Sankha Guha: Man About World

Hello Jim, and thanks for the memorial
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The Independent Travel

Some of the greatest sights in the world are graves. For centuries we have beaten a path to the great pyramids at Giza, the Taj Mahal or St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. They are all, in essence, rather overblown homes for bones. But

Some of the greatest sights in the world are graves. For centuries we have beaten a path to the great pyramids at Giza, the Taj Mahal or St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. They are all, in essence, rather overblown homes for bones. But

they are also fingers of stone and mortar wagging at eternity, and their audacity hints at the vaulting ambitions of the human will.

None of which applies to Jim Morrison's patch at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris - where staff have had enough of the stoned wackos who hang around the singer's grave and are threatening to kick out the earthly remains of the Lizard King. "If we could get rid of him we would do it straight away," says Christian Charlet, who is responsible for the cemetery's upkeep, "but unfortunately the Americans don't want him back."

Grave-diggers do not normally talk so intemperately - the dead demand dignity from their carers. So what has tweaked M Charlet's goatee? Much to his annoyance Morrison remains a star turn despite being dead for 33 years, pulling in the crowds and helping Père Lachaise to become the fifth most popular tourist attraction in Paris. A famously bad boy in life, Morrison continues his form in death - at least vicariously. Fans come to party, smoke weed and, it is rumoured, have sex on his grave. A security guard has now been hired to spoil the fun.

But what exactly is the fascination? When you stand before the pyramids you cannot but be impressed - these are graves fit for pharaohs to inhabit, and for tourists to gawp at. The biggest, Khufu or Cheops, towers 450 feet above the plateau of Giza. Nearly two and a half millions blocks of limestone - some weighing 16 tons - reduce onlookers to insignificant dots. And four and a half thousand years of antiquity only adds to its weight. In contrast Morrison lies beneath a simple granite block which is all but lost in a patchwork of headstones - blink and you walk past it.

Another famous grave, the Taj Mahal, is surely the most romantic in history. Erected by the moghul emperor Shah Jehan as a mausoleum for his queen: it is a love poem written in marble and punctuated with the blood and toil of 20,000 labourers who took 17 years to build it. Jim Morrison also fancied himself a poet and his fans carry on the tradition by leaving acid-addled graffiti on his neighbours' sepulchres. The net effect here, though, falls short of transcendence, tending to transport you to a South London estate rather than a higher spiritual plane.

To Morrison's fans, however, his allotted square metre of earth is all the more attractive for its lack of ostentation. He is a tangible icon, a corpse of the people. Unlike the pantheon of French haute culture surrounding his plot - Molière, Bizet, Balzac and Proust are also here - Morrison still speaks for the counter-culture, for the wandering tribes of retro-hippies, dippy doofas and ghoulish goths who are such an irritant to the keepers of the cemetery. Lost, inarticulate and lacking manners, they are the kind of people who give necrotourism a bad name. Jim would have been proud.

Museums roll on

The Museum of the Year will be announced at the Royal Academy next week. The Gulbenkian Prize, which is only in its second year, can boast of being the UK's largest single arts prize. At £100,000 it is worth more than the much higher profile Turner or Booker circuses.

The shortlist illustrates how the conception of what a museum should be has moved on from the formaldehyde whiff of the grand Victorian institutions in South Kensington. Accessibility is everything and small is beautiful.

One of the finalists is no bigger than a caravan - it is, in fact, a caravan. A Pembrokeshire school set the wheels rolling with a project devised for its children from a Gypsy background. A local museum was approached and the idea grew to take the shape of a fully restored and mobile Romany wagon. The Varda (Romany for wagon) Project is now one of Britain's smallest and most colourful museums. Complete with stuffed rabbits hanging from its door, and bottled odours evoking wash day and coal fires, the wagon trundles around Gypsy festivals and sites - a reminder of Pembrokeshire's 200-year-old Romany heritage. The Scottish National Gallery for Modern Art's entry is more static but no less adventurous. Landform Ueda by the American architect Charles Jencks is inspired by chaos theory and described as "part sculpture, part garden, part land-art". Jencks has produced three crescent-shaped pools, on a tiered spiral mound in the grounds of the museum. Originally conceived by the architect as a display space for some of the museum's outdoor pieces, it now stands as a work of art in itself. Since it opened the earthwork has proved popular with kids, who run and jump all over it on "family fundays", happily oblivious to its status as art.

Jencks is delighted. "I pictured a contemporary equivalent of Seurat's La Grande Jatte - everything going on at once, amidst sun, water and city life. You could eat lunch, perhaps have a drink, chase kites ..."

We should all deserve museums like these. The winner of the competition will be announced on Tuesday, but the real winners are us.

* * *

We have a wonderful array of excuses ready for under-performing at the Olympics in Athens this summer. First of course we have security - those Greeks may have invented democracy but they seem unable to contain home grown anarchists, let alone any larger terrorist threat. Official Greek reassurance in the face of their three "small" bombs in Athens last week has not helped. The Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis claimed: "This is an isolated incident." It turns out that there have been 90 other "isolated incidents" in the past year.

The Aussies are taking no chances and have put two Qantas jets on standby to evacuate their team if things go pear-shaped. But if terrorists don't do it we have other excuses on standby. The Greeks may have built the Acropolis, but according to our Cassandras, they won't be able to erect the roof of the new stadium - leaving athletes to the mercy of Athens mid-summer sun. Our cosseted sports heroes can hardly be expected to give their best if they are hot and bothered.

Then of course we can all whinge about the legendary smog which envelopes this city - creating all manner of respiratory problems. Before long I fully expect piles of leaves to fall on the sports tracks. Or possibly a freak storm will inundate the Greek capital with the wrong kind of snow. And while we are at it, let us not discount the possibility of a plague of locusts descending on the games.

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