Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Paying homage

I took advantage of the break in stormy weather last weekend to stroll around Père Lachaise cemetery. It wasn't quite sunny (of course), but the gloomy, overcast lighting (and the creepy cawing crows in the skeletal trees) really helped to set an appropriate mood.

Let me start off by saying that I don't have a newfound obsession with death, or anything of the sort--no, Paris hasn't made me emo. A visit to this cemetery has been on my to-do list ever since my arrival, and I've been reminded of this by the fact that it features fairly prominently (*cough Balzac cough*) in the the 19th century literature I've been reading recently. Established by Napoleon in 1804 outside of Paris as an alternative to other, already over-crowded Parisian cemeteries, it was shunned by the French until the remains of beloved writers and intellectuals La Fontaine and Molière were un-earthed and reburied within its grounds. Since then, anybody who is anybody has scrambled to have their loved ones interred alongside these heros. Today the once peripheral cemetery has been engulfed by the Belleville neighborhood (you can just see the distant spike of the Eiffel tower behind the Gothic spire in the photo to the left), and the French and tourists alike pilgrimage to visit its World War I memorials and tombs of countless notable Frenchmen (and women).

I came to visit the tombs of Oscar Wilde, Colette, and Balzac. I'm sure you all know of Oscar Wilde, but here's a brief history of Colette: married to a man who took credit for her first novels. Divorced him to become a burlesque actress and a fairly hi-profile bisexual, eventually remarrying only to have an affair with her teenage step son. Wrote very sensual books with theatrical tendencies and strong female leads. Overall, a kind of wild and scandalous character, and her grave was surprisingly understated, considering. It was better kept and had more tributes than any others I saw, though, which warmed my heart. The classy granite also gave it a much more modern look than the rest of the cemetery.

Oscar Wilde's grave was appropriately campy. An art deco creation with a sphinx-head, it has been adorned with the kisses and love notes of a thousand adoring groupies, whose oily lipstick and "je t'aime, Oscar!"s permanently stain the stone. They've added a plaque imploring visitors not to "deface" the grave, although I have to admit that if I were Oscar I know I'd appreciate the postmortem loving--especially considering that some of those kisses would be from gorgeous men.

Balzac's grave was pretty predictable: respectable but boring. The author of approximately a billion super-long novels (actually just a few under 100, but still pretty insane), Balzac is France's go-to literary hero. His grave featured a copper bust of his rather chubby, boyish face, but then a rather stylish book and plume at the base.

And to finish up, here are a few assorted shots I took:

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