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16TH February 2010

Culture - Leftovers - Legends and tales

Death and Fertility on the outskirts of Paris: Pere la Chaise Cemetery


and a popular one at that.

...and a popular one at that.

If you are lucky enough to see this place it will teach you quite a bit about the French, which is to say, 1) they assign hilarious import on meaningless things, 2) they only follow rules if it will inconvenience someone or make something into a farce, 3) sex sells, 4) it all ends up with stunning beauty. And remember, I love France, and the French. Onward?

Pere La Chaise is a vast cemetery on the far eastern side of Paris proper named after ”Father Chair”, a priest of no consequence except that Louis XIV, France’s greatest King, unloaded on him just before expiring. Seems the cardinal had stepped out just as Louis took a turn for the worse, and there was Father Chair to hear surely one of the great last confessions of all time. He then became ?the man who knew all the secrets?, as far as France was concerned. Voila, instant fame and glory. Three hundred years later, on the plaques of every door of the Cemetery, begins the phrase ”Pere la Chaise, last confessor to Louis XIV”? I think I have proved point #1 above without going on.

Of the twenty cemeteries in Paris, Pere-Lachaise is the most famous, it has over 70,000 plots and receives some two million visitors a year from all over the world. With 44 hectares and 5,300 trees, Pere-Lachaise is also the largest park in Paris. One inside the gates, one finds a stunning display of early 19th century mini-architecture and crypt design. Each alley is flanked with majestic horse chestnuts, the walks are all cobblestone, and the crypts themselves are marvels of taste and style. With the possible exception of Disneyland, no-one has ever done miniature so consistently. Of course, this magic kingdom is real limestone, granite and marble. If you are lucky enough to get a sunny day, it is a tremendous place for a quiet walk. For the more directed, there awaits a grave hunt with some very fun and famous artsy names to seek out: Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison. Wait a minute.

Here is a place that hasn’t taken new arrivals (except cremations) for years now. And double forget it if you are not French or loved by the French. So what is Jim doing here? (If you really believe he is dead). Well, simply refer to rule#2 above. The commissar decided it would be a hoot to let Jim join the other pillars of French culture, so there he is, down in Map plot #31. Americans and stoners alike have scrawled Jim this way>>> and Come light my fire>>>> in many of the tombs en route, so it’s an easy find. Indeed, he seems to have actually been able to break on through to the other side. No word yet on coming back. We’ll keep you posted.

Meantime, it’s up the hill to the main parade ground where we can, in an instant, prove rule #3. Seems a very young couple met an untimely death in the middle of the prior century. Legend has it they were flush with love in the springtime when the unlucky demise ended their days on earth. But the power of their love seems to live on. You see, it has become legend that a visit to these graves and a touch of strategic parts of the departed’s statuary (to my eye, I’d say rubbing is more like it) will restore one’s procreative powers. No word on what it does to the deceased, but that is the shiniest brass in Pere la Chaise.

Pere la Chaise has it all. Stunning beauty, silliness, culture, irreverence, and superstition. You decide which applies to what.

If you go
» Pere la Chaise History

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