A Photo Essay of Pere Lachaise Cemetery: Visiting the famous, and the well-heeled departed at a posh Paris Cemetery

Pere Lachaise Cemetery , 16 rue du Repos, 75020 Paris, France

Photos by Sim Tupa

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In the Philippines I would never choose to spend a nice, perfect, golden afternoon to go for a happy, leisurely stroll at a local cemetery. It is dirty, too eerie and I run the risk of getting a glimpse of skulls and skeletons through cracked tombs due to poor maintenance. Never in a million years would I think that I would spend such an afternoon in a cemetery even if forced. But when I was in Paris, I proved myself wrong.

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During a free afternoon, I spontaneously decided to visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery. It is a garden cemetery established in 1804, housing about 70,000, counting ornate tombs in its 44-hectare property in Paris. It is huge. You need a map before you enter in order to find the location of so and so. Otherwise, it is a futile exercise. You will get lost.

There are many ways and entrances to go by way of Metro, but the most preferred is the Gambetta Station on Line 3 which was what I took. Before entering inside the gate, buy a cemetery map from the cafes and restaurants in the corner. The map will come in handy once you are inside. True enough, I was approached many times by other visitors asking for directions to Oscar Wilde or Jim Morrison’s tomb. Just holding a map made me very popular that afternoon. I did not mind as I could imagine what they were going through. You want to visit all the known departed personalities but at the same time you are racing against time because the cemetery closes at 6pm. And since it was already 4pm, it was a lot of pressure.

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Armed with my map, I followed the cobblestone paths and found structures like this to my left and right. As I walked, the soft afternoon sun streamed through the leaves of the trees above. The wind blew softly, cooling me as I walked through the path. Birds chirped nearby, unsuccessful in lessening the eeriness of the place. I felt I was not alone.

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Pere Lachaise is a famous, garden cemetery in Paris. It is a very expensive area to be buried in but a very chic place in case you decide to make it your final resting address! Your neighbors will be the likes of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Balzac, Victor Noir, Isadora Duncan, Heloise & Abelard, and Chopin among others.

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This is Oscar Wilde’s grave. It is now encased in glass because it attracts too many feminine graffitis all over it. The female visitors would put on lipstick and leave kisses and lipstick marks all over his grave.

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Victor Noir, a journalist, is also quite popular among females. Some guide invented a story about how if women touch or rub themselves on any of his body part, the woman will find a boyfriend, get married or even get pregnant. I can assure all of you that I never touched any part of him. But my friend had other plans so I gently reprimanded her to “respect the dead!” The only thing that stopped her was the presence of the other ladies rubbing parts of themselves to parts of Victor Noir.

As you can see, Victor is well “rubbed” on his forehead, lips, chin, toes and of course, his genital area. Judging by the great discoloration around that area, it is clearly the most favorite location to fondle. I felt so sorry for him that even in his final resting place, he is man-handled and can’t even complain.

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There are many regular people buried too, and for sure, very wealthy to afford a very expensive and prime lot. A few times, I saw a few elderly women wearing their summer hats while cleaning the tomb of possibly their husband, son or daughter. I noticed that when there were noisy people around, they would give them displeased stares, perhaps to remind them to respect the moment and where they were.

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This was one of the saddest sepulcher I saw at Pere La Chaise. I felt her grief and silently apologized for my intrusion. What I sensed in this place was that the dead tolerated and welcomed visitors provided they observed silence and respect. They appreciated that they were visited and not forgotten. And like anywhere else and even among the living, that these boundaries were respected. After all, it would not hurt us to thank them silently for having us around, much like thanking our friends for receiving us when we visit them.

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It is typical to have designs like this. The structure is gated and when you enter, there is a small altar where you can offer your prayers and flowers. One, two or more family members can share one structure like this, made possible through cremation. Then at the back of the structure is a colored glass window so that light can shine through like rainbow and brighten what’s inside.

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After visiting many other “personalities” like Jim Morrison, Isadora Duncan, Chopin and Heloise & Abelard, it was time to leave the cemetery because it was near closing time.

But after the Pere La Chaise visit, it didn’t feel right to go back directly to the hotel. We have a practice in our country where you need to go somewhere else before going home after a visit to the cemetery. This is called “pag-pag”. But this is a subject for another post.

Read my next post entitled “Pag-pag at Cafe Flore” and find out what Pag-pag is and why Filipinos do Pag-pag after visiting a cemetery.

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