of me paying respects at his grave.
I’ve long been fascinated with both of them. Hemingway goes back further in my reading history.
As for Proust, I took John Updike’s advice that it’s best to read him in your 40s because it takes that long to accumulate experiences that will make the novel most relevant to your own inner life.
And it was, in fact, at about that age I became obsessed with all 1,267,069 words of the “Search,” all of which I still compulsively read once a year in English translation.
There are many interesting graves in the cemetery. American authors Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright are there, as well as U.S. rock star Jim Morrison, who receives more public attention.
Nearby is Irish writer Oscar Wilde.
Among others are Sarah Bernhart, Frederic Chopin, Georges Bizet, Isadora Duncan, Eugene Delacroix, Dominique Ingres, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (better known by his stage name Moliere), Sidonie Colette, Amedeo Modigliani, Yves Montand, Nadar, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Simone Signoret.
Tourists receive a free map. I like its closing comment, presented in seven languages:
“And now, let the pages of history turn to the rhythm of your footsteps, and the baroque monuments still you with their gentle poetry, leading you into a quietness propitious to meditation.”