Paris: Day 1

November 7, 2023 • 8:15 am

I write in somewhat of a rush as I’m soon to be off for another day out, with lunch at a highly rated bistro and perhaps a visit to the new “Felines” show at the Paaris Museum of Natural History.

My first business after landing in Paris yesterday (and having refused dinner and breakfast on the plane to preserve my appetite), was to head into town and meet my friend Winnie for lunch.  As is our culinary wont, we met at the traditional bistro Chez Denise (also known as the Tour de Montlhèry) in Les Halles.  And I always have the same meal: a salade frisée with hard-boiled egg and croutons, an onglet de boeuf (skirt steak) cooked “saignant” (bloody) with shallots and a huge tray of excellent frites, a liter of Brouilly (you pay only for the portion you drink, and I wasn’t in a drinking mood), and dessert: chocolate mousse.

Some photos. First, the menu written in chalk on a blackboard. For starters, Winnie had the saumon cru mariné and I had the salade frisée (latter not on the menu). We split the appetizers, but, sadly, I forgot to photograph them,

The ray with capers:

And the skirt steak with shallots, which was cooked “bloody”, or really rare (you can see the degree of doneness at lower left).

The whole lunch (liter of wine not visible). As always, there were too many fries to consume. There was also a tray of Pain Poilãne, the sourdough bread that’s famous in Paris. It’s served with butter: a rarity in France

Desserts: chocolate mousse pour moi (a bite is taken to show the inside):

And a giant millefeuille for Winnie:

After lunch I checked into my humble hotel near Montparnasse. A view from my window (I’m across the street from a seafood store and a fruit emporium):

And a panorama of a very humble (but comfortable room). I don’t need luxury: just a good bed, quiet, and an internet connection

After lunch and checking into my digs, we spent the afternoon looking for the graves of famous people at the nearby Montparnasse Cemetery (Cimetière du Montparnasse), where many famous writers and artists are buried. Here’s an aerial view from Wikipedia:

And here are are graves of the notables (the long commentaries below were found by Winnie). First, the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire (the most famous people have their graves adorned with flowers, stones, and Métro tickets.  Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a great poet, but, addicted to opium and alcohol, he died of a stroke at 46 

Baudelaire (photo from Wikipedia):

There is also a cenotaph (an empty tomb, serving for a memorial) for Baudelaire, which is quite haunting. There are two images of him, sitting and recumbent, but remember, his body lies below the stone in the photo above.

The Irish novelist and dramatist Samuel Beckett (1908-1989), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and is perhaps most famous for his play Waiting for Godot, the subject of many internet memes:


A meme:

The grave of Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991), songwriter, director,  and prolifie smoker of Galouises (the cigarette that killed off many famous Frenchmen),


Although he was not physically attractive, Gainsbourg had passionate affairs with two beautiful women, presumably attracted to his personality and talent. Here’s one (from Wikipedia):

Gainsbourg would have a brief but ardent love affair with Brigitte Bardot. One day she asked him to write the most beautiful love song he could imagine and, that night, he wrote the duets “Je t’aime… moi non plus” and “Bonnie and Clyde” for her. The erotic yet cynical “Je t’aime”, describing the hopelessness of physical love, was recorded by the pair in a small glass booth in Paris but after Bardot’s husband, German businessman Gunter Sachs, became aware of the recording, he demanded it be withdrawn. Bardot pleaded with Gainsbourg not to release it, and he complied.

Below is the song by S.G. featuring B.B., which is erotic but not, to my mind, a beautiful love song.  I guess it was released. Gainsbourg later re-recorded it with Jane Birkin (see below), and that version was so erotic it was banned from radio play in some parts of the U.S. because the sound evoked copulation.

Gainsbourg’s other great love was actress Jane Birkin (1946-2023), who was buried in July of this year. She had survived leukemia and had a child with Serge, Charlotte Gainsbourg, born in 1971, and also an actress. Birkin and her daughter from an earlier marriage, Kate Barry (1967-2013), a photographer, are buried together; Berry died in an apparent suicide ten years before her mother.

