Sunday at Pere-Lachaise

Sunday, and what to do today. Go to a cemetery, that seems appropriate. Got out the trusty hotel map of Paris and decided that it was way too far to walk so I had better take the Metro. Fine and dandy except that I had no clue, no clue at all, how it worked. The tickets, the route, the stations, the changes, the doors even. Turned out even easier than the London Underground. The ticket machines had an English option and so long as you kept pressing the Validate button you couldn’t go wrong. Navigation was a breeze as long as you knew what direction you were headed. So off I went for the short walk from the hotel to St Placide, the number 4 to Sebastopol, change to the 3 and there I was at Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.

Pere-Lachaise, the largest cemetery in the City of Paris, over a hundred acres, over a million people buried there it is something to behold. I bought a map but failed to realize the dimension of the place and for the first thirty minutes was completely lost. The graves, tombs and mausoleums are almost on top of each other, all higgledy piggledy, with narrow cobblestone paths zig zagging throughout. To see a particular resting place one has to squeeze between others to reach it. I found Modigliani after almost falling into the grave of his neighbor. (if that is the correct word) I had a vague plan of where I wanted to go or rather whose grave I wanted to see and then it was a case of working out the map. I searched and searched for Sara Bernhardt only to discover that I had walked past it three times. They don’t have large signs everywhere you just have to look at the inscriptions, carefully.

I made my way to the Tomb of Oscar Wilde which was the most visited one I saw all day. There were upwards of fifty people sitting, standing, walking around it. This, on a steely cold Sunday in December. From the accents, they were from all over the World. The family have had to build a glass wall around the grave as well wishers have a tendency to leave lipstick kisses on it. This is much frowned upon and is referred to as “defacement” (and can incur a ten thousand dollar fine), well I suppose it is really and someone has to come round and clean the kisses off periodically, and someone has to pay that person. I am in two minds, the kisses added to the charm of the memorial I thought, but then again, having to pay someone to clean a memorial of an ancestor who died over a hundred years ago must be a rather tiresome legacy. I sat and contemplated Oscar Wilde. The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan, I grew up on those, and his legendary ability to drink American cowboys and lumberjacks under the table, his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, and of course his quotes .”We are all in the gutter, but some of us looking at the stars”. Yep, there’s a lot to be thankful for in the life of Oscar Wilde.

On then to Edith Piaf. I was fortunate to have a grandmother who introduced me to her music when quite young and I still delight in her music. Non, Je ne regrette rien. A somewhat stark grave, black with a vase of fresh red roses. Again a few people around but it was difficult to access and easy to completely miss. No signs!

Back onto the cobblestone paths wondering whose final resting place I was walking past, there are just so many, and my map was not very informative, just the layout. I saw  a very moving tribute to the victims of the Mauthausen Death Camp which stopped me in my tracks and where I said a silent prayer. It was eerily evocative, just there, on the edge of the cemetery, near the exterior wall, near a gate. Never, ever forget.

To the tomb of James Douglas Morrison. Again, a bit difficult to access, but there were sufficient fans making their way there to make the route obvious. Lots of flowers. Many young children which I thought odd. I felt like singing “break on through to the other side”, but just did it to myself. Ah, Jim Morrison.

I saw Moliere, Balzac, Maria Callas, Colette and more.

That was enough, and saying a silent goodbye jumped back on the Metro.




5 responses to “Sunday at Pere-Lachaise

  1. Well done for finding your way around on the Metro! I love the ‘arty pic of the Eiffel Tower on your previous post. Not so much arty as very well composed. Interesting to read about the ‘kisses ‘ on Oscar’s tomb, what sort of mementoes have been left on Morrison’s? Looks like you had a nice day for your Walk Amongst the Dead. xx

  2. just visited brainy quotes, good thing only activity for this afternoon was cleaning the kitchen…good chortle at wit of OW.

  3. Very informative and moving

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