Prolific Chico writer and photographer Doug Keister went to Paris--to study its cemeteries. He got an Eiffel! (Gustave Eiffel is buried in the Levallois-Perret Cemetery, a towering figure indeed--whose mausoleum is “out of alignment with the other tombs in the cemetery” so Gustave could face his masterpiece.)
The result of Keister’s study, aided by a number of dedicated taphophiles (“lovers of cemeteries”), is rather, shall we say, monumental. “Stories In Stone Paris: A Field Guide To Paris Cemeteries and Their Residents” ($24.99 in hardcover from Gibbs Smith, Publisher) includes hundreds of color photographs detailing cemetery symbolism, architecture, and cemeteries themselves.
Though designed as a guidebook (including GPS coordinates) for those touring the monuments, Keister’s eye for detail and the telling tale will keep armchair travelers engrossed as well. Tidbits abound. “A word,” he writes, “about the permanence of burial in Paris--Americans are often shocked to find that, unlike in America, where burial is permanent, burial in much of Europe is often a temporary affair.” In fact, “many graves are essentially rented for various periods of time.”
Jim Morrison’s grave in Père-Lachaise (he the “lead singer for the late 1960s/early 1970s rock group the Doors” who “visited Paris in March 1971 and never left”) was almost given to someone else in 2001 after the rental period expired but, fortunately for fans, he’s still there.
Marcel Proust is there as well, but Napoléon is in Les Invalides (“a rambling complex of buildings relating to France’s military history”), born “in Corsica, the second of eight children of noble Genoese parents.” Asked if he could conquer Europe, he was said to have said, Corsican! (Well, not really, but I couldn’t resist.)
From dogged puns to a true dog cemetery: “The Paris Dog Cemetery, which bills itself as the world’s oldest public pet cemetery,” was established in 1899. Know who’s there? Rin Tin Tin. Rinty died in 1932 but helped popularize “the German shepherd breed in the United States.”
Then there’s Saint-Denis, where lies Marie-Antoinette, who didn’t quite say “let them eat cake.” The word was actually “brioche,” “a type of egg and butter bread," still unkind words to starving citizens. Only, "there is no evidence whatsoever that Marie-Antoinette ever uttered those now infamous words."
See? Keister leaves no stoned unturned.