Jane Birkin is gone. Her funeral was celebrated in Paris earlier today in a private ceremony for her family and close friends.
A beloved British artist France and the French adopted as their own decades ago, Jane Birkin seems to have always been there even if her failing health kept her away from the public eye in recent years.
I have a story to tell I’ve kept private until now, a tribute of sorts.
Inside Division 11 of Montparnasse cemetery on Paris’ Left Bank is a special place I tend to visit whenever I am around.
There lies a peaceful pathway. It’s easy to miss.
Popular French actress Mireille Darc is buried in that corner of the cemetery. So is Kate Barry, a talented photographer and Jane Birkin’s eldest daughter. Kate died tragically in 2013. She was 46.
Months ago, a few hours before meeting a new group of travelers at a nearby hotel I headed to that area and noticed a black taxi parked at the entrance of the alleyway. A young man was standing on the side, waiting for something (or someone) his eyes focused on the pathway ahead.
I walked in and like I always do, stopped for a few minutes in front of Mireille Darc’s elegant, black marble grave. “La Grande Sauterelle” (a beloved personality in her day) has been sleeping there since 2017.
Then I looked up, about to head to Kate Barry’s resting place. It’s one of the most striking ones in the cemetery. A lush garden adorns the top of the grave. The plants change through the seasons, colorful blooms exploding in the spring and summer.
On Kate Barry’s grave, in the heart of the Montparnasse cemetery, time is passing, yet life is putting up a brave fight.
That day, a woman was standing there.
She cut a lonely figure. It took me a few seconds to recognize Jane Birkin.
She was so much smaller than I anticipated. By then, she’d been fighting health issues for years. Her silhouette was heavier but her clothes, hair and style were unmistakably hers.
I stopped where I was standing giving her space, reluctant to intrude on such a private moment, a mother visiting her deceased child.
In her right hand, a plastic bag. She must have been there for a while. I watched her pick up a few dried leaves and flowers from the grave and slowly place them inside the bag, making sure Kate’s “garden” looked just right.
Around us, birds were chirping, the sounds of Paris relegated a distant memory. I watched Jane as she stared at the grave, lost in thought, dignified.
Then she turned around and walked back slowly to the taxi waiting at the end of the alleyway. It took some effort for her to do this, and it made me sad to see her struggle.
She walked past me. I held my breath and pretended to look at another grave. Then I followed her from afar, embarrassed to have stepped into such a private moment.
In the distance, I could see the young man was waiting by the car. He stared at the frail silhouette intently and as Jane approached, couldn’t help saying a few words to her before she climbed in. “Un admirateur,” I thought.
As I reached the taxi, I saw Jane had taken the time to smile at her young fan. Her face had aged, but it light up briefly when she flashed her famous smile.
So I dared say softly: “Au Revoir, Jane.”
She whispered: “Au revoir” her soft voice sounding exactly like Jane Birkin’s, with the familiar English accent.
The taxi door closed, tinted windows hiding Jane from sight. The car slowly moved away.
I turned my head to the left. The taxi didn’t stop by Serge Gainsbourg’s grave nearby and headed for the cemetery exit, soon out of sight.
I didn’t take photos and haven’t shared this story until today.
This was the fist and only time I saw Jane Birkin in person. I envy those who got to spend time with her. My thoughts go to her family and friends today.
Au revoir, Jane.
Wishing you decades of colorful blooms and chirping birds and a peaceful place to enjoy them.
Jane Birkin (1946-2023)
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