X-posted from Sudden Alarm because, if you go to Paris, this is a place you will never forget. And it’s free!
Sometimes there is a discrepancy between art and life. The grand romantic musical Les Miz and what Victor Hugo wrote and the truly tragic end of youthful ideals. The noble youths struggle to be heard and the reality of a stone wall. In a place full of monuments, this wall serves both as a monument to a movement and a really practical grave marker.
It is where the remainder of those noble youth from the chorus of the miserables were rounded up for their curtain call in front of an impromptu firing squad. And were buried where they fell. Much as I loved the show, this is where the curtain really came down.
Welcome to Pere LaChaise cemetery, the third most exclusive piece of final resting real estate in Paris. The first is, of course, Napoleon’s Tomb and the second is The Pantheon (where Victor Hugo currently resides).Most folk of our ggggeneration (stutter deliberate…’cause I’m a Who fan, that’s why) come here to find the grave of Jim Morrison, first bad boy of rock and roll.
It’s out of the way but simply follow the trail of whiskey bottles and marijuana cigarettes. No, I’m not that old but writing “joints” in regard to Jim without some qualifier is asking for trouble. Go ahead, I’ll wait while you ask your parents about him or you can read through the Rolling Stone’s account of “The Miami Incident”
How Jim finally got into Pere Lachaise illustrates a lot about the cemetery itself and why he is in such a hard to find spot. When his friends tried to fulfill Jim’s wish to be buried here they were told, “only artists, writers and poets” are allowed in/under. Unless you happen to be incredibly rich, politically influential and/or French royalty, then they will make an exception, just this once.
So his friends said, “Oh, didn’t we say, um, ah, he was a poet too?” and, with gallic reluctance, the minimum of room was found for him.
There are reasons, however, for the reluctance to have any Jimmy come lately crash the gates. This is the sacred ground that contains Moliere, after all. On which rests the divine Sarah Bernhardt (the original one, French actress and national treasure). And cradles the little sparrow, Edith Piaf, who kept the soul of the nation alive during the darkest hours of WWII.
Near one of the main boulevard entrances is a monument to the civilian soldiers of the French Resistance who died in service of their country and lie in unmarked graves courtesy of the occupiers. It’s popular to make jokes about the cowardice of them Frenchies, how they’ll lay down their arms to surrender at the first sign of a fight. Next time, think of this jaunty fellow on his way to mess up the occupation in some way and get severely messed up by the Gestapo in return.
Further along is a monument covered with kisses–it is the custom to apply lipstick and then apply un bisou upon the monument to Mr. Oscar Wilde. I await correction here by my friends much more knowledgeable in the other official language of Canada.
While in the neighborhood of Mr. Wilde, one must also pay respects to the great writer and American ex-patriate, Miss Gertrude Stein. She is sharing the earth and eternity with her partner of brownie fame, Alice B. Toklas. Ms. Stein gets top billing with Alice’s name quietly shaded on the back…
If you are interested in one of the best, witty, quirky, just plain wonderful books ever written about Pere LeChaise (or any cemetery, for that matter) and the after life stories of the permanent residents, find Bill Richardson’s delightful book, Waiting for Gertrude. Really, try to find it, you won’t be sorry.
It took a little persuading to get my beloved to come along for this walking tour. Understandable, what with our Paris time limited, so we set aside a precious afternoon to humour my weird passion for graveyards. A graveyard in Paris, admittedly, but still essentially a collection of dead people underneath dusty granite and dirt.
It didn’t take long to get caught up in the, ah, spirit of the space.