Written by Anne Marie Ward


On a wet April afternoon in the South of Paris, Sartre’s and de Beauvoir’s tombstone was speckled with kisses instead of moss or lichen blooms. Little pink and red open mouths with the odd deep purple hue, mostly around Sartre. Existentialism groupies. A bouquet of multicolor spray roses with tiny tight buds lay on the front slab. This grave and many others had rocks and shells and Métro ticket stubs languishing in the bad weather. Was it predicted to rain that day? Had the weather app mentioned it as I departed that morning from the hideous youth hostel near Bastille? Oh, but what a cinematic atmosphere–this serious amount of rain and deep overcastness– contrasting with the designed greenery. My head filled with dreamy notions, like I was graveside with a black trench coat and umbrella next to a perfect pile of dirt in a Hollywood movie.

Then, I was next to Sontag’s grave, the hood of my raincoat at the top of my vision, exposed sections of hair sticking to my cold cheeks as the rain oscillated wildly between a drizzle and a torrent. I clutched the laminated cemetery map that hung on rings by the entrances. A big slab of obsidian marble with a gold serif font: 

SUSAN SONTAG

1933-2004

Her stone was dusted in a dense, sodden layer of tiny flowers and pollen and filaments, all the debris trees shed in the spring when they are trying desperately to start something new. A single, soaked letter pinned to the grave with tiny rocks, of blue ink and faintly lined paper that looked like it was torn from a journal. It thanked Sontag for her essay, “On Photography,” in sprawling half-script. Sontag had made this woman’s life brighter, better, even after death. My eyes welled up from the poignancy; I just couldn’t take it.