Père Lachaise Cimetière
highlights: Wandering around a cemetery aimlessly; Frederic Chopin’s grave; Oscar Wilde’s grave; Kissing the tombstone; Jim Morrison’s grave; Edith Piaf’s grave; Molière’s grave; How to get a plot in the cemetery.
I woke to the sound of pitter patter rain drops on the roof. Originally, I had planned to go to Château de Versailles, but given the miserable weather I did not want to waste my visit.
What to do on a rainy day then? Visit a cemetery.
The metro is very easy and efficient. However, I am beginning to see real Paris. A homeless man with no legs was dragging himself through the train carriages with a cup begging for money. His speech was barely comprehensible, but just looking at him you would understand what he was asking. Not even I could bring myself to look upon his pitiful state. Many others also completely ignored him as though he was not even there. People would just move out of the way, allowing him to pass through but not offer any assistance, not even a few words of comfort.
Père Lachaise is one of the cemetaries located within the Paris metropolitan area and is famous for being the final resting place for some important figures throughout history.
I arrived at Père Lachaise metro station and entered the walled necropolis from the street. I could already see many small monuments, dedicated to the dead, and I thought to myself “How am I going to find who I am looking for?”. There was a map as I entered, but being a cemetery, surely it wouldn’t show me whose plot was where- I completely ignored the sign and just started wandering.
My top picks were:
Frederic Chopin, classical pianist and composer. Born of a French emigrant mother and a Polish father.
Oscar Wilde, poet and writer. Born in Dublin, Ireland and lived and died in Paris.
Edith Piaf, French diva of the early 20th century.
Molière, French playwright.
I spent a lot of time just wandering aimlessly, not even really looking at the names carved into the epitaphs. If a statue caught my eye, then I would gravitate towards it thinking I had found someone famous or important.
My first discovery would be by accident. There was a man taking photographs of a grave, on the other side of where I was standing. This grave was barricaded on all sides, indicating to me that this was someone significant. I found my way around to the other side and was standing in front of James Douglas Morrison’s grave. The fencing/barricades have stickers of all different bands and more interesting are the wristbands that are left hanging.
I continued to walk around and noticed that many people were carrying maps of the cemetery. I was now determined to get one for myself, so I walked in the direction of the front gate- I would finally take a look at the map and realise that it showed the plots of all the people I wanted to visit.
The skies started to open up, a slight drizzle and I chucked on my rainproof windcheater, which is Azure blue, very bright. I walked past a burial ceremony with this bright blue jacket on and felt very silly, so I took it off even though I might have gotten slightly wet.
I found Chopin’s grave. This was quite strange, because I was looking quite carefully for it in the vicinity shown on the map. Only when I stopped and had a little sigh to myself, did I turn to my right and realise that it was next to me.
I put my hand on the marble, the haptic sensation was cold yet comforting. The only thing that was bizarre, Chopin’s body was buried there, but his heart was kept in Poland. The Polish make claims that Chopin belongs to them, but he lived most of his life in Paris and his mother was French.
I wandered up to Edith Piaf’s grave. Well, I wandered up to where I thought it was and I looked and looked. Turns out I was one block over from it. Again, I put my hand on the marble.
There is an inscription that says Dieu réunit ceux qui s’aiment. This translates to God reunites those that love each other. It is quite a sad line from her song L’hymne à l’amour (the love anthem). Her lover and husband to be died before they could be married. They now lie together in the same plot Gassion-Piaf.
I read up a little about getting plots in the cemetery, it’s a very strict and highly regulated. You must have lived in Paris, or died in Paris to be eligible to be buried there. Due to limited space, plots are leased for 10 years, 30 years, 50 years or in perpetuity. If a plot’s lease has expired, the remains are exhumed and the bones housed in the Monument Aux Morts, which is in the centre of the necropolis and is also an ossuary- not unlike the Paris Catacombs.
The last plot I visited was that of Oscar Wilde. This poet and writer was born in Dublin but came to Paris where he came to live. There is a tradition for women to wear red lipstick and kiss the tomb. However, this has now been discouraged due to damage that is at the expense of the family. A glass wall now surrounds the tomb, though it does not appear to have prevented everyone from carrying out the tradition.
Approximately 1.8m up the tomb, the glass wall stops. There are kisses all over the right had side of the tomb, where it appears people have stepped up on the neighbouring grave and hoisted themselves up.
I stayed around 3 hours in this cemetery. It is a really interesting place, and although it was cold and mildly damp, it was comforting to see that even when we are dead we are basically all the same, our plot of land will be the same size as everyone else’s.