April 26th, 2007

Today we visited Père-Lachaise Cemetery. It was established by Napoleon in 1804, breaking the (health-hazard) ban on inner-city cemeteries imposed in 1786.
At the time of its opening, the cemetery was too far from the city proper and attracted few funerals. The administrators devised a marketing strategy and with great fanfare organized the transfer of the remains of La Fontaine and Molière, in 1804. It worked.


There are over 300,000 bodies buried there, and many more (ashes) in the columbarium.
It is 118 hilly acres of ancient trees (with roots pinning grave stones to the ground), birds swooping and calling, green-scented air, cool marble, moss, and gorgeous dilapidated everything. Plus un chat! Far too vast a city of the dead to even try to give a sense of it in pictures. I will stick to details. A virtual tour can be found here.


We visited Isadora Duncan, Countess of Castiglione, and Sarah Bernhardt–three of my favorite boho gals. Each of their plots seem strangely demure. Isadora’s ashes are interned under the name Dora Gray Duncan. The Countess is stuck in the third row from the path, it took us quiet a while to find her. The ceramic flowers that adorn her plain slab are a gesture from some Italian society to bring the lady some dignity. I was imagining, while there, the conversations she must have had about this third-rate treatment. Even in death there is a hierarchy of real estate. Remember that lovely picture of La Bernhardt posed in a coffin? Now she has a stone one, above ground.


A cluster of French school girls stopped us for directions to Edith Piaf, who I found on the map from memory, from a trip ten years ago. Even a clueless (sense of direction) death-rock girl knows her way around the loveliest cemetery on earth.

Later another group of teen tourist girls asked what the significance of the shrouded figure on the tomb behind might be. I said, “Sorrow? Loss? Grief?” and realized they probably didn’t know what I meant yet.


For us elders it is impossible not to think of all of the above, feel it while walking these grounds. But in balance to the meditation on time passing, is the life there–the greeness, the birds, even the tourists. Everything moving, talking, breathing, singing. The grave diggers and repairers relishing the blood through their veins, driving the narrow cobble-stone paths like bats out of hell, yelling to one another. Once again (as at Sacré Coeur) I was surprised to be moved by this.


The really old quarters are my favorite, the huge (meaning stories high) ancient monuments done in Egyptian style, the pyramids and such suggesting a life beyond, spiritualism, contact between the living and the dead.


A theme I never noticed before is the hour glass with wings. I saw it everywhere, like when you learn the meaning of a word and it appears in all your books. I love this image, thought maybe that’s the tattoo I’d finally have. Here are two of my favorite of those:



Here is our new friend, getting the treatment (a specialitie de maison au new york). Imagine life as a kitty of Père-Lachaise. C’est si bon.

One Response to “~immortalite~”

  1. Habib says:

    I love the shape of the bottom winged hourglass contained in the circle but with the detail in the wings of the top one. Great tattoo. Where would it go? I noticed two more like this under the bat. You’re right, they’re everywhere. Dämn Austrian keyboard!

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