Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Paris Day 13 - Pere Lachaise Cemetery

In Love with Death. O Great Vishnu, Please Grant me an Extra Arm.

12 °C
I guess if you want different sightseeing experience in Paris, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise should qualify. It's made for people who want to pay homage to their idols, or travellers who are jaded by grandiose structures.
Sarcophagus housed in Greek temple structure, Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Sarcophagus housed in Greek temple structure
The architectures of the places of dwelling for the dead are as diverse and as interesting as the places of dwellings for the living, if not more so.

And this necropolis also houses grandiose structures that match those built for the living. There're tombs that best described as mausoleums, and others in cosy human scale. And then there're even some that try to show that they celebrate death rather than lament it.

The religious iconography in cemetery is especially of interest to me, as usual.

The only major difference between the dwellings for the departed and the living is that we don't visit this so much to become blasé about it (unless you're grave tenders of major cemeteries). At least I haven't, compare to the rest of Paris. I was fascinated with it since my 1st visit to the Waverley Cemetery at Bronte in Sydney some 10 years or so ago. It was love at the 1st sight. I wouldn't say I love it to death. It's probably an undying love.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Phillippe Auguste Gate, Pere Lachaise Cemetery
If you get there by metro, don't get off at the namesake metro station Père-Lachaise because its exits aren't close to either gates of the Cemetery. You should get off either Gambetta or Philippe Auguste metro. Both metros' exits take only about 3 minutes walk to the Cemetery's north and south gates (the 2 WCs are also near the 2 gates).

The best course of action would be to start your visit at Gambetta Gate and finish your visit at Philippe Auguste Gate.


View Larger Map

The cemetery is roughly consisted of 2 halves (more like 40/60). The Gambetta's half and the Philippe Auguste's half. Most of the Gambetta is laid out in a nice grid, so you might not get lost so easily. While the Philippe Auguste's half is a bit of a maze with meandering avenues. The Gambetta's half sudden rises up some, oh 4m to 7m, above the Philippe Auguste's half.

Enter via Gambetta Gate (Porte Gambetta) makes sense for 2 reasons. Gambetta Gate has a booth where you can get a map of the Cemetery. I didn't notice similar booth at the Philippe Auguste Gate. Even if you don't try to locate any particular grave, it's probably a good idea to have the map just so that you won't get lost. Don't laugh, it's entirely probable as this necropolis has the size of a small town. After all, it covers an entire area between the 2 metros, and around 44 hectares (108 acres) of land. Even if you want to get lost, but you also want to get out after getting lost, unless you want to spend the night here.

I downloaded a map of the Cemetery before hand. This is a good idea if you plan to visit or pay homage to a particular tomb. This is more preferable than getting the map there when you then have to spend your valuable sightseeing time studying and planning it. So I don't really need to get into the Gambetta Gate for the map. But there's still the 2nd reason that you should.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
the burial ground is higher than the surrounding neighbourhood.
The property agent's sales pitch for the neighbouring housings would
 likely be "dead quiet neighbourhood"
The Cemetery is actually a hill slopping downward from Gambetta. So if you walk from Philippe Auguste Gate (like I had), you have to walk uphill. Of course, some people actually prefer to walk uphill because they find climbing down stairs is harder than climbing up stairs.

As this necropolis is quite large, to help us from becoming lost souls, the place is divided into Divisions, and within it further subdivided into Sections. And streets are also named to help us navigate around easier. All these are marked with signposts.

A number of tourists who saw me carrying a map stopped me to either ask for directions or to borrow my map. This suggests that the map is quite handy to have. They do have maps on billboards that are posted in strategic places within the cemetery, but you need to know where they're in the first place.

The map of the cemetery I downloaded from the internet has a huge list of notable names of people who buried here, of most are names I'm not familiar with. This isn't a bad things because if I know many names,  I'll have to play favourites. Well, I don't have that problem, my shortlisted names are quite short:

Street and Division signpost, Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Signpost showing street name and division number
7 (3)  James  Rothschild - industrialist
7 (5)  Camille Pissaro - painter

6 (1) Jim Morrison - musician

11 (5) Federic Chopin - musician

48 (1) Honoré de Balzac - writer

89(4) Oscar Wilde - playwright

94 (1) Gertrude Stein - writer
97 (8) Edith Piaf - singer

It was after I compiled this list of historical figures that I realised only 2 persons in the list were born in France (not hard to guess, only these 2 have French names). This suggest Paris was a happening place in the 19th century and early 20th century where it drawn many notable people around the (western) world. artistic and cultural . In short, magnet to artistic and cultural avant-garde.

I guess Pantheon is for the French historical heavyweights while Pere Lachaise is opened to everyone.

The first set of numbers above denote Division numbers, and the numbers in round brackets indicates Section numbers.

