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Poverty can be a positive thing for the city explorer. Whilst researching my book “Only in Paris”, a limited budget forced me to abandon dreams of living in Montmartre in favour of its Left Bank counterpart, Montparnasse. Any thoughts of having compromised culturally were quickly dispelled, however, when on my first day I happened upon the Cemetery of Montparnasse. Every bit as interesting as Montmartre’s burial ground, the Cemetery of Montparnasse contains its own share of big name burials and uniquely is home to a 17th century windmill from when the area was arable land. The writers Baudelaire and Maupassant are here, and the philosophers Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Serge Gainsbourg, the enfant terrible of French popular music, is a more recent arrival, with a grave that is usually adorned with cigarette packets. Of particular interest is the memorial marking the grave of French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville. In 1820, whilst serving in the French navy, Dumont joined a survey ship in the Mediterranean. It was there during a visit to the Greek island of Milo that he saw and sketched a newlyexcavated Classical statue. Realising it was something very special, Dumont urged his captain to purchase the statue. When the idea was rejected, Dumont showed his sketches to the French ambassador in Constantinople, from where a vessel was immediately dispatched and the statue secured. For his part in acquiring what became known as the Venus de Milo, Dumont was awarded the Légion d’Honneur and promoted to Lieutenant. The statue is today one of the most popular exhibits in the Louvre and its likeness is carved on Dumont’s grave.
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