October 3, 2014
I once read an article in a travel magazine about tourists who seek out graveyards. I thought it weird, perhaps a little morbid, until I realized I myself had visited a number of the places on the list. What better way to understand a city and its history than to visit the local cemetery?
Perhaps one of the world’s most famous is the Cimetiére du Pére-LaChaise, a tourist hot spot in Paris, where you can pick up a map on your way in. Did you know that rock legend Jim Morrison of the Doors is buried there? That he shares hallowed ground with such French legends as artists Ingres and George Seurat, writers Balzac, Proust, and Colette, and Polish composer Frédérick Chopin, a paramour of woman novelist George Sand?
I once visited a cemetery in New Orleans where enormous mausoleums and gravestones could easily put you in the mood for an Anne Rice novel. I’ve walked quietly along endless rows of simple white crosses in Normandy where many young Americans were lost in World War II.
But, I’ve also found myself visiting less-famous, smaller cemeteries in remote European locations in the yards of unassuming village churches. Sometimes, when I’m doing research for a book, I pull out my notebook, write names, wonder about the history of a particular family, lament the loss of a child. I’ve used family names found on gravestones in some of my stories.
One of the pivotal scenes in Lost and Found in Prague (Berkley Books, January 2015) takes place just outside the Jewish cemetery in Prague. My fictitious character Father Borelli never gets inside the gate, but he was there. And so was I.