Despite these systematic numberings that charts the necropolis the way Paris itself was mapped, it isn't easy to locate any particular tombstone. Because the above numbering specifies only down to a Section, but there could be many plots within a Section.

And then there're other complication. E.g. it took me almost nearly 10 mins to locate Edith Piaf's resting place.
Edith Piaf grave, Pere Lachaise
Edith Piaf grave
As I was searching for her grave, I overheard a couple of young Frenchmen utter her name in an area nearby her tomb (according to my reading of my map). Thinking they already found her grave site, I stopped them to ask. They said they were still looking for her tomb, and pointed somewhere quite a bit of distance away. I couldn't convince them it's very nearby. Like within 3m radius.

I almost gave up (I was cold and hungry). But I didn't want to cut the loss. I persisted and inspected every single gravestone in that Section. Finally I found a relatively typical tombstone that marked "Piaf-Gasson". It's entirely possible that we only know these famous people by their stage or pen names while their graves are marked with their real names.

A group of French speaking tourist yelled in excitement in my direction, "Voilà !". They too had been looking for her grave and knew it was around the area, and was only too glad when they realised I found it because I was keenly taking photos of her grave.

Jim Morrison's grave is even smaller and so very easily missed by his fans. If it weren't for the many fresh flowers and the group of tourists gathered around his grave, I would have to spend more time in locating it.

Oscar Wilde's tomb, Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Oscar Wilde's tomb.
The easiest one to spot.
A glass fence was erected after the
persistent appearance of lipsticked
kisses  and graffiti covered his grave
If you think all you need is using those 2 clues: grave sites with lots of fresh flowers, and group of people taking photos to locate famous deceased people, it isn't always so straight forward. For one thing, cemetery isn't appearing on most of the tourist trails, especially this is low seasons. There're some tourists today, but in a big burial ground such as this, I don't see many groups at any sites at any one time. I doubt that even in high season, this place would be swamped. This is of course not a bad thing.

Everyone was playing the game of "Where's Wally?" on the day. While I didn't manage to spot even the ghost of Wally, I did manage to locate the graves of Chopin, Piaf, Morrison, and Wilde. While Wilde's burial was easy to find, but I gave up on the other half of my list. This is because the people on other half of the list aren't as popular, and so you can't rely on the 2 tantalising telltale signs.


Crematorium, Pere Lachaise
should be the Crematorium, judging from its chimneys

Federic Chopin grave, Pere Lachaise, Paris
Federic Chopin
quite popular figure judging from the fan flowers
Statue of the Memorial to Auschwiltz Concetration Camp, Pere Lachaise, Paris, France
Statue (on the left) of the Memorial to Auschwiltz Concetration Camp
The 1st few days after I arrived in Paris, (western) Europe was in the grip of a cold spell. It was only a few degrees above zero. With wind chill, it felt like sub zero temperature. And then it followed by reasonably warm weather. And you know what would happen when you get a cold snap followed by warm front. You get showers. The showers had started 2 days ago.

one man band
One man band
Source: VicEllis, Sussex, under CC license
I thought the cloudy weather today is good to set the right ambiance for a cemetery visit: nicely depressing and meditative. I might even get some showers to get that the-heaven-is-crying atmosphere. Lo and behold, my prayer was answered. It wept on request. So I had umbrella in one hand, map in another, my reading glasses (for my map) on my head, and my camera hung on my neck, my backpack in the back. I felt like one of those one-man-music-band busker where he has an harmonica in front of his mouth, a xylophone/washboard percussion instrument hanging around his neck, and a drum at his foot. Or that guy on the photo on the right.

You can't say I wasn't prepared. An extra arm would come in handy (no pun intended). I'm not greedy, just one extra arm would suffice. With that extra arm, I can ask it to hold my umbrella, thus leaving my 2 other arms free for holding a camera or map or waving at other tourists or pointing at directions. Nice! So I found myself praying to Hindu deities for various upgrades on my body parts.

My Desperate Prayers to Hindu Deities
O Great Vishnu, spare me an extra arm
Please let it be a detachable one
For we live in modern times
We want everything to Plug and Play, and on Demand.

But then I remember (on this rare occasion) that I would likely to forget to pack my spare arm if I'm given one. So I would have to ask for good quality extended memory (I heard elephant has great memory).

O Great Ganesha, grant me more memory
Preferably it's battery free
With 80 TB capacity
and Labour and Parts, and Life-time warranty.

Amen! (Sorry you Great Ones! I asked Santa already, but he said I'm too old to sit on his lap, and it's too early for Xmas wishes) 

My Doggerel to My (Above) Doggerel
Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lordy!
They are truly bad poetry!
No rhyme, nor metre, nor symmetry!
Get the hell out of this Cemetery!

Well, since the doggerel ordered me to leave. I had no choice but left it for the day.




No comments:

Post a Comment