A couple of weeks ago I found myself in Paris with some time to kill and instead of purchasing Nintendo stock like I should have been doing, I decided to fritter away my time at a sidewalk cafe eating batter-fried foods. I found finding French fritters a frustrating fiasco however, and so I elected instead to head to the local cemeteries, as I have been dying to get into them for some time and take selfish selfies with the post-mortem celebrities interned therein.
The first cemetery I went to was the more renowned Père Lachaise (pictured above), which is a French term for ‘two matching Lachaise’. Père Lachaise is chocked full of superstar corpses, many of which are tied to French history and culture. Thanks to my public school upbringing, I was familiar with exactly none of them as they were named neither Napoleon nor Gérard Depardieu. There were some names I recognized however, and I put together a quick Wander Around and Stumble Upon strategy to miss almost all of them and take up as much time as possible making U-turns and backtracking.
Like most Ugly Americans, the first grave site I visited was that of American rider on the storm, Jim Morrison, famous largely for lewdness and drug use and singing a couple of songs as the front man for the ingressly named rock band The Doors.
Morrison was the voice of an entire generation of libidinous substance-abusers and perhaps most remarkably, did it all in skin-tight, stripy pants. He was only 28 when he broke on through to the other side and as famous as he was, his grave site is relatively non-descript except for all the crap that visitors leave on it. People are strange.
I then hiked up the hill past the remains of Elephant Celebes, Max Ernst to the Egyptian-like tomb of playboy play-write Oscar Wilde, nicknamed in death as The Flying Pharaoh. (Okay, actually I just made that up but I’m sure it will catch on once everyone sees the photo below.)
Wilde is most famous for writing stuff like The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest and going to prison for homosexuality, a charge that today has its own sit-coms and a month of celebratory parades—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Like most who pass away at age 46, Wilde died too young.
Heading back down the hill, I stopped at the gravesite of actress Sarah Bernhardt (not to be confused with actress Sandra Bernhard, who is very much alive—not to be confused with actress Rebecca Gayheart, who is way more attractive—not to be confused with actress Calista Flockhart, who weighs about the same as Sarah Bernhardt does these days) on my way to the grave site of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin.
Chopin, who like most Pols had a hard time spelling his last name like it was pronounced, was a piano virtuoso who spent most of his adult life in Paris and although he is buried here, he left his heart in Poland. Literally. His heart is preserved in brandy (the best of internal organ preservatives—just ask Blake Shelton) and sealed up in a pillar of a church in Warsaw. And while the most celebrated, Chopin is not the only composer decomposing at Père Lachaise. In fact, there’s a whole Liszt of them.
After momentarily paying my silent respects to Marcel Marceau, Liberty led me past the gravesite of Eugène Delacroix to the cradle-like rest of philosopher Auguste Comte.
Comte is the chap who came up with the idea of Positivism, which states that a truth is only so if it can be scientifically verified or mathematically proven. That is, every truth except the statement, “a truth is only so if it can be scientifically verified or mathematically proven”—a minor detail he seemed to have overlooked. Additionally, Auguste Comte is one of the few philosophers to be the namesake of both a month and a cheese. I therefore respectfully submit that August be national Comté cheese month.
Influential to Comte was the sociological thinker and personal guru of mine, Émile Durkheim, so I headed across town to the Monteparnasse Cemetery which is also full of a number of dead people, Durkheim among them.
Durkheim is considered to be a founder of sociology worthy at least of leaving loose change and very small rocks. He wrote such unreadable tomes as Suicide and The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, an impressive and unopened volume I display on my own shelf so it appears as though I read such books.
Just down the row from Durkheim is existentialist author/play-write/philosopher/etc. Jean-Paul Sartre, who seems to have found an exit after all.
I wonder if he is still an atheist.
Sharing a grave with Sartre (which, I’m not gonna lie, is a little weird) is Simone de Beauvoir, a name with which most people are familiar but nobody really knows anything about—kinda like James Polk or bologna.
On my way out I walked by Samuel Beckett, who was just lying there evidently still waiting for Godot, and I got to conTIMplating… I spent the entire afternoon walking by all these gravesites of the famous, the un-famous, and the infamous, and it struck me that all of these people—princes along with paupers, play-writes along with politicians—had the same thing in common:
They were all dead.
Death, it seems, is the great equalizer. At both Père Lachaise and Montparnasse all people of all races and all stations in life were all lying side-by-side with precious little distinction. Looking at the residents, I noticed they all had the same sized property, the same income, the same rights, and the same healthcare plans. Everybody had their fair share, nobody used any energy and carbon footprints were negligible. There was no ambition, no exploitation, no offense, no borders. Nobody owned a gun, nobody was praying, and all the fetuses were lifeless. In short, cemeteries are more or less a Democrat’s Fantasyland.