Paris: The Cortazar Route, pt. 4

Saint Michel Subway Station

“To me, the subway was always a transition place. I only need to go down to the subway to enter a completely different logical category… logical categories where time awareness is transformed. One makes this wild discovery that, when distracted, one experiences the sensation of living in a time that has nothing to do with the time on the surface.”

Cortázar in an interview with Carles Álvarez Garriga

The only line that passes through the Saint Michel Station is Line 4 and this time it was closed, thus we could only see the stairs and the main entrance. Nevertheless, after using pretty much every other subway line and see many different stations, I can say I agree with Julio.

In the subway, one loses more than the track of time. Whether it is because of the fruit selling, the street musicians or the murals on the walls, there’s something about it that makes you forget the world upstairs.

Charles Baudelaire’s Temporary Residence

Address: 17 Quai d’Anjou, 75004

“Do you know what was the first thing I did upon my arrival to Paris? I searched for the Île Saint-Louis; the Pimodan hotel. […] Shadows of Baudelaire and Gautier! That has changed a lot, of course, but I’m far from feeling in literary exile. Omnivorous, I keep my relationships with Latin America unbroken, but I add the French and English literatures.”

Answer in a questionnaire from the Quotidien de Paris, 1974.

Yes, things have changed quite a lot since the young Cortazar made his first visit. The Pimodan, for example, is now the Hôtel de Lauzun. It was built in 1657, and Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier rented the upstairs flat in 1843.

This hotel is the birthplace of the Club des Hashischins. A not-terribly-healthy club where its members drank and conducted drug experiments. The members, by the way, were not just a bunch of random people: Alexandre Dumas, Gérard de Nerval, Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac were just a few of them. This is also the place where Baudelaire wrote the first poems of Les Fleurs du Mal.

Jardin des Plantes

Address: Quai St. Bernard, 75005

“There was a time when I thought a great deal about the axolotls. I went to see them in the aquarium at the Jardin des Plantes and stayed for hours watching them, observing their immobility, their faint movements. Now I am an axolotl.”

Opening line of Cortázar’s short story Axolotl

I arrived only a few minutes before closing time, so I could not go looking for the axolotls. In the story, the main character observes the little creatures for so long, that he ultimately transforms into one of them and ends up trapped inside the aquarium. Now that I think about it, I guess not seeing them was for the best. Writing this post with axolotl fingers would be way too uncomfortable.

The garden is the ideal place to spend a Sunday afternoon. It was full of flowers, there were kids playing everywhere and there were a lot of French reading on some bench. The fact that it’s not a place frequented by tourists allowed me to see French Sunday life as it is: no hurries, no cameras and no long lines to buy tickets for anything.

Montparnasse Cemetery

Address: 3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet, 75014.

And so we’ve arrived to the last place of the route. The Montparnasse cemetery first opened its doors in 1824; there lie some of the great French artists and intellectuals, as do some foreigners that used to carry France in their hearts.

I found Julio after searching for a few minutes in the cemetery’s third section. There was a group of older men surrounding his grave, laughing and drinking from a water bottle that smelled an awful lot like tequila. When they saw me, they only asked me if I also was Argentinian.

“Mexican”, I replied.

So each one of them told me their nationality, they made space for me to take the picture, they showed me their suspiciously-smelling bottle, and, after exchanging some information about the residents of the cemetery, they left.

The funny figure on the grave is a cronopio, designed by Julio Silva and Luis Tomasello. The grave is, as expected, completely different from the rest: it is full of quotes, pictures, flowers, colors, and cigarettes.

This grave is never the same. The messages, the photographs and the decoration in general change virtually every day. The Cronopio Mayor lies there next to his love Carol Dunlop, his great love. And, as they say:

“One cronopio is a flower; two cronopios are a garden.”

Of course, I also went to visit a few compatriots:

 Porfirio Díaz
Porfirio Díaz, Mexican president and reelection aficionado

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes and Mexican president Porfirio Díaz were easier to find. They are both at the edge of their sections, so one needs only to walk along the street to see them.

Carlos Fuentes and family

Before leaving the cemetery, I went to see Carol and Julio one last time. There were no people around them, so I stood there a little longer to read some of the messages. They’re mainly Thank-You-notes from other readers. I must confess, a part of me was expecting to see the name Carles Álvarez Garriga, but I guess he doesn’t need to write it on the grave to feel closer to the author. He found Julio a long time ago.

So that was all of it, dear readers. Thank you so much for joining me on this fun route. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


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