Moving on, I’d like to continue with my morbid title. It does sound rather sickening, sad, weird, maybe obsessed, right? But, really it isn’t at all….at least, it’s mostly not weird, I think. I’ll let you be the judge, dear reader.
As I was working today, I was reflecting on probably my favorite place that I visited during my time in Paris back in June. The very simple way of describing this place is the title of this post or as it is otherwise commonly known:
It isn’t exactly “in Paris” being located outside of city limits, but it’s fairly simple to get to by just hopping on the metro. This visit was the morning after the tear-gassing incident, so if the pictures look foggy… Well, they looked foggy when I was taking them anyway.
According to the guidebook I skimmed through before my visit, the oldest grave in this French cemetery dates back to the 1100’s. Rather old, I’d say! If you’ve never been to a French cemetery, you really ought to consider visiting one even if you’re not one of those people who likes visiting cemeteries. (Don’t look so shocked! There are indeed people who like visiting cemeteries!) They have an entirely different concept for burying people when they’re not cramming them into catacombs, that is.
It really is quite unique. The “tomb stones” really are more like little chapels or amazing works of art complete with statues or images. The graves are arranged much like organized parking lots that are divided into sections with named avenues going through them. If you’ve ever seen the more recent Phantom of the Opera, it’s similar to the part when she goes to lay flowers on her father’s grave.
You may be asking how exactly does one “visit” Père-Lachaise?
I shall tell you!
1. Start by looking at the map.
Seems rather logical although the concept of having a map for a cemetery did seem a little foreign. If you want one to carry around, the nice lady sitting in the booth at the entrance will be more than happy to lend you one. By the way, visiting Père-Lachaise is free of charge everyday! As you can see in the picture, Frances and Kim were already busy comparing the map on the board with our map. From this map you can pinpoint the famous graves you want to see.
The surprising thing? They, the group I was with, handed me the map and designated me to be the navigator!? Yes, crazy idea since I can’t even tell which hand is the left or the right on an average day (I’m serious!). We managed fairly well if I do say so myself.
2. Figure out who you want to “see”.
There are quite a few famous people resting here in Père-Lachaise, and we had limited time, so we figured out who was top on our lists to “see”. Our hand map was marked up with lines and circles and dots in the midst of plotting our course. Depending on who is with you, there’s quite a variety of people to see including architects, musicians, artists, singers, authors, movie makers….and so on. Our list was a mixture of such people.
For example, the famous French playwright Molière:
If you’ve never read one of his plays, you really ought to consider reading one in either the original French or an English translation. They’ll often give you quite a laugh.
Or, if you’ve seen the movie Hugo, you’ll probably recognize this chap:
There are several others we visited as well. However, one mustn’t get too caught up in only finding the famous people. Thus, here we come to the next step.
3. Don’t only get caught up in finding famous people. Look around you! There’s plenty else to discover in a stroll through Père-Lachaise.
In other words, enjoy the scenery! I’ve been told that Parisians themselves often like to come to Père-Lachaise just for an afternoon stroll. I can’t blame them. It seems a morbid place to do such a thing, but it’s so…philosophical and well, French! What else can I say? Here’s a few things to look at as examples of what you may find while you’re looking around:
4. Get a feeling for the setting of the place.
We had the perfect setting for our stroll through. It was overcast, a little windy, spitting rain, and just a little chilly. There was such a “spooky” feeling to the place. Not the “AAAA! I’m scared” kind of spooky. It was calmer, nearly like making the inevitable end of life artistic while placing it in a pleasant place to stroll. There was even the lonely cry of ravens heard constantly throughout. We actually laughed when we heard the distant sound of a bell ringing because the first thing that came to mind was the old, old poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls” which a couple of us started reciting.
5. Don’t kiss the graves or stick your gum all over a tree, please!
This sounds crazy, I’m sure. You ought to see Oscar Wilde’s tomb! Covered in lipstick! They actually have put up a barrier around the grave for people to kiss that instead of the stone. I can only imagine how much of the tomb has been worn away by so many lips. Do you really want to stick your lips there seriously? Oh, and yes, near James Morrison’s grave there was a tree covered in gum and penned notes all over the bark. What a tribute… Forgive me if I do wax cynical, but it just seemed gross to me.
6. Just enjoy!
Above all, just enjoy your time in Père-Lachaise. I nearly felt like I wished I had more time to spend there, but in the end I’m glad we didn’t linger too long. It leaves more of a reason to return someday. Hopefully, when you go, you’ll have someone in your group who’s a good navigator. I felt sort of disrespectful taking some of our “shortcuts” through graves trying to get to the right street when we got somewhat turned around. But, then again, you are likely to find plenty of fascinating things even if you do get lost.
In conclusion, here’s a tribute to one of my favorite French singers whose grave I saw during our stroll, Edith Piaf:
She is most famous for singing this song “La Vie en Rose” which became much like a theme for the feeling in post-World War II France.