Friday, January 6, 2012

A Christmas Mourning Gift

On our first day's walk toward Montmartre, we passed over this bridge...


I loved the contrast between the aged patina of the bridge and the brightly-colored graffiti spray-painted all over it.

And when I looked through the bridge to see what was below...


I was surprised to see that the bridge didn't cross over a road or train tracks or a stream...

But over a cemetery.


A very old and moss-covered sort of a cemetery. I felt invited to check it out.

So the next day, on Christmas morning when much of our house was still asleep from Midnight Mass the night before, I set off with my camera to visit what I soon discovered to be the Cemetery of Montmartre.


The cemetery was organized by "streets"...


And I very quickly found myself lost amongst the many graves of the artists and citizens who were buried there....and completely absorbed by the sights around me.

At first, I found myself fascinated by the doors to all the family crypts...


I'm sure they were stunning when they were originally placed some 200-300 years ago.

But the artistic effect of time...


Had worked its magic and had given the entire place an ethereal, transcendent atmosphere.

Eventually, I moved beyond my infatuation with doorways and their metaphorical insinuations...


And started to step a little closer...


To peek through those doorways to see what was inside...


*sigh* A visual treat behind almost every one.

Over and over again, I peeked into doorways...


And found one magnificent work of art after another...hidden away.


It was captivating. And a bit addictive.

That was until I peeked through this rusty doorway...


And had this old girl stare back at me. She creeped me out a bit.

And so did this guy...


So I just moved on, albeit a little quickly.

It wasn't just the dead who resided here. There were many stray cats roaming about who seemed to own the place.


I don't think this guy liked me. His eyes looked just like the ones on that creepy girl a few pics up.

Below, you can see a black cat warming herself on a grave in the top middle of this photo.

Behind her, you can see how many of the graves had plants, flowers and small plaques on top of them.


I was particularly attracted to this pleasing fragment...


Which I believe says something like..."Was my Godmother"...?? Why this fragment? Who made it?

How I do love a mystery and this cemetery was full of them.

And the sculpture...


Oh my.

Unbelievable. The kind whose grace and beauty takes your breath away...


Like this young girl grieving atop the grave of Artist Gustave Guillaumet (1840-1887).

And this elegant statue of a somewhat sad, young girl standing on the grave of another French painter, Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805)...


To my delight, I would find her again in the Louvre a few days later as the subject of one of Greuze's paintings, The Broken Jug...


Though she seems more innocent and less-sad than her graveyard twin sister.

During his lifetime, Greuze wanted to be recognized as a history painter but was labeled as a genre painter, often being criticized for his sentimental scenes from every day life.


Funny that.

Though I enjoy the great historical and moral paintings, I find myself drawn more intently to those depicting domestic and ordinary life.

Thanks to Greuze and his genre style we have these two wonderful portraits of young girls who knit:

The Wool Winder (c. 1759), owned by the Frick Museum in New York...


And La Tricoteuse Endormie or The Sleepy Knitter (c. 1759) in the Huntington Library and Gardens art collection in San Marino, CA...


But I digress, don't I? Let's get back to the graveyard...

So there I was, completely absorbed in the vast artistic wonders of the Cimétiere Montmartre...


When I noticed there are a great number of muffled sounds around me. And from many different sources. So soft that I hadn't noticed them before.

The swish-swish of a broom, the scrape of a rake, and the amiable murmur of hushed voices.

Tucked amongst the 300-year-old graves, there were lots and lots of newer ones.

Coming up from my reverie, I saw around me some of the Christmas decorations that had been absent from the doors, cars and streets of Paris...


And I remembered.

It was Christmas morning.

And there were many families who had come to the cemetery to tend the graves and share Christmas with their loved ones who had passed away.


I was drawn toward a little boy's voice who kept repeating "Regarde, Maman! Regarde!" Over and over again.

And I could hear his mother answer, a slight impatience creeping into her voice like happens when your child repeats the same thing over and over.

I kept walking toward his voice and finally found them. It appeared to be a grandmother, her daughter, and her grandson who was about 4 years old, all tending the grave of a grandfather who had passed away in 2009.


And the little boy was putting Christmas ornaments on the tree, though in the pic above, he is actually behind the tree.

Each time he placed one, he would turn and say, "Regarde, Maman." And each time the Mom would answer, affirming his placement in just the right spot.

As I walked by, they looked up. I smiled and wished them a Merry Christmas, feeling somewhat like an intruder on the intimate scene.

And then I noticed the rest of the families I hadn't "seen" before, honoring Christmas by visiting the graves of their loved ones.

Instantly, I forgot all about doorways and sculptures and dead artists.

My heart lurched, my eyes filled and I suddenly missed my Mother..my grandmother..my aunts, uncles, cousins and loved ones who had all left this earth before me.

