Monday, May 26, 2008

Kind of Scary

Just like any other place on Earth, Paris is subject to the rhythms of human life. People are born in Paris, and people die in Paris. Some of those who die end up in one of the world's most famous final resting places: Le Cimitière du Père-Lachaise. With its monstrous mausoleums, winding paths and countless famous inhabitants, re-Lachaise is a morbid must-see for many tourists.

If you are among the many who visit this French cemetery, don't go on a really hot day. You will walk. A lot. re-Lachaise is enormous, with seemingly endless graves of all shapes and sizes. American visitors will notice a huge difference between this Parisian burial site and the cemeteries they're used to seeing at home. There's noticeably less open green space and more large above-ground memorials. Entire families are buried in some plots, and each site butts right up against its neighbor. The resident's list reads like a who's-who of French cultural society. Molière, Delacroix, Piaf, Balzac, Pissarro and countless other well-knowns are all buried here. There are some notable foreigners as well including Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. But most people come to see the grave of Jim Morrison, the Doors' frontman who died in Paris in 1971. His grave is fairly simple, surrounded by a gate, and practically tucked away from sight. There were guards nearby keeping an eye on the the tourists as they lined up to get a picture. I mostly just felt sorry for the guy next to him on whose grave many a Morrison fan (unable to reach the singer's stone itself) has scribbled or etched a message to their fallen hero.

At first you might feel strange wandering around a cemetery as if it were just any other tourist site. It is, after all, filled with dead people. But once you get over the initial unease, strolling through re-Lachaise is a beautifully haunting experience. It's filled not only with graves but also with unique sculptures, amusing details and touching memorials to historic events. Plus, it's kind of fun to stumble upon the eternal home of someone you learned about in 10th grade history class.


christine gibert said...

Morbid or no, I always like to visit a places cemeteries. I remember the cats in Barcelona, that lounged around graves like little furry keepers.

Stephen Kaufman said...

I love Chopin's grave.