The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 11: My Trip to Paris (3)

Oh, my third day in Paris was a lot of fun!

Beauvoir / Sartre Grave (Montparnasse)After a nice lie-in, we went to the Cimetière du Montparnasse. There are hundreds of famous people buried here (including the chess great Alekhine, philosopher Baudrillard, Charles Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant, and Man Ray), but of course, I was here to see the grave of Sartre & Beauvoir.

The cemetery is huge and we covered as much as we could, though we had trouble finding some of the graves we wanted to see. We found Baudelaire’s monument, but not his grave, for instance. However, we did manage to find several others. Mostly I like to visit graveyards to see what sort of grave art has been used. Unlike lots of cemeteries here in western Canada, European cemeteries have far more interesting grave monuments. Mausoleums are almost completely unheard of here. However, in Montparnasse, there were many. We even had to take shelter against one when the sky opened up and poured down on us. (We had, of course, forgotten to take an umbrella.)

Montparnasse cemeteryRather damp, we left the cemetery to go tour the Catacombs. Yes, from one bunch of dead people to another… though the Catacombs are an awful lot of bones, and it’s not even close to the same. Creepier by far. (However, it’s also one of the cheapest attractions I saw in Paris – only €2,50.)

Before that, we had a bite of lunch at a café, and I had the misfortune to eat some crevettes (shrimp) that were a bit off. By the time we got to the Catacombs, I was starting to feel ill. Not the best way to start a tour of human remains. In my journal, I note ‘Well, if you’ve seen one pile of bones you’ve seen them all’, and after awhile it did seem that way. The photo below is the section of bones from the old Les Innocents cemetery. Being an Anne Rice fan (with many references to the cemetery in Interview With the Vampire), I couldn’t resist.

The Catacombs

At the exit, our bags were searched. I hadn’t realized until then that people would try to steal bones. It didn’t even enter my mind. I did remark to my mother that it would be rather interesting to go back in time, if only to tell those people who expected to be buried at Les Innocents and the other graveyards that their bones would in the future become the basis of a major tourist attraction. Immortality? Peut-être.

(And, the perfect ending to my day? Seeing an ad for Vittel featuring David Bowie. Awesome!)

Book Review: David Bowie – Starman

David Bowie: Starman, by Paul Trynka. (website)

I haven’t read any biographies of David Bowie in recent years, maybe because a lot of what I picked up in the early 90s could easily be classified as utter rubbish. Over-dramatic tellings of Bowie’s half-brother Terry’s mental illness, or the most dreadful example: Angela Bowie’s supposed memoir, which purported to tell the reader all about how she found Bowie and Jagger in bed together… if only you’d read till the end of the book. (By the way, don’t bother, it was quite the anti-climax.)

Even from the first chapters of Starman, I could tell the book would be of high quality, but I should note that while I am still a huge fan of Bowie, I’m less interested in what his background is and more interested in what material he’s putting out, whether it be music, art, or film. All I hoped when starting this book was to not be bored.

Paul Trynka has some good credits to his name: author of an Iggy Pop bio in 2008 and formerly the editor of MOJO magazine, to name but a few. At least a guy from the music biz would have a different outlook than other, non-music writers.

Now, about the book.

There’s more than enough detail to satisfy everyone, from the casual fan to the most dedicated, even me. (Though if you’re reading to find out what Bowie has for breakfast, keep looking.) Even as someone who has read a lot on Bowie, I enjoyed this book and found it informative. It’s exactly the sort of book that I would recommend to a new fan who wants to know (almost) everything.

There are quite a few biographies of David Bowie floating around, even recently, when the man himself hasn’t been as much of a force on the music scene. (Dear David, I would love if you’d put out some new material. Anything, even just an EP.) While I don’t know how complete some of the other recent material is, I’m especially impressed with Trynka’s extensive notes and acknowledgments. Notes for each chapter are informal (no footnotes here) but cover all the sources used, especially highlighting the main interviewees for each section. Far more readable than standard academic notes (and I’ve read a lot of those in my time.) I only wish that the book was available in eBook format so that I could stick it onto my Kindle and carry it around for easy reference.

Before I finish off, I must tell you that Trynka ends with the Fashion Rocks event, and in reading about it, I remembered that I hadn’t watched that performance in some time. So, I just had to find it on YouTube to share:


Music: My Lithium & Me (You Can’t Hide the Beat)

Lithium & Me - You Can't Hide BeatThanks to a few friends on Twitter and Facebook, I listened to this fantastic EP at today. It’s billed as a Valentine to David Bowie, and contains cover songs of six Bowie tunes.

1. Criminal World
2. The Man Who Sold the World
3. Lady Grinning Soul
4. Sunday
5. Always Crashing in the Same Car
6. Breaking Glass

The album art is by Rex Ray, well known in the Bowie fan community for his work with DB. (If you’re unfamiliar with the photo on the album cover, the lead singer has done an homage to Screaming Lord Byron from the ‘Blue Jean’ music video, ’84).

I strongly recommend going to listen and download this fantastic EP. Even if you’re not a Bowie fan.

David Bowie is 64 today.

Not that this really matters to anyone, but I’ve been a Bowie fan for most of my life. Being a fan of his music and films has also led the way to learning about other artists and musicians: Brian Eno (see below), Walter Tevis, Catherine Deneuve, Mick Ronson, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, the Velvet Underground… the list goes on.

Not only have I learned about culture, I’ve also met many other Bowie fans from around the world. Some of them I have known for fifteen years and I consider them very good friends.

And that reminds me – if it hadn’t been for David Bowie and his Telling Lies single release online (Sept 11/96, the first ever downloadable single by a major artist, according to Wikipedia), I wouldn’t have been a denizen of the internet for so long.

Happy 64th Birthday David Bowie!