I am the first to admit that I am a creature of habit. For years I have been staying in the
same hotel in Montparnasse, Paris. I just come back from a glorious long weekend in the French capital and was delighted to discover that less than 5 minutes from where I stayed was the Montparnasse cemetery. The first thing after my breakfast in my usual haunt Cafe Liberti I walked for 2 minutes in the direction I never went and found that entrance to the cemetery.
Parisian cemeteries remind me of Highgate with its Victorian grand mourning. The monuments marking family plots came in the form of little chapels dedicated to the families to engraved stones to elaborate sculpture.
Laid out in sections making it easy to navigate the cemetery was like a small town. It was then that a serendipitous event happened. One of the famous marked graves was for Alfred Dreyfus. I until early summer this year I had vague recollections of the scandal in Paris from university I knew the bare bones of the matter.
Earlier this year I read the epic novel set in Paris by Edward Rutherford and this was one of the historical events that formed the later part of the book. My curiosity was whetted and I was delighted to find out that the new Robert Harris novel, An Officer and a Spy was based on the is scandal as well.
So my first adventure in Paris was to locate Dreyfus grave and pay my respects on this crisp bright October morning. Wondering around the cemetery was so peaceful and beautiful. The map indicated that the grave was in a small part of the cemetery located across the road. I found the area he was located and set about looking.
Although Dreyfus was the centre of great sandal he was eventually retried and cleared of these accusations and resumed his army career. When he died he was given a farewell in a fashion that could have matched the celebrations on Bastille day. He was laid to rest in the Montparnasse cemetery.
His family grave is marked by a white granite stone top, engraved with his name and those of his family. The grave is amongst others there is nothing to mark it out as some special, heroic or of achievement. It was touching that people had found stones and placed them on top of the grave in a park of respect for this man.
His life, career and fall were dogged with anti-Semitic prejudice and hate but in his eternal peace he lies amongst many Jewish graves.
The cemetery is peaceful and reflective part of this city of lights were the streets and metro buzz and are full of hustle and bustle of everyday life.
To stand close to the mortal remains of a man that endured so much and left a mark upon history is quite humbling. As I am a creature of habit I will be back staying in Montparnasse and will ensure to visit him again.
PS I feel a full blog on Dreyfus is in order soon!