To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery, my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches.
– Charles Baudelaire
I’ve always like cemeteries, even as a kid. Maybe it’s cause they’re quiet and sad and beautiful and you rarely see other people. They’re good Thinkin’ Places.
The more I travel, the more I go looking for old graves and old homes and over the years I’ve seen quite a few famous ones. So here’s a few of my favorite graves (we’ll do the homes another day), in no particular order.
Since he got the opening quote Baudelaire gets to go first.
Charles Baudelaire – Poet (Paris)
I’ve always liked Baudelaire though I confess to having only read Le Fluer des Mal. But I still liked it. There a lot to be said about a man who was obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and supposedly lined his walkway with skulls. (Not sure if that last part is true.) And in full disclosure whenever his name is mentioned I still think of this. (What? I wrote a kid’s book. Leave me alone.)
I absolutely loved the Age of Reason. And the Second Sex has been on my to-read list for about 10 years. It’s a long list. When I was Paris I would pass Le Deux Magots where Jean Paul and Simone were known to hold court. I didn’t spend time in the cafe because my hotel was near La Rotunde and as Hemingway said, “”No matter what cafe in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde.” Taxi drivers are smart like that.
Samuel Beckett – novelist/playwright/poet (Paris)
Full disclosure: I’ve never read anything by Beckett (yet!). But we found this grave for our good friend Oscar cause he’s the world’s biggest Beckett fan. Honestly. The literary gods should give him a medal for it. And he had never been to Beckett’s grave so when he found out we were going to Paris, we promised to find it and to leave a coin [pictured].
Marie Antoniette – Queen of France (St. Denis)
Marie Antoinette has the privilege of being one of the few monarch graves I’ve ever seen – though all the ones I have seen are French. The rumored quote “Let them eat cake,” I heard she never said. So there’s a rumor that the rumor’s wrong. Next to her grave was a little glass case that held the heart of her son (Louis XVII) known as the Lost Dauphin.
Jim Morrison – singer/songwriter/poet (Paris)
Ah the Lizard King. Probably the most visited and vandalized grave in all of Pere Lachaise. I won’t make any cracks about how This is The End (my friend) or about the supposed ghosts. My husband is a huge fan. Me, not so much. But I appreciate what he means to the rock n roll canon. He’s the Lizard King. He can do anything.
Moliere – playwright/actor (Paris)
I’m never read anything by Moliere but I thought that was a hell of a grave. It’s like a bunk bed for the dead!
Oscar Wilde – novelist/playwright/satrist/poet (Paris)
Oh I love Oscar Wilde. He was witty and smart and gay and a perfect dandy. I really want his final words about the wallpaper to be true (“The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go”.) While in Paris I saw the Left Bank Hotel where he died and where we can only assume the wallpaper lived. I am very glad I got there before his cranky relatives who clearly lack the wit and joie de vivre that Oscar had, walled his tomb off from all those kisses. And no, I didn’t kiss it. A) I don’t wear lipstick and B) ew, it’s dirty. That’s how germs are spread.
Charles Bukowski – Poet/Novelist (San Pedro, CA)
Oh Hank. We miss you and your Bluebird. My husband and I took a trip to LA specifically to see the Bukwoski exhibit at the Huntington which had his famous “typer” and an old glass of wine. It was very cool. We also stomped all over seedy West Hollywood to the Pink Elephant where he used to get his cans of beer to his old homes, including his bungalow on DeLongpre and the hell hole that was his childhood home, before we went out to San Pedro to pay our respects to the old guy himself. It was a good trip. I think Hank would have approved.
John Keats – Poet (Rome)
Oh Keats, poor raving man Keats. Dramatic up to the last with his “name was writ in water” line. Classic. He was a beauty. Just Look at this death mask. He looks like Han Solo in carbonite.
Percy Bysshe Shelly – Poet (Rome)
Some of my favorite stories about Shelley are the following:
1. It was Mary (soon to be the famous Frankenstein author) not Percy that concocted the plan to run away together in the middle of the night when her father would not give them permission to marry.
2. In Venice he saw his own doppelgänger, which scared him to death when it said “How long do you mean to be content” Creepy, right?
3. Before they burned his body, Byron gave Mary a box which contained Percy’s heart. And not a token. His ACTUAL HEART!
Galileo Galilei – physicist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher (Florence)
I’m now humming the Indigo Girl’s song. I can’t help it. In Pisa, I saw his house with a stained glass image of him in the window. It was very cool.
In Florence there is a Galileo museum FULL of all his inventions and these globes and telescopes and things like this:
I’m not sure what it does but it’s AMAZING to look at isn’t it? I took a billion pictures. Honestly. A billion. And they had his FINGER BONE! Let’s pretend it was the middle one. Just a little “ahem” from beyond the grave for killing the smartest guy in the room.
Michelangelo – sculptor (Florence)
After I got back from Italy, having seen and been wowed, and I mean truly wowed by the David I decided to read a bio on Michelangelo. I did a little research and found the one most lauded by critics and I read it. You know what I learned? Michelangelo was a very pissy man who lived a very long time (much to his chagrin) and was very unhappy about working with Popes. He also believed his hands were the hands of God. For a holy man, he spent a lot of time nickel and diming people.
Julius Caesar – Emperor/Soldier (Rome)
Yeah. Caesar. I think this gets the prize for oldest grave. I just realized that my comment about Marie Antoniette might have to be revised. He was a monarch too. So this is where they burned his body. It’s tucked away in the ruins of the Forum. Pretty darn cool, huh?
Veni, vidi, vici. All Hail, Caesar!
Jean Michel Basquiat – Painter (Brooklyn)
It took a long time to find you, Jean-Michel. The map lied and we searched and searched and finally we were so separated that I couldn’t even see Jay anymore. And then suddenly there you were. I left my very last Paris metro train pass on your tomb. I’ve left a lot of them in a lot of special places. I hope you like that you got the last. You, of all people, were one of my favorite ghosts to find. Not to mention, it was a beautiful day in Brooklyn.
Leonard Bernstein – Conductor/Author/Pianist (Brooklyn)
Leonard Bernstein is an honorary member of the Vienna Philharmonic and as I will be soon be on my way there that makes it even better. For those of you who don’t know, aside from a myriad of other things, he wrote the music to West Side Story. Luck intervened twice in Bernstein’s life – once when was ten and his aunt, going through a divorce, stashed her piano in his parent’s apartment and then later during the war, when he was appointed assistant conductor of the NY Philharmonic mostly because everyone else had been drafted. Everything else was pure hard work and talent.
Jack Kerouac – novelist/poet (Lowell, MA)
Ah Ti Jean. I find that it is often best to let Jack do all the talking:
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
William Shakespeare – Playwright/poet (Stratford Upon Avon)
Yes, that’s scaffolding and yes, that’s as close as I got and if you’ve read even one other page on this blog then you know how OBSESSED I am with Shakespeare and that this was a crushing “Wally World is closed” sort of moment for me. I don’t want to go through it again. There’s a whole explanation here.
But I did get to sit on the bench that Will and Anne sat on before they were married. Squee!
And now, the next trip this spring should snag me Beethoven and the area they generally think is Mozart’s grave. And one of these days I’ve got to get back to England to find Marlowe’s grave.
Okay that’s a lot of words about dead people and their stones.