Pilgrimages to the French capital

I blame Baudelaire.

On my first visit to Paris, in 1963, I contracted the Paris virus and became a novice francophile.

In this and the next few visits I “did” the usual tourist sites, but felt drawn to the more offbeat destinations like catacombs, sewers, and cemeteries.

At secondary school I became very keen on C19th French poets. The likes of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Verlaine et al; not so much for their works as their lives. I was fascinated by the whole hashish, absinthe, rebellious, artistic, salons, urban poetry milieu. Bohemianism I suppose.

In particular, I devoured Enid Starkie’s biographies of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and the Hansons’ biography of Verlaine.

Well, that was it, the start of my pilgrimages to graves. Initially poets and novelists, but later expanding into musicians, artists, politicians and others, but mainly with a C19th focus.

I found and bought a book – Guide des Cimetières Parisiens by Jacques Barozzi – and this became my passport to lots of visitable graves, some as far afield as Pantin and Bagneux.

Paris cemeteries schematic

Baudelaire was probably my highest priority and I found him in Montparnasse, the second largest intra-muros cemetery after Père Lachaise.

Charles Baudelaire 1821-1867

I’ve always found it rather sad that his inscription comes below that of his stepfather with whom he did not enjoy a particularly harmonious relationship. I think I’ve visited this grave on most of my subsequent Paris trips.

It took me a while to get to the Batignolles cemetery for the grave of Paul Verlaine, nestling in an unprepossessing location right under the periph in northern Paris.

Paul Verlaine 1844-1896

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) lies not in Paris but in his native Charleville-Mézières in the Ardennes, Not the easiest of places to get to, so that will have to wait.

Over the years, then, I’ve accumulated dozens and dozens of grave photos, from the very famous to the relatively obscure. It has brought me a great deal of pleasure.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *