Trees, reaching above the wall, drew me from the hot street into welcome shade. The flat, nineteen acre site of Cimitière de Montparnasse lacks the distant views and wild corners of the hillside Cimitière Père Lachaise, but the avenues of lime and sophora trees soften the predominately hard landscape and tempt birds into the cemetery, as well as human passers by. High walls muffle the sound of passing traffic. Visitors, whether family members tending a grave or tourists, looking for famous monuments, walk slowly along the avenues and sit quietly under the trees. It’s a peaceful place to step aside from the city streets.
Montparnasse was a hub of artistic and intellectual life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many famous people are buried here and notable monuments include sculpture by Brancusi and Nikki de Saint Phalle. I called in for a brief walk in the shade so I didn’t find the tombs of Simone de Beauvoir, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Constantin Brancusi, Albert Dreyfus, Camille Saint-Saens, Jean-Paul Sartre or any number of other well-known names. You need a map and a few hours for that.
Instead I took photos of some of the small human touches, horticultural and natural details; reminders that this is a place for the living as well as the dead.
The ears of corn on the two boxes of ripe wheat beside a young olive tree had been well picked over by the birds. Maybe that was the intention. I’ve never seen wheat adorning a grave before but, as a potent symbol of harvest, nourishment, hope and new life to come, it seems appropriate.