A Feline Stroll through Montmartre Cemetery in Paris

A Feline Stroll through Montmartre Cemetery in Paris

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Where’s the sleeping cat sculpture? Look for it. Look for it. Writer and cat lover Théophile Gautier’s gravesite, division 3 (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Everybody’s got a favorite hideout for escaping the quotidian hassles of the world. My own beloved haven is the Cimetière de Montmartre. Here Dame Nature dresses to the nines—winter, spring, summer, and fall, and most definitely at l’heure bleue. Gifting all with grab-the-phone moments as she works her crepuscular magic on the crumbling ancient tombs and crypts, mine eye has seen her glory.

Don’t forget to snag a portable map at the cemetery bulletin board, located next to the entrance and restroom (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Where to start?

Keeping it real: Montmartre Cemetery spans 110 acres, so it’s nearly impossible to pay homage to everyone buried here. Believe me, I’ve tried. That said, with a little planning, you could narrow the field to suit your own passions. Love art? You might visit Degas, Picabia, and Gustave Moreau and make a fine afternoon of it.

Are you a music fanatic or super fan? I hear you. You could go from the classical grave of Hector Berlioz to that of diva pop superstar Dalida, with a detour to see the monument to Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone. Literature, the sciences, politics, cinema—there are enough heroes for any passionate pilgrim.

My own personal idols aren’t human at all, though. When I go, I seek out the gentle caretakers of the cemetery, les chats. Power dressing right on point with stripes and spots, the sleek poise and expressive eye contact of the cemetery’s clowder never, ever fails to raise my spirits or touch my heart.

Tiny House Movement: Michel Cambazard’s L’École du Chats organization not only feeds the cats, but also installs cat shelters (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Some hiss-tory

Back during the 1970s, in an attempt to control the feline population here, the city banned local cat lovers from visiting with food. But after photographer Michel Cambazard witnessed one too many vicious cat chow shakedowns at the entrance gate, he created L’École du Chats. Made up of volunteers and animal advocates, the organization not only feeds the cats, but also administers vaccines, identification tattoos, and arranges spay and neuter operations. They’ve also installed sturdy cat shelters.

Today les chats libres (“free,” not feral!) legally have full access to the cemetery. And roam they do when they’re not napping (or fussing as they not-so-patiently wait for dinner; #Icanrelate).

Rite of Spring: Dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and the all mighty mousers watch over the dancers in division 33, avenue Samson (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Meet my beasties

Jane Goodall may have her chimps, but I’ve got my cats at the Cimetière de Montmartre.

After years of observing my little mousers, I’ve noticed they especially seem to watch over the gravesites of actor Pierre Dux and composers Lili and Nadia Boulanger. So if pressed for time, I’d take wing directly to division 33 on avenue Saint Charles, located next to the entrance and restroom. Here portable maps are also available. Don’t think you need one? Trust me, you do. I learned my lesson during a sudden downpour. Turned around, I was drenched by the time I reached the exit and found shelter at the nearby Irish pub.

My favorite blissed-out kitty catching some rays (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Tips

I’ve also spotted the kitties a-leaping with wild abandon next to the sculpture of dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, located in division 22 on rue Samson. Here the squad also sunbathes on the nearby graves of dancers Marie Taglioni and Emily Livry. There is something incredibly hopeful about seeing their contagious contentedness in this place of death that makes them all the more glorious to watch. After exploring the cemetery, I highly recommend heading to the aforementioned pub for more reflection and celebration.

But not before stopping by writer Théophile Gautier’s gravesite in division 3 on rue Cordier. Where’s the love for cats? It’s here. Keep your eyes peeled for the cat statue.

Tough love reminder: Please resist the urge to feed the kitties. They already receive too much food by well-meaning cat lovers (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Lastly, here’s my plea

If you stumble upon the kitties, resist the urge to feed them. According to what one of their caretakers told me recently, they already receive too much food by well-meaning cat ladies and gents. “They need to lose weight,” she said. So instead, after paying homage to these furry fairies, say merci and bid farewell. Or better yet, become a member of the L’École du Chat organization. Here’s a link: www.ecoleduchat.asso.fr

Dinnertime: Two of my favorite cats keeping peepers peeled for their caretaking peeps, 2019 (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Now, let’s take a walk on the wild side.

