Pere Lachaise Cemetery … where a rose is a rose is a rose … and je ne regrette rien …

A cemetery is not usually a place of tourism, now is it? Paris’s cemeteries however are: they are a must for thousands of the 80+ million tourists who come to France each year. I recommend that you should include a visit to Père Lachaise cemetery should you live here in Paris and have not yet […]

Pere Lachaise : Porte Gambetta entrance

A cemetery is not usually a place of tourism, now is it? Paris’s cemeteries however are: they are a must for thousands of the 80+ million tourists who come to France each year.

I recommend that you should include a visit to Père Lachaise cemetery should you live here in Paris and have not yet gone there or should you be a tourist and had not thought of going there. I must just say: May it never be necessary for you to go there for the reason one normally goes to a cemetery.

For scattering ashes ... blowing in the wind ...

Music for midnight ...

La Cimetière du Père Lachaise is Paris’s largest. It covers 48 hectares (118.6 acres) and at any one time it houses 300,000 ‘departed’; they come and go – old and abandoned graves are re-allotted, the remains incinerated according to the law in France.

A grave to be re-allocated to some unfortunate ...

This cemetery is in the 20th arrondissement (district). There are several entrances, and no matter what you read on the web about how to get there, please take note of what I am going to tell you now: Enter the cemetery through its Porte Gambetta. It is the easiest way. The nearest Metro station is Gambetta and when you exit the station you walk up Avenue du Père Lachaise. It’s a few meters (yards) only that you would have to walk. Or if you are in the Place d’Italie area in the 13th arrondissement you should get on to the Number 64 bus for a 45-minutes bus ride to Place Gambetta. It is a lovely bus ride and you will see streets of Paris a tourist would not normally see. Place d’Italie and Place Gambetta are the two termini, so you know that when you get on the bus it will be empty and you will have a window seat.

Edith Piaf's grave : No regrets? I wonder ...

Once you are in the cemetery, right inside the gate, you will be able to pick up a free map of the cemetery. It will detail the divisions and each will be marked with where the graves of the ‘famous’ are. But be warned: You are still going to wander about from grave to grave in search of the one you are looking for. All of us do, because the map is bad bad bad. Some days I think I should create a map of my own, indicating exactly how to walk to get to the graves of the famous and to the interesting tombs, have it printed out and sell these at the gates for 20 centimes or something. (I work for my living, folks!)  But be warned yet again: the guards are not all that forthcoming, and on one visit a female guard at the entrance one reaches if one had exited at the Père Lachaise Metro station, told me that they do *not* have maps and that I should ask at one of the florists in the area for a map. She had never heard of a thing called a smile. If you want to go forearmed, print a map out from the web before you set off for France and Paris.

Oscar Wilde's grave

Père Lachaise has been in existence since 1804 and was created by Napolèon Bonaparte. It is named after Louis XIV’s confessor, Père (Father) François de la Chaise (1624-1709), a Jesuit who lived in a convent which stood where the cemetery’s chapel stands today.

Modigliani's grave.

I will name only a few of the famous who lie buried here: Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Edith Piaf, Honoré de Balzac, Amedeo Modigliani, Molière, Marcel Proust, Camille Pissarro, Dominique Ingres, Georges Haussmann (yes, that Haussmann), Georges Bizet (yes, the Bizet of Carmen) – etc etc etc.

Here's to looking at you dear ...

Marcel Proust's grave ... no madeleines cakes ...

There are also memorials to the victims of the Nazis’ concentration camps, and of France’s other dead, those who have died for la France.

A grave I found particularly moving is that of Gertrude a rose is a rose is a rose Stein. She lies buried with her lover Alice B. Toklas. Gertrude Stein who was born in 1874 in Pennsylvania died in Paris 1946 – on July 24 – and should you be in Paris you may want to pay your homage to her on that day. Her tomb is most simple. Not only is it without any religious markings (she was Jewish) there are no flowers on the grave, also perhaps because she was Jewish. But do take her a rose, because a rose is a rose is a rose. Alice B. Toklas , called Pussy by Gertrude, had first met the latter’s brother Leo and after having typed for Gertrude for a while, the two women had become lovers. They lived at Number 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. It is a street of no beauty, but it runs from Rue Guynemer which borders the Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg). Françoise Sagan of Bonjour Tristesse fame once lived on Rue Guynemer.

Stein and Toklas ... wife and wife ...

Alice died 21 years after Gertrude, in 1967, when she was 90 years old.

Gertrude and Alice ran a literary salon the likes of which we no longer see. Frequent visitors were Henry Matisse, Picasso, Hemingway, always broke, and the two Scott Fitzgeralds, the two always behaving most extravagantly.

On a personal level: when I hear people speak of Gertrude Stein and how they love her books, I always recall what she’d said: I am famous for what people had read of mine and had not understood, and not for what they had read and understood.  For example she wrote to Alice:

Baby precious Hubby worked and

loved his wifey, sweet sleepy wifey

dear dainty wifey, baby precious sleep


Or maybe those lines are quite easy to understand …

Stein and Toklas grave ... no roses ...

Another grave which I always go and see is that of Félix Faure (1841-1899). He was president of France from 1895 until his death. He died while his mistress, Marguerite Steinheil,was performing oral sex on him. The act was being performed on monsieur le president on a sofa in the drawing room of the presidential palace, the Elysée Palace, still today the official residence of our presidents.

Faure’s political opponents had a field day over how he had died. As Georges Clemenceau, statesman and First World War hero, said: “He wanted to be Caesar, but he was only Pompey.” This was a play on the French verb pomper which is crude slang for the act of a woman performing oral sex on a man. Another way of joking about his death was that Steinheil became known as la pompe funèbre – the funeral pump. Again a play on the verb pomper.

President Felix Faure

Ironically, he is lying flat on his back on his tomb (in statue form, of course).

Felix Faure's grave ... death and oral sex ...

Another interesting grave is that of Alain Kardec, the spiritualist. His real name was Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail and he was born in 1804. A teacher and educator he had become interested in ‘table-tapping’ which led to him delving deeper into the ‘beyond’ His tomb is the most flowery in the cemetery.  He died on March 31, 1869.

Kardec's grave ... never without flowers ...

On his tomb is carved: Naitre, mourir, renaitre encore et encore et progresser sans cesse, tell est la loi. To be born, die, again be reborn, and so progress unceasingly, such is the law.

Well, today he will know whatever we still have to find out.

In honor of the Nazi death camps dead ...

The spooky ... with a little help from software ...


Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses

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1-13-2012 at 14:11:28

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