LETTRES : Le livre d'or des histoires dans Paris

Kay Fernandez
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Rest in Peace; Rest in Paris
By Kay Fernandez
Here in Pere Lachaise, they sleep serenely. An impressive list of who's who, these lodgers have no luxury hotels at their beck and call. Rather, the residents rest in peace in the city’s' picturesque cemetery – the most visited cemetery in the world.

Meandering through Pere Lachaise links art, history and culture. On the eastern outskirts of Paris, hilly Pere Lachaise's romantic appeal dates to 1804. Named after Louis XIV's confessor, the cemetery was originally the site of a Jesuit house of retreat. Now visitors walk gingerly on the uneven brick pathways surrounded by closely clustered graves. Tree-lined lanes twist, turn and incline – a stunning and dramatic place. Here, you can contemplate, meditate or just inhale the tranquil environment.

So many famous people are buried here among the million that maps are handed out. Some graves are simplistic; others ornate. Irish poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde, famous for "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray," boasts a massive monument adorned by a winged Egyptian figure. Other writers in Pere Lachaise: Moliere, Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette.

Even though Pierre Abelard died in 1142, his final resting place is entombed next to Heloise. French scholar, philosopher, teacher and theologian, Abelard tutored wealthy Heloise, who later became an abbess. Teacher and pupil were secretly married, forced apart and became one of history's famous romances.
The Polish-born Frederic Chopin was called a musical genius by the time he reached his teen years. In his 39 years, Chopin wrote concertos, sonatas, 50 mazurkas, 26 preludes, 24 etudes, 19 nocturnes, 15 waltzes, 11 polonaises, four ballades and three sonatas.

Pere Lachaise also houses composer Georges Bizet (Carmen), celebrated stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, opera diva Maria Callas, actress Simone Signoret, song bird Edith Piaf, artist Georges Seurat and interpretive dancer Isadora Duncan.
Occasionally, the cemetery is a study in the unusual. Take American rock star Jim Morrison, for instance. The 20-something leader of The Doors was buried here in 1971. His fans and curiosity seekers – many of whom weren't even born in 1971 – pay homage by traipsing to Morrison's tombstone, which often has a guard posted to discourage graffiti and to encourage respect for those buried nearby.
Balzac, who is buried here, said, “I seldom go out, but when I feel myself flagging I go and cheer myself up in Pere Lachaise...while seeking out the dead, I see nothing but the living.”


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