Friday, 10 December 2010

Book Review ~ "Guide des Curiosités Funéraires à Paris"

Guide des Curiosités Funéraires à Paris
Cimetière, Eglises et Lieux de Mémoire
by Anne-Marie Minvielle
Parigramme 2008
ISBN 9782840965145

Book Review

One might be tempted to classify this book with the 'curiosities' of its title; it's not often an entire, full colour, sheeny volume is devoted to the dead. Or representations and reminders thereof.

But at the danger of boring you, Paris is one of the world's great cities of the ceased-to-be. For a start, a lot of people have passed through Paris on the way to the hereafter. For a second, many of them have been famous for one reason or another. And for a third, what has been created to remember them by has often been remarkable in its beauty, artfulness and originality.

This book celebrates all this in the best possible way: lots of beautiful pictures accompanied by fascinating commentaries on the artefacts of the unliving to be found across, and just beyond, the city walls. And all of this conveniently categorised into arrondissements, and then actual cemeteries or other places of eternal rest. Until they dig you up again for one reason or another (not enough room, lease expired, fancy new wing opening in the Catacombes, new shopping centre, that sort of thing) but let's not worry about that here.

To all intents and purposes most of the gems you'll discover within these pages look as though they've been there forever, and as far as most of us are concerned, they'll probably still be there when we next decide to go and track a few of them down.
Of course, ex-humans' mortal remains might not be your thing, and I appreciate that. This is definitely a special interest volume, for people like me who will buy almost any book with 'Paris' in the title unless it also has words like MichelinFodor's, Guide, Englishman or Merde, because, umm, I've probably got them already.

But anyway, assuming you've made it this far without rigormortis setting in, let's talk about dead people for a while. Or rather, how living ones close to them have acted after their deaths. Because if there is an afterlife, it's most evident in the memories and acts of those who carry on after the loved one is gone.

Just for that it's always a sobering experience to wander around these places and see, and absorb, just how people have dealt with their loss. And it's not always depressing either. In fact, I've had some of my most profound, and often uplifting conversations whilst wandering around these cities of the dead. Not to mention taken some rather cool photos, even if I do say so myself. And so can you! I include a few cemetery photos at the end of this review taken using a phone camera for my Paris and I blog, and don't see why you shouldn't too. Click on the little photos below to be taken to a bigger version with story.

Cemeteries are great for taking photos! Is it disrespectful to wander around a cemetery snapping away, as someone suggested recently? You decide.

With the dead lies the history of the place, and a book like Guide des Curiosités Funéraires à Paris, which is in French by the way (even the photos), lets us discover some incredible facts and fables about these cold stones and the people below them.

Guess which of the photos below... a) is Baudelaire's grave, b) is a famous inventor's grave, c) is part of a memorial to the deportation during the Second World War, d) is joking about death, e) is possibly a distant relative of mine! Ask for answers in the comments section if you wish.

This book is one in a great series which I'll be revealing to you gradually over the months, are are really some of my Paris 'bibles', if I may put it that way, and certainly at the very heart of my Paris book collection. You might want to start with some of the more accessible walking titles, but if you fancy tackling a few of the city's famous and atmospheric burial grounds, you could do a lot worse than to have a copy of the Guide des Curiosités Funéraires à Paris in your hand as you do so. Let me know what you discover, and I'll go and have a look too!


Some of my iPhone cemetery and memorial photos from 2010 (click for more):

© 2010 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly with suggestions, questions and requests, thanks.


Marilyn said...

So what do you know? I was going to suggest to you that you do such a book.

Sab said...

You know Marilyn - I wouldn't have anything like the patience needed! I wrote a book for English teachers once and it nearly killed me. I need instant gratification. Take picture / write about it / publish it / move on to next picture. Feedback is nice, actually very nice, but there's something about wanting to produce, see the results of my work 'out there' and move on. Patience is not my strong point!

Marilyn said...

I am going to buy this book.It looks like something right up my street.

What Sun sign are you,Sab? Patience is also not supposed to be that of my Sun sign, but once I get an idea, it envelopes the little grey matter I have and it won't let go.

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