The inscription for Jane was hidden behind leaves. Voilà:

Below: Birkin. Winnie found this BBC note on her funeral:

Singer Vanessa Paradis was at her funeral, as well as screen legends Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Charlotte Rampling, another British actress who regularly stars in French-language movies. French First Lady Brigitte Macron was also in attendance.

And the gravestone with Barry’s name (both are buried there), adorned with a picture of Birkin:

Existentialist hilosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) rests with his famous companion Simone de Beauvoir, also a philosopher and writer (1908-1986). They are well loved, as you can see from all the lipstick (from kisses) and hearts on the tombstone.  (Similar lipstick smears adorn the tomb of Oscar Wilde in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.)

A close-up of the hearts and lipstick:

Sartre’s funeral was a grand affair; here’s a description found by Winnie:

When Sartre was buried there in 1980, an incredible 50,000 mourners came out to bid farewell to their favourite intellectual. Soon afterwards, Beauvoir, despite her many illustrious achievements as a writer, philosopher and pioneering feminist thinker, would rate her greatest accomplishment as her relationship with her beloved Jean-Paul. Beauvoir died in 1987, and was laid to rest beside her late partner.

I found myself imagining the day when Sartre was buried here, when tens of thousands of mourners filled the whole cemetery to capacity. On that day Paris’s citizens had scrambled across headstones and climbed trees in chaotic scenes, trying to get a glimpse of their beloved hero before his casket was lowered into its grave.

The funeral of Sartre:

Sartre and de Beauvoir:

The sculptor Constantin Bråncuși, born in Romania (1876-1957)


His most famous sculpture is “Bird in Space“; there were several renditions in brass and marble; here’s one from the U.S National Gallery of Art:

We missed several other notables buried there, including Susan Sontag and Alfred Dreyfus, but we did find my favorite gravestone, labeled on the cemetery map simply as “Chat” (“cat”). It’s a porcelain cat memorializing a man who died of AIDS (see below). No, there is no cat buried here, but this cat sculpture is well loved and attracts many tourists. The sculpture is by Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002). Have a look at her works in her Wikipedia article.

From the rear:

The story, again found by Winnie:

Niki de Saint Phalle was very involved in the fight against AIDS. In 1986 she published the book, AIDS: You Can’t Catch It Holding Hands in English and later in French, German, Japanese, and Italian. In 1990 and 1991 she participated in the creation of a series of animated public service announcements for France Sécurité Sociale. She did so with her son, Philip Mathews, to help raise awareness about the disease. By this time a number of Saint Phalle’s friends had been diagnosed with AIDS and funerals had sadly become all too frequent.

A Cat For Ricardo

Ricardo was Niki de Saint Phalle’s assistant for ten years. He worked with her in the Tarot Garden, eventually living in the Tower of Babel. He introduced her to the ceramicist, Venera Finocchiaro, who later made all the ceramics for the Tarot Garden. When she experienced debilitating arthritis, Ricardo would feed, carry, and bathe her. They shared an incredibly strong bond. Saint Phalle often warned Ricardo about AIDS worrying that he would catch the virus.

Niki de Saint Phalle found Ricardo to be like a cat, proud, mysterious, and sexy. When he was dying in the hospital she promised him she would make a cat sculpture in his honor and place it on his tomb. He liked the idea and she set about securing an honorable and memorable place for him to be buried.

The death of Ricardo was particularly traumatic for both Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. Saint Phalle started on the sculpture that would sit on Ricardo’s grave, slowly working through her depression. On the other hand, Tinguely focused on the issues surrounding the end of life. He began preparing for his own death. He stopped taking his medication and ignored his body’s health, dying two years later in 1991. The stone in front of the Ricardo Cat sculpture reads, “Pour notre grand ami Ricardo mort trop tôt jeune, aimé, et beau” (For our great friend Ricardo died too young, loved, and beautiful). There is a similar sculpture at the Tarot Garden so Saint Phalle could keep Ricardo close. 

The making of Ricardo:


Me taking pictures of a crow (photo by Winnie). It was a beautiful day, even though rain is predicted all week in Pris. Not so; and even today it’s sunny.

I was photographing this lovely crow (below), which you can make out at lower right above:

Here’s a grave for you to figure out (put your answers in the comments) Gus! You can see my reflection taking the picture.

