Paris is an awesome city, and of all its great places, nowhere was a day more well spent than cemetery Père Lachaise, la grande ville des morts.
From the metro stop I accidentally walked into the Jardin Samuel de Champlain, on the cemetery’s east side, enchanted by a statue on the outside wall…a woman, arms outstretched, surrounded by faces barely visible and rose petals. I feel the presence of souls and get chills, staring at the wall, singing to them, identifying with her. There is no sign but I read later that this is the Wall of the Federates, a memorial to 147 killed in a working-class revolution of 1871 in Paris that i was not aware of.
The cemetery is so large that it has a map and directory of famous tombs at each entrance, and it is so helpful if you want to search for anyone. You may still get lost, but not as quickly.
When i was standing by Sarah Bernhardt, a group of Brits and Americans (i think) walked down the path reverently, making their “yearly visit with Oscar Wilde, her friend”…the man pointed to the woman as they confirmed with me they were going the right way. “Have a good visit,” i responded.
From behind a tomb, a curly-haired man appeared and asked ” Who are you looking for?” in a heavy French accent. Surprised, I smiled and mentioned a few names. He showed me Molière and Victor Hugo, then exclaimed he has been working as a tour guide for a few months and he loves his job. We parted ways near Frederic Chopin, where a small group of people were gathering. Apparently Chopin has another grave in his home country of Poland.
The most famous American memorial here is probably of Jim Morrison. His grave has been known as a party spot in the past, and now there is a fence in front of the humble headstone and the graffiti tree has been covered in bamboo and chewing gum. Now, here, a woman played The Doors’ “Moonlight Drive” on her phone as she stood reverently, while people came through snapping photos, sitting and chilling. I shared some chocolates from my cousin with a mother and son who were visiting from London and we began chatting. It was Gina’s main goal to come to Jim’s tomb on this trip to France, and she was so excited. A Serbian man joined our conversation, and I offered to take them to Chopins’s grave. As we followed the curving paths uphill, he played the “Spring Waltz” on his stereo.
Molière, Honoré de Balzac (French writers), Eugène Delacroix (French painter)
Alone again with the spirits, I sat on a step in the shade, writing and listening. Crows flew all around, hopping across mossy broken tombs as the sun light shone through the trees. Far away, I could see Paris city center and the faint Eiffel Tower. I passed headstones with expressive faces, distinctive monuments for royalty from ages past, inventors, rich families whose names live on in the city. I wept at the Auschwitz and Birkenau memorial. Hours passed and i didn’t want to leave.
Père Lachaise is a realm beyond Paris, though one can see the city from the hill. People of all ages, all lands, locals and travelers, school groups, tours and seekers are here, but it never feels crowded. The living and the dead share space well.
About the Mur Des Fédérés (top photos) https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mur_des_Fédérés
More about the cemetery. http://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71470/Cimetiere-du-Pere-Lachaise
More about some famous residents. https://www.google.com/amp/listverse.com/2011/10/27/top-10-fascinating-graves-in-pre-lachaise/amp/
Arianna, Paris, 6 April, 2017