Day of the Dead in Paris

Some might find this post a little morbid but today was a day of the dead for me and daughter Noli Shand in Paris. First we went down  into the Catacombs where the remains of six million people from cemeteries and churchyards across Paris were gathered in an underground ossuary from the late-18th century. We both found it rather depressing and even a bit tacky. I can’t imagine any of those poor souls can be resting in peace with tourists like us tramping past taking selfies with them.

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No rest for the anonymous exhibits in the Catacombs.

Then it was on to Père Lachaise cemetery for the obligatory visit to the grave of Jim Morrison (or whoever is in there). I was prepared for the graffiti and rubbish strewn about by the whacked-out fans coming to pay homage and get high or drunk at the grave of their idol that I had seen in press pictures.

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Jim’s visitors didn’t show much respect to his neighbours before a fence went up.

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A friend of mine was at Pere Lachaise in 1991.

“It was the 20th anniversary of Jim’s death. 30000 people camped outside. Queued up to get in – next thing a riot broke out – cars rolled and set on fire as well as the huge wooden doors at the entrance. Terrifying!! Cemetery shut for a few days. Returned when it reopened. Walked around eventually got to Jim Morrisons grave. I had been taking photos up to then. Went to take a photo there and the camera became possessed!! Started taking photos uncontrollably! Walked a away and camera wouldn’t work at all.”

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However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the fence erected a while ago has prevented people from desecrating the grave and the others around it with Doors lyrics and self-indulgent messages of love and loss. There’s apparently a policeman stationed there to stop people from gaining access to the grave but they were absent today, allowing a few to clamber over the fence and lay floral tributes to the Doors’ frontman.

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The grave is different now than when he was buried in July 1971. The fence has certainly changed the vibe from earlier times, I understand, as if not being able to sit alongside Jim renders the pilgrimage somewhat less personal. It took nearly a decade for a headstone to be erected for Morrison, a flamboyant affair complete with rock star bust that was stolen in May 1988. This headstone was replaced with the more sober and low key one, erected by Jim’s parents in 1991 you will see today. It bears the inscription Kata Ton Δ Aimona Eaytoy, Greek for “according to his own daemon.”

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A Greek inscription: “According to his own Spirit” Or Daemon, depending how you translate it.

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It’s a beautiful quiet cemetery but I couldn’t help but wonder why Jim’s family didn’t bring him home to southern California, rather than leaving him there, a stranger in a strange land. Sad really, perhaps hinting at his deep and utter rejection of his upbringing. He told many that his parents were dead.
We then set off in search of Molière, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Frédéric Chopin, Isadora Duncan and the rest of the myriad celebrities buried in Père Lachaise.
But then, by accident, we came upon the grave of Suzon Garrigues, a 21-year old student killed by the jihadi mongrels in the Bataclan on November 13 last year. This young woman had gone with her brother to enjoy a rock concert, a simple night of fun just as my kids (and yours probably too) have done on so many occasions. She paid for that freedom with her life.

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The grave of Suzon Garrigues in Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Further sightseeing seemed pointless and irrelevant, the Jim Morrisons et al will be remembered, their achievements celebrated but what of Suzon Garrigues and the other 129 innocent people who died that night? Will their names be remembered, will people beyond their loved ones visit their graves?

We in the media spend so much time discussing the disgusting cowards who perpetrated this senseless slaughter, awarding them a bizarre immortality and power they simply do not deserve.
So, next time you’re in Paris, maybe on your way to Morrison’s grave, go and visit Suzon. Spend some time with her and look at her pictures. We must always remain inconsolable at acts of terror like this and right across the world, or we risk diminishing our own humanity and normalizing the obscene. Suzon is my child, your child, everyone’s child and she must not be forgotten.

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