City of the Dead

One year when I was in Paris, I took the bus from downtown to the Pere Lachaise cemetery.  I was reading French literature at the time and had heard Colette was buried there. Having read her novels and a biography of her life, I wanted to visit her tomb.

(First photo below is not mine)

I found Colette’s tomb and a few more besides.

 (photos below are mine)

  Entrance above, avenues of graves below.

As a housewife in the 1960s, I had read Simone de Bouvier. Later in school I read demographers, existentialists like Sartre and Camus, and historians such as Marc Bloc. Excepting George Sand who I read in high school, I had little knowledge of French literary artists until I began to read them in translation as an adult.  

At Lachaise, I found many of these French writers as well as the English writer Oscar Wilde.  

In the 1980s, I read Anais Nin and Collette, two scandalous French women, but I had only discovered the Irishman Oscar Wilde via the Stephen Fry movie. I was surprised to find his tomb in Lachaise.  (I have only partially scanned the photos I took at the cemetery so I am missing quite a few, but I did find and scan the ones I included in this post, excepting the tombs of Colette above and Oscar Wilde to the left.) 

Out of Curiousity, I photographed a crowd of youngsters surrounding this tomb. I discovered later it was Jim Morrison. Believe it or not, I did not know who he was until I saw the film The Doors.

The place I photographed below was my favorite, and it marks graves of Abelard, a very important Doctor in the Roman Catholic Church with his student, friend, early lover, and some say wife, Héloïse d’Argenteuil.  Their story strikes many as a sad tale but Abelard became a very important figure in the intellectual awakening in the twelfth century in Europe, a doubtful outcome had he stayed married to Héloïse. 

Abelard and Héloïse lie together today, although they were  buried separately when they died. The romantic French moved them to this place. Given one was a Doctor (priest) in the Church and the other an Abbess, this strikes some as a bit unusual.  

13 thoughts on “City of the Dead

  1. I was appalled at the condition of the tombs. Broken glass, mess, and trash as if no one cared. When I went to see Maria Callas, her spot in the wall had been broken open and her photo was gone. I missed Jim Morrison myself.

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      • That was a far better place for that high flying lady. 🙂

        Thanks for the book offer, I’m a giant basket and a couple of wars behind in my reading. Yes, I note that current history has been kinder on Bligh than that of the old days. I found it fascinating that all those folks rowed all those miles in that very small boat. One friend commented that not everyone could sit down.

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  2. Thanks for this trip. Our week in Paris was so jam-packed and wonderful. I remember the famous cemetery but cannot remember if we actually visited. I will have to ask my husband. Much of our travels blur together now for me.

    Another reason to follow your example and start scanning.

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