My father-in-law was as well-traveled in death as he was in life. We kept a part of Eryk’s ashes in a travel-sized vitamin pot. It made sense to bring him with us. After all, he was never the type to stay in one location. We left some of his ashes at each place we visited, and my partner, Luka, marked the locations on map. It was a link, connecting us to the city and to Eryk.
We found the places he loved in life. When we were In Switzerland, we left him at the top of Mount Pilatus so he could overlook the city of Lucerne. In Athens, we planted his ashes along the lemon orchard in the National Garden. On a cold morning in Malmö, we set him voyaging down Øresund, crossing the boundary between Sweden and Denmark.
In January, we went to Paris, a city Eryk had lived in while he worked on the channel tunnel. The plan, at first, was to scatter his ashes along the platform overlooking the Eurostar. The risk of him being brushed up by a cleaner was too great, however. So, we went for option two – Père Lachaise Cemetery, the burial place of Eryk’s musical hero. Not Jim Morrison – despite the pilgrimages that others made to his grave – but Chopin, a fellow Polish expat. As we walked from our hotel to the cemetery, Luka recited memories of watching his dad march around the lounge conducting along to the music.
We were unprepared for the Parisian winter and a torrent of rain left our faces stinging and our hands numb. By the time we stepped into the cemetery, most tourists had left. We entered from the west side, where the tombs and mausoleums were laid out like houses around a square. There wasn’t a set style to the procession cluttering the surrounding hillside. Some were obelisks, like the tomb of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte, with its stone figure of Justice emerging from the side, her wings spread out like fir tree leaves. Others were family plots – gated ones with Grecian pillars, art nouveau tombs where granite rippled like silk, and dressed paving stone graves with bronze epitaphs.
Winding around the graves were steps and cobblestone pathways. We had a map to guide us to Chopin, but it had become soaked in my bag. Now its ink was smudged and the paper almost translucent. Iron signs indicated the avenues and divisions and so we followed those to Division 11. With rain catching in our eyelashes, we searched each gravestone until we found Chopin. His grave was a marble plinth, topped with the mourning figure of Euterpe, the muse of music. A previous visitor had left two Polish flags and a red and white wreath at the foot of the stone. We had seen similar when we visited Marie Curie’s grave at the pantheon.
We waited for a couple of visitors to pass us. Luka had become good at sprinkling ashes without being seen. He’d developed a technique whereby he gathered a portion of ashes into his palm and then moved his hand as if to stretch his fingers. Even after two years, the ashes still did not look how I’d expected. They were not fine like the ashes you find in a wood burner but gravel-like granules. You could still see the indents of the marrow and the hollows of molars.
Luka took a few grains from the pot and dusted a bit of shrubbery nearby to the grave. We paid our respects to Eryk and Chopin before moving on to explore the rest of the cemetery. Slipping on leaves, we visited the beer bottles by Jim Morrison’s grave and the lipstick kisses along Oscar Wilde’s. The last place we went to was the Jardin de Souvenir, the cheapest plot in the cemetery. There, lines of ashes stretched out across the grass like dashes of chalk. There was no plaque to say who was resting here. I wondered if they were Parisians or if, like Eryk, they were travellers who were now forever here. We marked Paris on the map.
This story was a shortlisted entry in the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship 2020.
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