After all, as writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette once wrote, “Time spent with a cat is never wasted.”

However, don’t forget cat lover Théophile Gautier’s wise words from his 1869 mew-all book, Ménagerie Intime: “Winning the friendship of a cat is a difficult business. The cat is a philosophical creature… who does not scatter his affections about indiscriminately… He is quite ready to be your friend, should you prove worthy. ”

I completely concur. And so does my Parisian cat, named Kitty.

Cimetière de Montmartre
20 Avenue Rachel, 18th arrondissement
Métro: Abbesses, Pigalle, or Blanche

Because one shot of my dapper-looking cat crew is never enough, especially in the dappled autumn sunshine (Photo by Theadora Brack)
#TBT (Throwback Tabby): Recognize the kittens? Here’s a shot of the same pair above in 2017. Yes, they’re waiting for dinner. (Photo by Theadora Brack)
There is something hopeful about seeing their contagious contentedness in this place of death that makes them all the more glorious to watch (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Splendor in the grass: Here’s one more flashback portrait (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Stealing beauty: Cat whisperer Théophile Gautier also wrote: Who can believe that there is no soul behind those luminous eyes (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Jane Goodall may have her chimps, but I’ve got my cats at the Cimetière de Montmartre (Photo by Theadora Brack)
It’s possible to spend an entire day here, so pack water and strap on the boots. Then, explore ’till the gentle pusses come home (Photo by Theadora Brack)
The autumn leaves don’t just drift but dance at the gravesite of artist Edgar Degas in 4th division along the avenue Montebello (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Did you know that artist Théophile Steinlen rescued and adopted many feline muses from the Montmartre cemeteries? (Photo by Theadora Brack)
La Tournée du Chat Noir by Steinlen, 1896, Souvenir Shop, Montmartre-Abbesses (Photo by Theadora Brack)
The Musée de Montmartre often displays Steinlen’s works, including his cat iconography in all its nine-lives glory (Photo by T. Brack)
Lait Pur de la Vingeanne Stérilisé by Steinlen, 1894-95, Souvenir Shop, Montmartre-Abbesses (Photo by Theadora Brack)
My childhood bedroom was plastered with Steinlen posters, so whenever I visit the Musée de Montmartre, it feels like home (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Still smitten: Panel detail, Chats et Lunes by Steinlen, 1885, Musée de Montmartre (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Dig literature? You might visit writer and animal whisperer Alexandre Dumas in division 21 on avenue de Montmorency (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Or shall we dance dance? Every blue moon, I spy the cats watching over the Vestri family gravesite in the 5th division (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Dance master Gaétan Vestri was first to drop the mask during performances, and rely on cat-like expressions alone (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Steinlen’s Chat Noir and the cats of Montmartre still inspire artists, Street art by Liselee, @liselee_art, Abbesses (Photo by Theadora Brack)
After exploring the cemetery, hop on over to the nearby Irish pub for more reflection and celebration, Street art by Henry Blache, @saxartwork, Abbesses (Photo by Theadora Brack)
Dear @saxartwork, Thanks for the reminder to live in the moment with eyes wide open, Street art by @saxartwork, Abbesses (Photo by Theadora Brack)

 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. A purrrfect story! I have to confess that I have been guilty of tearing off bits of my turkey sandwich to share with the kitties after they looked so wistfully at my bag lunches but you are right–they don’t look like they are suffering, but look much happier than some friends’ cats who live indoors. In fact, they look purrrfectly “at home.” Cats and tombs seem to go together naturally, somehow. Maybe it’s because I keep thinking about all those Egyptian monuments with murals of Bast and Sekhmet? Anyway, cool article! I love it and will share it with everyone I know!

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