After alighting at the Metro station Gambetta, I walked through a hill garden to gain entrance to the cemetery. Along one of the walls there was a figurine with arms spread out, pushing back the wall, faces surreptitiously appearing, almost fading away. Keeping the souls encased.
An old phrase my Nan used to say came immediately to the forefront of my mind,
You should never fear the dead, it’s the living you should be afraid of.
I’d bought four blue iris flowers with a lick of yellow in the centre, a fragrant tongue. The rain came down forever, wet arrows bouncing off my grey wool suit. I walked through a narrow entrance in the wall and was totally mesmerised. Death done with panache. Gothic miniature chapels. Stone crafted sculptures. Ancient tree trunks with branches dramatically stabbing the sky. A calm within the core of the City of Light.
The graves were so decrepit and battered by the ages that at times I had to remind myself that these were authentic graves and not fabricated. Four ravens appeared and for a moment I’d assumed I was really in Universal Studios, Florida and not the 20th Arondissement in France’s Capital City.
Oscar Wilde’s grave had an Egyptian-like quality, a mini shrine. The tomb had been encased in glass, as admirers had for years glazed it with lipstick. This had not prohibited the ritual. For all over the surface, lipstick-stained kisses re-decorated it. One bold visitor had even puckered a smooch onto the lips of the Sphinx’s head. I placed the flowers on an arm-like ledge and waited for a moment. The rain, birds and stillness added to the atmosphere.
Thinking about the roll call of people buried in this site, I thought imagine what it would be like when the gates are locked at the end of the day. Sleeping with the dead, the site of numerous French luminaries – writers, artists and musicians:
Imagine the party the spirits could have. Now that would be one big Bohemian Kiki indeed! I guess in the way a Catholic pays homage to their faith by going on a pilgrimage to Rome, a pagan to Stonehenge, a writer or lover of the written word chooses to show their respects to the literary gods.
Later on in the evening, I danced like an idiot in the Marais. I thought about how laid back the attitude is in Paris. As I saw my sister in the midst of a cluster of bald, bearded bears, an adult version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, perhaps, it made me smile and I said inwardly, ‘Thanks, Oscar!’
Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the largest in Paris (44 hectares/110 acres). It was the first garden cemetery in the capital and contains 3 World War Murals. It opened on 21st May 1804.
Photographs courtesy of Liam Maguire