Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, January 15, 2016

Gilding The Inevitable

"Death is crazy. It's not serious. We don't believe in God. So the cactus is a symbol of how we feel about the world and all of society."
Maurice Sinet, 87, dean of French political cartoonists

"It's a place of tranquility with no business or money."
"And I like the neighbours."
Benoit Delepine, French film director
The neighbours? They could be those not yet buried but destined to lie beside Mr. Delepine, when the Grim Reaper eventually comes to claim him. In the meantime, the crypt that will contain his mortal remains is built, and there are always others surrounding the tomb and its bronze monument in the Montmartre cemetery on Paris's Right Bank, neatly tucked into their own graves, respectable ones, not like his own awaiting his interment.

Which he and a handful of others who think the way that Mr. Delepine does, with their vision of the absurdity of life and its final scene of departure, the reason for which they are still searching their imaginations. Why do some trees live long lives [think millennia!], and tortoises, and parrots [think centuries!], for example, sponges, clams and bowhead whales, when humankind has such a paltry longevity for a creature so spectacularly endowed with brains, seldom used to their full potential?

Isn't it the kind of musing one might expect from a former Charlie Hebdo political cartoonist like Mr. Sinet? Well, he and a handful of drinking buddies and artists of one kind or another appear to have discussed such matters. And they appear also to have concluded that when they depart this mortal coil their remains should not be interred just anywhere, anyhow, but memorialized with a kind of universal finger of indifference to destiny and foreverafter.
Benoît Delépine, a film director, next to his future resting spot at the Montmartre cemetery in Paris. Credit Capucine Granier-Deferre for The New York Times
They combined resources and commissioned a bronze monument to illustrate their concert of thought. There are other crypts, tombs and mausoleums in the cemetery and some of them hold the remains of once-distinguished personages whose reputations march on before them. People like Edgar Degas and Francois Truffaut, as example, two who stand out among the 21,500 graves in the cemetery. But the cactus tomb is different, looks different, speaks a different language.

Montmartre cemetery's 21,500 graves include artists such as Edgar Degas and François Truffaut. Credit Capucine Granier-Deferre for The New York Times

Thus far, seven individuals whose sense of whimsy the tomb has appealed to have paid the 500 euros it takes to make their reservation. They represent a jazz critic, a few filmmakers, a television comedy writer, and a journalist. The tomb, erected in 2010, has a fitting inscription: "Die? Rather croak!" It is empty, devoid of any presence as yet. And 57-year-old Benoit Delepine visits on occasion, to look about him. The 'neighbours' of whom he spoke could be a reference to the roaming feral cats.

Why a cactus to be depicted, setting this one tomb quite apart from all its fellows? Why, why not a cactus? Its prickly exterior ensures that none approach too near, while in desperate straits its interior is capable of providing life-saving moisture for those who might otherwise expire for lack of water in a desert environment. And this city-of-the-dead is a kind of desert, isn't it? Deserted of life, of laughter, of gay abandon, of hope of ever leaving once ensconced.

The 87-year-old Mr. Sinet may well be the first of the cactus tomb's incarcerants. He underwent surgery in December; as the editor/author of a publication he named Sine Mensuel, he has made light of his age and health, writing assuredly of his recovery where "a bottle of Chablis Premier Cru is waiting for me in a bucket of ice", on his recovery.

Why Montmartre for their final resting place, albeit in a cactus tomb? Well for starters if the cemetery was good enough for Proust, Moliere and Balzac, Adolphe Sax, Hector Berlioz and Alexandre Dumas, it is most certainly good enough for their little group which shuns the ordinary and clasps to their bosom the way less travelled.

Besides which the Montmartre cemetery was originally placed in a locality considered to be bohemian. Art, anarchy and cabaret had their home there in the 19th century. Presumably, in one shady little corner, they still do.

The crypt of the former owner of the Moulin Rouge cabaret, Jean Bauchet, is guarded by a nude statue. Credit Capucine Granier-Deferre for The New York Times

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