I sat and remembered their gifts to me and silently wished them all a Merry Christmas too.


Then remembered that I needed to get "home" to my family. We had Christmas in Paris to discover...and that's a job most definitely left to the living.

Though I loved everything about Paris, I enjoyed that morning walk in the Cimétiere the most.

And now you know why.

42 comments:

katherine said...

such a beautiful post! it reminds me so much of the old cemeteries we have here in New Orleans; so magical and beautiful.

coral-seas said...

Ah Susan, I did not see the Cimétiere when I was there. I truely wish that I had. Thank you for the wonderful photographs of the still stunning doors and a glimps of the interiors. I know what you mean about feeling like an intruder. I sometimes talk a walk in the cemetary next to my place of work but I try to avoid anyone visiting their loved ones. I feel like they have a 'proper' reason for being their and I am trespassing.

Rachel said...

So much to see and to ponder - you clearly had a truly life-enhancing stay in Paris!

Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful spot to discover! you were meant be there in the quiet with the cats and to visit with your mom on Christmas!! Big New Years Hugs to you1 i must put this on my Paris list as Becca and I will be going to Paris and the surrounds for her HS graduation- good thing that I have 3.5 years to save my pennies. back soon to read your earlier post!!! What a fabulous post!!!

73mw said...

Your posts often leave me thoughtful and this is equally if not more so true of your Christmas in Paris words and pictures. The detail you capture, the glimpses into other lives and worlds, the feelings you transcribe so eloquently, touch many hearts in addition to my own, I'm sure. Thank you Susan and a happy new year to you.

MosaicMagpie said...

Susan,
This was a wonderful post. I throughly enjoyed the photos. The architecture and the statuary was amazing. The patina and age on each item only serving to add to it's beauty. The family tending the grave, touching. A touching experience for you as well. Seems as though you were right where you were intended to be to receive that message. I would imagine the scowling cat was to deter you from traveling his way. He did have a frightening look on his face!
Deb

deanna7trees said...

magnificent images of those doors. thanks for sharing.

Sew Many Quilts said...

Beautiful. Love the images and your blog!! Always an inspiration.

Ati. said...

Thank you for the most beautiful photos and your story!

Moonsilk Stitches said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I love the title. It's full of such inspiration! Thanks for sharing.

Nancy said...

Thank you for the commentary and the lovely pictures! This was a special post...you touched my heart.

Erica said...

Susan, what memories of Christmas morning 2011 you will always cherish. Thank you for sharing your time at the cemetery with us; beautiful photos and insights of a special place. God bless you and your loved ones in the coming year.

nina said...

fantastic post! beautiful pics! I pinned a few...thank you!

Roberta said...

What photography! Gorgeous!

Wendy said...

Your tour of the cemetery was beautiful. I am sure the quiet and calm of it on Christmas morning was refreshing from all the hustle and bustle that normally greets one on Christmas. Glad that you had time in the quiet to wish your mom and other family members a Merry Christmas before you returned to the living. Your photographs of the doors are so inspiring.

kaiteM said...

thankyou.....

Teri said...

The photographs are lovely, but the post and its sentiment - beautiful.

Mary Corbet said...

Beautiful! And a very good reminder....

Incidentally, I have an embroidery pattern of the same image in the stained glass of Our Lady of Sorrows. The situation of the image, the seven swords, the quatrefoil within the circle - all exactly the same. The halo is slightly different as well as the trim on the mantle. It's a beautiful image. I'd love to stitch it some day! But my point: wonderful to see it in such vivid color.

Thanks, Susan! Welcome Home, and Happy New Year!

Jane Jeffress Thomas said...

In our state, Louisiana, there are a few of these elaborate graveyards, especially in New Orleans. Loved the pictures you shared.

Createology said...

Your post has filled my eyes with tears. Tears of sorrow and joy. I did not see this cemetary when I visited MontMarte years ago. It is beautiful and I so love the old graves with their amazing markings. I am known to visit old an old cemetary when I come upon one. There are so many untold stories I imagine when strolling along its paths. Susan may you have a blissful and creative 2012...

Allison Ann Aller said...

Magical and so beautifully told and shown....thank you so much, Susan.

Carol said...

Alphonse Baudin's vault creeped you out! I think its amazing. I am fascinated by old cemeteries. Its been a long time since I went to see our local legends...a serial axe murderess, a gambler buried with his winning hand and Ulysses S. Grant's Vice President. The dead don't scare me, its the living to look out for ~lol~

The newer vaults in this ancient cemetery seemed out of place to me. But I think the custom of decorating a Christmas tree at a grave a little curious.

Funny you mention the cats. You KNOW I have thoughts on THAT.

This was an interesting and amazing post. Your vivid photography gave the feel that I am looking through my screen right into the subject of the photo.

