On the Lamb: Paris 2012 (Part Trois)
The Bloggist Is Away

Our first day in Paris didn’t go as swimmingly as we expected. Within an hour of arriving, Joanne and I experienced an authentic Parisian scam at the train station. This incident drove me to a bit of paranoia, although succeeding events had allowed me to reassess my feelings for the city. More than anything, it was our excellent late lunch that convinced me that Paris was going to be fun – if only it weren’t so expensive…

By some strange cosmological alignment, our first day in Paris coincided with our anniversary – how ideal! To soak in the sights and sounds of gay Paris on a lavish afternoon tryst… what an occasion would that be for a boy and his beard? Oh, to be swept away by The City of Love!

And so it was that we went to the cemetery…

Père Lachaise is one of the most visited cemeteries in the world. At forty-four hectares, it is also the largest one in Paris. In fact, though it’s only a little over two centuries old, the total of its interred residents is already estimated to be upwards of a million. It’s also kind of prestigious… Père Lachaise cemetery is the resting place of some of the most illustrious persons – French or otherwise – to have lived in Paris.

Joanne and I visited Père Lachaise on a slightly rainy afternoon, appropriately enough. We weren’t familiar with most of the cemetery’s dead inhabitants, but we did spy the writer Colette’s grave near the central avenue.

Not to be confused with the buko pie.

I knew Colette mostly for penning ‘Gigi’. This novella was adapted for Broadway in 1951, and was notable for introducing a certain Audrey Hepburn in the lead role – a casting choice attributable to Colette, no less, who saw Ms. Hepburn by random chance in a French hotel. During her time, Colette was pretty controversial – she openly carried affairs with girls and even a stepson, at one point. Nevertheless, Colette’s work had been essential to French literature since the first half of the twentieth century. She was quite a beloved figure that she became the first woman to be granted a French state funeral when she died in 1954.

A short distance from Colette’s grave, we found this thing:

The structure-thing in the background, not the KLM-sign-wielding thing on the right.

The structure-thing behind the me-thing is the ‘Aux Morts’ (‘To the Dead’) monument. It functions as the façade to an ossuary, and it contains remains – bones and ashes – of more than another million dead folk. It’s almost always locked to the public, which is a good thing – tourists could think to look for toilets in there, because tourists.

We found two more notable graves during our short visit. One would be that of the composer Frédéric Chopin

I only know that Italian dance producers like him.

The popular plots would be easy to spot, as in above, by the quantity of gifts. The other grave we visited – the one that I insisted on – was that of The Lizard King. He was sort of a big deal…

Because he sort of looked like Val Kilmer.

Jim Morrison was, of course, the singer for The Doors who died in Paris in 1971. His grave had become one of the most visited spots not only in Père Lachaise, but in the whole of Paris. Based on my (dated) reference materials, the grave looked like this:

Stoned immaculate. [thanks, graveyardsdb]

Although we had a map to guide us, Joanne and I couldn’t find that exact grave. We walked around in circles – uphill and downhill, through dirt and cobblestones – for a good thirty minutes, reaffirming my girl-beard’s disdain for protracted locomotion.

“Happy anniversary, beardy!”

We would’ve continued on my stubborn search had we not noticed a small group of people crowding around this:

It’s – err – (not so) immaculate stone.

The iconic bust that I expected to see had been gone all along – it was stolen in 1988, seven years after it was installed. In fact, Jim Morrison’s grave had looked more or less the same since 1990, when his parents had his headstone replaced. Why wasn’t I made aware of this?

Wasn’t 1990, like, only ten years ago? I’m going postal! [thanks, 90210]

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” – so said another famous resident of Père Lachaise. And though this applied to Jim Morrison, it didn’t quite apply to the man himself: Oscar Wilde was an influential Irish writer, a most quotable font of witticisms, a world-class dandy, and a known sodomite. He went to Paris to die, as a good Irishman, after a rather disgraceful trial for – well – sodomy.

Oscar Wilde’s tomb was also one of the most popular spots in Paris. Similar to Jim Morrison’s grave, the volume of Wilde visitors necessitated the installation of barriers. While Morrison’s grave only had loose metal railings (which didn’t really deter vandalism), Wilde’s tomb required clear plastic panels. This was due to a tradition that visitors had of kissing the tomb with red lipstick – a practice that eroded the stone, authorities claimed.

So visitors now simply kiss the barrier… [thanks, Wikimedia]

We didn’t get to leave kiss marks, however, as Père Lachaise closed by 6PM. Had we started by the entrance near Oscar Wilde’s tomb (to the northeast), our visit would have been more efficient – the rest of the cemetery would have literally been downhill from there. Moreover, the tomb would be nearer some of the cemetery’s more familiar residents: Maria Callas, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Proust, Amadeo Modigliani, and Édith Piaf, among others. Worried that we would get locked in, the girl-beard and I made the long way out…

“So that’s it?” she asked.

“I suppose so. Walking in the rain non-stop for the last hour-and-a-half sure was fun. Did you enjoy looking at the burial plots?”

“Yeah. They’re cool. They’re like houses for dead people. I’m glad you found your Lion King.”

Lizard King. Are you sure? You seem disappointed…”

“I just thought that you’d plan something – I dunno – romantic?”

“I did. I’m sorry we ran out of time. Eugène Delacroix’s tomb would have been just a short walk from Wilde’s. Tsk.”

“Who’s that?”

“Delacroix? He’s a French artist from the late 18th Century who inspired passion and individuality. We may have passed Théodore Géricault’s tomb a while back, though.”

“And how are they romantic?”

“It’s kinda vague, really. They’re lumped in with painters like Blake, Turner, and, of course, Goya. I’m not sure how they relate to poets like Byron, Shelley, and Keats, though. Then again, I think it wasn’t really a style so much as a movement for that particular period.”

“Are you seriously giving me a discourse about Romantics? On our anniversary?”

“Anything for you, beardy.”

“Aww, thank you. How about something a bit more… lowercase?”

“Romantic with a small ‘r’? Really? As in ‘something characterized by the mystery and profundity of idealized love’? For our anniversary? We could’ve gone to the alleged resting places of legendary lovers Abélard and Héloïse, I suppose. Geez. You could’ve saved me some Wikipedia reading by articulating that capitalized letter. I’m not a literature major, you know?”

“Sorry if you thought I wanted a reaction against Classicism and rationalism. I’ll articulate capital letters better next time. I appreciate your Wikipedia consultation, though. We still have a couple hours of daylight left, anyway, so don’t worry about it. Where are we going next?”

“Hmm. Will a church be romantic – with a small ‘r’ – enough?”

“I guess. Which church?”

“Just some church. It’s beautiful and it commemorates a massacre.”


If you want the Romano-Byzantine CONTINUATION, please click here.

If you missed what happened immediately before, please click this.

If you want to rewind back to the start of the Paris write-ups, please click this instead.

If you want to view the Amsterdam write-ups, please click this.

If you want to go through past TRAVEL pieces, please go here.

If you want to visit stuff about FOOD, please go here.

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