The Garden Saint Martin seems to be the hotel of choice for many women traveling solo. It also has truly charming gentlemen at the front desk. Murat, in particular, is something of a flirt.
I realized while unpacking that I had forgotten—despite my best efforts—an adaptor that would work here for the extension with all the plugs and USB ports. Remember all and the correct cords and bits is clearly my Achilles Heel as a traveler. Fortunately Jean-Bernard rifled through a drawer and came up with just what I needed.With a smile.
As I Remember
On to the Cimitière Montparnasse. With Dan, as it were. It’s a gray day, a little cool. Perfect weather for me, exactly the kind of weather it always was for Dan and me. I had promised on our first trip, as we stood by the grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir that I would bring his ashes to Paris. It started as a joke but matured into a promise. I have baggies to take to Lithuania as well.
We never approached the Cimitière in an orderly fashion, generally arriving via a random entrance. The map helped us on our second visit but we didn’t fully master reading it. I did much better this time but a list of residents by section would have helped. Or by reason for fame. The map has only an alphabetical list with initials and section for each; it’s an awkward system.
A Methodical Visit
The Cimitière Montparnasse is a wonderful place and it was wonderfully busy, with hearses everywhere. I started with Jean-Paul and Simone, slightly revolted by all the lipstick hearts on their marker. We are not talking Oscar Wilde (who lies in Père Lachaise) here; frankly the vandalism repulses me there. And everywhere.
All the cemeteries are hard places to dribble ashes discretely; such things are explicitly forbidden, This site is extra difficult: central, exposed and always busy.
A Jewish funeral blocked me from painter Chaim Soutine so I turned and started my visit in the opposite direction. I greeted old friends and left a little of Dan wherever I thought he might enjoy the company. Poets. Charles Baudelaire, of course, and Robert Desnos. Guy de Maupassant was an ace story-teller. Artists like Soutine, Felix Valloton and Man Ray, Auguste Bartholdi, he of the Statue of Liberty, Antoine Bourdelle, and Henri Laurens. Every party needs music, so I invited Serge Gainsbourg and Jean Sablon to the one I envision in my imagination. Jean Sablon crooned J’attendrai toujours on the soundtrack of Dan’s memorial.
Alfred Dreyfus, too. A true hero is a hero in any company.
That Jewish funeral? The flowers the mourners left were lovely and completely obscured any name.
I checked the time. It was already past noon and I had been there since at least ten. I promised I would finish up by one. Just before two I settled down at a table on what I can only describe as the Street of Crepes although I know it is called the rue de Montparnasse. Non, merci, je n’est pas besoin d’un menu. I know what I want. A glass of red wine and a galette with onions, cheese and an egg. And a crepe sauce caramel for dessert.
And a Plan
The last time Dan and I were in Paris, in 2017, I managed to lose our map of Paris so we stopped in a librarie near the Musée de Cluny. They didn’t have what I was looking for so I bought a little booklet, Paris by arrondissements. Didn’t really use it. I am using it now, though.
My plan for these few days, apart from ensconcing Dan in Montparnasse, is to walk. Walk through cemeteries, walk around unfamiliar neighborhoods, just d’être à Paris. Ride the Métro when my feet or knees start to protest.
I opened the booklet to the Fourteenth arrondissement, where the Cimitière Montparnasse is. It’s at the northern edge, right next to the Sixth. The Sixth arrondissement is home to, among other things, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and there is a museum there. I checked online. The current exhibition is Gertrude Stein & Pablo Picasso: L’Invention du Langage. Well, now, if that isn’t right up my alley!
Walking through the Sixth
As I headed north, I was struck by the fragrances in this city that are so rarely urban. I walked past a store selling old books and prints; the smell of musty paper, foxed, slightly mildewed billowed out the door. I backed up a few steps to see if it was real. It was. Several storefronts down, it was the intoxication of hydrangeas and fresh cut greens. The perfume of Gauloises catches me every so often. The French still smoke, as the saying goes, like chimneys. Somehow cigarettes don’t bother me here, at least not outside where it is one more sensation that identifies this place.
I noticed a street sign as I reached a corner. Rue de Fleurus. That was where Gertrude Stein lived with Alice B. Toklas for a number of years, those same years she got to know Picasso. At number 27. Imagine crossing that threshold, the people one would meet, the art hanging on the walls. The newness, the genuinely avant-garde nature of such a world.
I strolled along, moving sedately. My left knee was unhappy. But the exhibition was just excellent, rich with paintings and constructions I had never seen in life, not just Picassos but ones by Braque and Gris. There were wonderful photographs and fascinating video-audio displays. The second half of the show offered a glimpse of how cubist experiments opened up a world of possibility to the artists from the later 20th century into the 21st.
At last I headed home to the Tenth. The nearest stop was Luxembourg on the B line. I was weary enough, and in enough pain, by then to be inattentive to signage. Got on the B train going the wrong direction but realized it immediately. Got off. Turned around. Came back the right way to Gare to Nord and the now very familiar Orange Line 5 toward Place d’Italie, two stops to Jacques Bonsergent.
Good thing it didn’t take any longer. My phone was down to 9% and I was close to collapse.