Saturday, March 22, 2008

morning at père lachaise



Most of our trip to Paris was marked by cold temperatures, gray skies, and pouring rain. On a rare sunny morning, Daiku and I decided to head to the Père Lachaise cemetery, a major attraction that neither of us had visited before. Like many old cemeteries, the Père Lachaise is strangely vibrant, speaking to life much more than to death. It's a lovely place for reflection, and it turned out to have been one of my favorite parts of our trip, so I thought I would share some images with you. We thought we would take a brisk walk through the place, but ended up spending over 2 hours meandering through a much larger space than imagined (and yet we saw only a small fraction)! For more photos, check out my Père Lachaise set on Flickr.

What I love about this place is its radical democracy- the most prominent and the most anonymous people, from all religions and nationalities, lie side by side. You see grand shrines and small headstones with their lettering worn down after hundreds of years. French families residing in Paris for generations share space with immigrants, refugees, and travelers.



In addition, the cemetery has special meaning for leftists, with famous radicals buried there, from those killed in the Paris Commune to members of the Communist Party.



It's easy to forget that you are in a major urban area until you come up to a hill that gives you a clear view of the surrounding city.



Considering that it's the most famous and most visited cemetery in the world, we saw precious few people there during our visit. Those we did see all seemed to be overtaken by a sense of calm and contemplation, as were we.





Signs of life everywhere- from bright grass and moss growing on old graves...



... to snails resting on tombstones.



Mausoleums in various states of gentle...



...and not so gentle disrepair.



Everywhere we turned, there was an insistence on recognizing and emphasizing beauty- youth and vitality struggling to triumph over death and decay.



a sense only amplified by the sunshine, long missing before this morning.



Even though we weren't really looking for them, we did see some resting places of famous people, including the painter Delacroix,



the singer Edith Piaf,



and the philosopher Merleau-Ponty. We noticed that we were there 2 days before the 100-year anniversary of his birth (March 14, 1908). I though back sadly at the 2000 presidential debate where G.W. Bush and Al Gore were asked to name their favorite philosophers. Gore answered Merleau-Ponty while Bush, clearly unable to think of a single actual philosopher, named Jesus. It hurts the brain too much to think of what the last 8 years would have been like had we elected a president who could actually think philosophically... so I won't go there right now.



Of course, the feeling of calm was punctuated by poignant reminders of where we were, with monuments to grief and tragedy on both grand levels, like this one of many remembrances of those killed in the Holocaust,



and on deeply and heartrendingly personal levels like this obelisk erected in the early 1800s by a man in order to mark the loss of his two sons and his wife. You can almost sense his sadness as he promises that they are waiting for him.

In an otherwise harried trip, it was really rejuvenating to have this chance to slow down and think about the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the season of rebirth and renewal, and to do it in a place filled with humanity in its simplest and grandest forms.
.

Share/Save/Bookmark

18 comments:

dreamy said...

Like your photo capturing half the sunlight and the snail, very artistic! The long row of trees are very beautiful, it reminds me of avenue at middelharnis by Hobbema.

Mihl said...

Bazu, these are outstanding photos, thanks for sharing them! (Although I was a little bit distracted by George W. Be strong, it's over soon.)

Liz² said...

A beautiful account... and mentioning Merleau Ponty sent me on a whirlwind tour of him and Heidegger for a bit, so cool, thank you! I've heard of this graveyard and seen photos but never felt as much like I've been there (sort of) as after reading your entry.

Jackie said...

A happy Norooz to you.

Glad you had such a wonderful trip and thanks for the great photos, brings back memories of past travels.

laura jesser said...

Your very moving account of Pere Lachaise took me back there. Lovely photos and beautiful observations...

runswithdog said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.....

Courtney said...

Your photos are beautiful and make me long for Paris...lovely!

Courtney

SusanV said...

What a beautiful post. Your words and photos are such a joy to those of us who can only dream of visiting Pere Lachaise someday.

Cakespy said...

I am so jealous. I went there for the first time this year and thought it was the most marvelous place--I spent all day there! So glad you've had a good experience and visit. Le sigh.

theresa said...

What a beautiful place! Thanks for sharing with us!

textual bulldog said...

pere lachaise is probably my favorite place in paris. top 3, minimum. you did such a beautiful job of capturing some of what makes it special. thanks for sharing, i felt like i was there with you instead of in palo alto grading final exams... ;)

village mama said...

great photo poem.

Urban Vegan said...

I love Pere Lachaise. Gorgeous photos.

Merleau-Ponty and I have the same birthday. What a funny Bushism you pointed out.

What a great post...looks like you had some wonderful weather.

madness rivera said...

Lovely.

vko said...

A poignant post my dear- thank you so much.

I am ashamed- all the times I have been in Paris and not once did I get to Pere Lachaise. Well that certainly will not happen again...

Rural Vegan said...

Your photos are so beautiful!

T said...

What gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing- and transporting me momentarily out of the library and into France. :)

Vegan_Noodle said...

What amazing photos, you have such a way with words. I remember walking around the cemetary in Recolleta in BA and had some of the same thoughts and feelings...