That was a busy first day in Pais, especially given that I was completely jet-lagged. Now I’m well rested and ready to tackle the City of Light. Lunch today is at Au Moulin à Vent—a bistro in the 5th, and place I’ve never been (menu here). It was recently named the Best Bistro in Paris for 2023, which means it will be full of tourists. But so long as the food is good, I don’t care

22 thoughts on “Paris: Day 1

  1. I wonder if it is Sartre or de Beauvoir who gets the kisses, or both? I am doubtful Sartre is read much these days. I would guess it is de Beauvoir who draws the fans. Chapeau (or de Beauvoir headscarf) to anyone who got through all of The Second Sex.

    1. Sartre’s intro to Wretched of the Earth completely changed my impression of Sartre.

      The Second Sex is interesting enough on its own, I’d say.

      But then there’s post modernists, Queer theory, and that age of consent reform that DeBeauvoir and Sartre signed versions of :

      Hmmm, anything to do with:

      “… eroticism that transgresses generational boundaries …”
      -Gayle Rubin
      Thinking Sex


    2. Maybe the smooches for de Beauvoir are left by fans of her other famous literary lover, Chicago’s own Nelson Algren, author of novels including The Man with a Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side.

  2. Thank you so much for the lovely photos of food and graves. Graveyards fascinate me, and I have made two lengthy visits to Père-Lachaise but never to Montparnasse. Maybe someday. Enjoy your trip!

  3. Thank you for the wonderful tour of Montparnasse Cemetery. I wanted to visit it last time my family and I were in Paris, as I wanted to make a pilgrimage to the grave of world chess champion Alexander Alekhine. But Paris was hot and muggy that day, and my teenage daughters were growing restless…

  4. Lovely pictures and stories! I am late to realize that surely a country where swarms of people celebrate an intellectual surely must be a country with a superior civilization.

  5. Thanks for a wonderful post, Jerry! I hope you and Winnie are having a grand time.

    I’m very lucky that I have one of Niki de Saint Phalle’s bottles of perfume and gold body powder in a gold-lidded ceramic sculpture (the one with a snake head on the lid). I’ve had these for many decades.

  6. Very pleasant and relaxing. We also love old cemeteries.
    Be careful that you do not blunder into a mob of Jew haters.

  7. I spent quite a bit of my time analysing Sartre’s writings, as school tasks, my school was somehow obsessed with existentialism. I obviously was quite impressed with Sartre.
    When I heard later how Sartre and De Beauvoir treated ‘their’ Jewish refugee, my stance changed: still a brilliant writer, a good to mediocre philosopher, politically profoundly naive and a despicable human.
    De mortuis nil nisi bonum, but I’ll make an exception for JPS (and a few others).

  8. Wonderful, evocative pictures. I know Pere Lachaise quite well, but not so much Montparnasse. My son is head chef in a Paris restaurant, so we have a permanent excuse to visit. Next time, Montparnasse!

    Old cemeteries are always worth a visit. In London, for instance, there are Highgate (where Karl Marx is buried, plus George Eliot and Michael Faraday), Brompton (Emmeline Pankhurst, Constant Lambert), Norwood (Hiram Maxim, Mrs Beeton), Abney Park (William and Catherine Booth), and many others. Parts of them are overgrown, which just adds to the romantic overtones.

    Looking forward so much to the next batch of photos!

  9. Hi Jerry, Welcome to the 14th. Very close where you are staying is a great bistro called Bistrotters at 9 Rue Decrès. It is not classic French, but they serve interesting and delicious dishes.

  10. Hi Jerry,

    I’m currently working as a postdoc in Lyon at the Laboratory of Biometry and Evolutionary Biology, about 2 hours south of Paris by train. I assume you plan to stay around Paris but if you visit Lyon feel free to send me an email and I’d be happy to treat you and Winnie to a bouchon lyonnais.

    1. I love Lyon but I won’t make it there this time: all days reserved for specific restaurants. But I also love the bouchons, the pots de vin, the Saint Marcellin, and the copious portions of good food. Maybe next time; thanks for the invite!

  11. You might be interested to know that the crow is a Carrion Crow, which forms a north-south hybrid zone with the eastern Hooded Crow, used by Ernst Mayr as a key example of a narrow hybrid zone.

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