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Cimetière du Montparnasse

Yet another year in which I fail to make it home for Cheng Beng – a customary “festival” similar to that of All Souls Day on a Christian calendar.

The last time I participated in the tending of our family ancestors’ graves was just before I moved to Europe, half a lifetime ago. Normally the timing simply didn’t work with my schedule but this year, it came incredibly close. I was home for my brother’s wedding recently, and it crossed my mind to extend my holiday so I can finally join my family on this year’s occasion. However, with work being incredibly busy, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to tack on another week to my ten days trip.

Cimetière du Montparnasse

And thus, rather peculiarly, I have cemetery in my mind. I think back to the Asian-styled tomb and final resting place of people near and dear to me, and at every turn, I also get flashbacks to the cemeteries that I’ve visited in Paris. Normally, according to my grandmother, one should not go to a cemetery bar specific event (like a funeral) or occasion (like Cheng Beng). However, I am less particular about keeping away from the Parisian cemeteries.

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Day 211: Cimetière du Montparnasse

Culturally, I’ve been taught that cemetery is one place you don’t go to unless (1) it’s part of funeral/burial ritual, (2) it’s a designated prayer day, and (3) it’s dictated as part of specific ceremony. My grandma would be horrified to know that I’m visiting one as if it’s a place of attraction. However, in Paris, that’s what some of them are considered. You could even get a map that marks out the graves of the “stars” of the cemetery.

Perhaps there’s an energy of morbidity around. With Hungry Ghost Festival taking place soon, and having just visited an exhibition on Voodooism at Fondation Cartier, it seems natural to take a walk at Cimetière du Montparnasse nearby. Truly, it’s a very well-kept compound, with a sense of calm and zen. It is also fascinating, given it’s a multi-denominational cemetery, with interesting and varied monuments setting one grave aside from another. Just look at the one above. It could have easily passed for an art display anywhere, if you discount the other graves that you could see in the background.

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