Unusual Paris comes from the train-lover Sophie from SophieOnTrack
I’d been to Paris once before. It was one of those rush around the museums by coach on a tight schedule affairs, one minute looking at bizarre hanging installations in the Pompidou Centre, the next being disappointed at how very tiny the Mona Lisa is and the implausibility of wading through the hundreds of tourists gazing at her at any one time to take a close enough look.
We stayed in the city on that trip in a hotel that, although a bit stuffy, was close to the action.
This time I was re-visiting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a family friend wanted someone to cat-sit in her apartment in Bondy. She was off to visit her 92 year-old mother in Walsall. Secondly, I wanted to see the Pere Lachaise cemetery (I’m a big fan of cemeteries). But I was mainly there for a change of scenery from my London home while I worked.
It’s one thing staying in metropolitan Paris, with all the Parisians, who in order to get a flat in the city, need to have a guarantor who also lives in the city. It’s quite another staying ‘out there’ in the ghettoised suburbs.
The family friend had left a map and a list of things to be done in the apartment, like taking the bins out on Monday evening and cleaning the cat’s litter tray. The cat was housebound because out in the suburbs motorways crisscross the area. The Bondy district and Noisy le Sec, where I stayed, is famous for its railway workers who went to war from the station and the ancient cemetery (which I have to admit discovering too late for a visit).
Travel into the city from the suburbs was by double-decker RER train and Metro and actually very easy. The RER took ten minutes to get into Magenta (which is actually Gard du Nord, for anyone else totally confused) or Haussman Saint Lazare. From there, after some getting used to the labyrinth of the Paris Metro and the people jumping the barriers and the occasional teenager smoking a joint in the carriage (at least he offered some to everyone around him if they wanted it) the colour-coded lines were quite simple to negotiate and the cemetery was easy to get to.
For anyone who has been to Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, Pere Lachaise is right up there on the list of the best cemeteries in the world.
Here lies Oscar Wilde in his suitably ostentatious graffitied tomb and Proust in his suitably un-ostentatious grave. Jim Morrison is surrounded by devoted fans most days, scrawling his lyrics on the tree by his resting place. It is worth noting that you need a map to find particular people, if that’s why you’re here. And there’s no need to buy one outside, you can go to the information office on-site and get a free one and there’s even a toilet next door.
Aside from the celebs, a visit to the Holocaust memorials with the beautiful, poignant sculptures on them is moving. It is easy to forget that France was occupied during the war before you’re standing here.
After the cemetery, it was easy to return to the apartment to do some work.
There’s a great blog about Bondy that I read while I stayed there. A whole culture lives out in the suburbs. It will be interesting to see whether central Paris and the suburbs ever become better integrated.