I can't wait till you show us more.

Kim in ND said...

Thank you, I enjoyed your trip through the beautiful cemetery.

Judy S. said...

Another wonderful post, Susan. Thank you! I feel like I walked right along side you as you explored this beautiful place.

Catherine said...

Oh you've done it again! Yes, I got teary again!! I would have loved walking there and taking it all in. Thank you for the glimpse.....

Dees said...

Ah! How wonderfull you had a chance to visit Paris with family. It's been a very looooong time since I was at Montmartre.. Never been to the cemetery though. I looked up the phrase: a ma Marraine. It means: to my godmother. I love how the old piece of tile, filled with memories was placed on the tombstone... It does make one curious doens't it to it's whole story! Happy new year to you and your loved ones and looking forward to all your new stories this year.

Lorraine@creativedaily said...

A very memorable Christmas morning in writing and with your beautiful photos. I spent a number of hours last spring strolling the same cemetary and this brought back fond memories. Hard to fathom the dates on some of the graves. I also stayed in Montmarte so look forward to seeing more of your Paris photos.

Marnie said...

Captivating!

Elmsley Rose said...

Thankyou for letting us 'visit' such a beautiful place.

I like to visit graveyards. I don't been to be morbid. I like to admire any carvings (tho nothing like what appears in Monmarte Cemetary!!!) and think of those who lived before us. As you are driving the Australian highways, you often come across a small pocket of graves by the road - very very simple and old stones, barely maintained in the wild grasses.
One I will never forget was a coastal graveyard, with a single tombstone, dedicated to the captain and crew of a ship that had gone down nearby ......

Thankyou for such a beautiful photo essay!

Sheila said...

*Sigh*. So beautiful...

Elmsley pinned it down best, you are a photo/image essayist. Hadn't thought of it quite like that before, but I agree with her.

I love the knitterly pictures... :)

Margaret said...

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your very intimate and beautiful Christmas morning. Your photographs of the doors and the mysteries inside are so very good. I was enjoying the moment with you!

I truly appreciated your thoughts as you wandered and wondered through this special place.

Wynn Anne Sibbald said...

Beautiful photos, beautiful writing. I feel like I've now glimpsed through those bridge railings myself.

Barbara C said...

Thanks for the beautiful photo essay Susan. What a treat for the eyes!

black bear cabin said...

your story and pictures were absolutely wonderful. i enjoyed your christmas morning stroll immensely! Thank you for sharing such an intimate moment from your trip...what a wonderful way to spend christmas morning!

Marsha said...

What a beautiful post. The cemetery was so interesting. I love finding niches like this so often missed by others. What beautiful sculpture and ironwork and stained glass and mosaics. Wow. The Sleepy Knitter was my favorite painting at the Huntington Gardens when we visited in May. What a treat to celebrate Christmas with family in Paris. So happy for you and yours.

Shantti said...

Bonne Année :)

I thought you might like this:
http://api.dmcloud.net/player/pubpage/4e709e80f325e11e5f000025/4efaed6e94a6f646f1003263/5ee3e33ac7e543239b735092197a4051

:)

Noel said...

What a return to Paris at Christmas your blog was for me. Can you imagine having been there with all the spray-painted windows proclaiming "Joyeux Noel" (two dots over the -e-)and having my name?! It was a magical time, shopkeepers were more engaging than other trips to Paris, but, truly, every time I've been blesed to be there has been the best! I believe I lived there in a previous life! Thank you for your wonderfully written piece and stunning photos of Versailles (a stunning place!).

Lisa said...

I've always loved graveyards, especially the old ones. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA is my favorite. How I would love to wander through this one in Paris! Love that you took the time to visit and to share it with us!

Hélène said...

That's a very beautiful post. I also like old cemetaries, they remind me to appreciate life.

I never dared to visit that one, which is one of the famous Paris cemataries (the other one being Père Lachaise).

Jocelyne said...

Dear Suzanne, I've been in Paris a lot of time (I'm from the south of France, Perpignan) but seen the City through your eyes has been a delight. Thank you for sharing with us your voyage. Jocelyne

Jocelyne said...

For "Ta Tous Saints" the all saints day, November 1st every family will go to the cemetery, even will travel to go if you don't leave close by, and bring flowers, the Chrysanthemums,to their loved one who passed away. And the cemeteries looked like a big beautiful garden.
Jocelyne

Trudy said...

Thank you for the beautiful post. Your cemeteries are a real tribute to the ones that went before us. We live in northern Minnesota USA in a rural community where the families have never been wealthy so our cemeteries are plain. Your pictures brought a lot of tears remembering those that we have lost. I wish you a very merry Christmas and wish I could send you some snow that we will have by Christmas. It's rained here for 2 days so our snow is gone for now but it's suppose to start snowing this evening.

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