Today was the sort of day where you leave the past where it belongs. I took a hard look in the mirror and said, “Bailey, it’s time to be a grown ass woman.” Where better to do that than a cemetery? A thousand other places, but we work with what we’ve got.
Le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is the largest cemetery in Paris (I’m talking over a 100 acres) and had its gates officially opened in 1804 when Napoleon was just starting his empire. Over three million people have been buried there, though that doesn’t mean they get to stay. In fact, when you buy a spot in this cemetery, it’s more of a lease. After 10, 50, or 100 years, you’re as good as mulch. Unless, as Lisa and I would later learn, you were an actual rock star (i.e. “important”), then you get to stay forever.
Due to the massive size of the cemetery, we needed to draw up a battle plan that wouldn’t keep us walking around all day. See at least: Collette, Chopin, Piaf, and Wilde. We don’t make it very far before we get lost. I would like to blame the supreme subparness of the map and not myself. Eventually we find the beauty that is Chopin’s grave. We stand in silence with a few other British tourists when a man emerged from the crypts to tell us that Chopin’s body is in Paris but his heart is in Poland. The man’s name is Raphael and he’s the most energetic 70 year old you’ll ever meet. He places a hand on my shoulder and invites us further into the cemetery with him for a tour.
When an obvious ghost invites you into his home, you follow.
While it is obvious that he was trying to drum up some business, I’m glad we decided to go with him. He wound us through lines of graves away from the main road. We quickly learned that the graves are often stacked 12 deep, and that even a small plot for 100 years can cost nearly $100K. Raphael’s energy was infectious. He took such delight in pointing out the graves that have been cleared for new occupants, the old ones taken to the crematorium for “barbecue,” as he so affectionately called it.
While it was an utter honor to see the final resting spots of some of my favorite artists, nothing will top my favorite plot of: Victor Noir. While the young man was tragically killed in a duel, it is his monument that has kept him famous. I’m not sure how I could politely describe this, but Monsieur Noir (or Mr. Viagra as he is know to some) has become a fertility symbol to the women of Paris. Rubbing certain parts of his body are supposed to bring happy marriage, children, and a healthy libido. Can something so…racy be endearing?
When it finally came time for us to part ways, we pressed a few euros into Raphael’s palm and let him return to whatever netherworld he calls home. We did something similarly, but only after yet another delightful meal. As if Paris would let us have it any other way. Later that night when I was getting ready for bed, I kept the window open and listened to someone playing an Edith Piaf record in the distance. It was a song I didn’t recognize, but it was familiar all the same.