13 May, 2015
Bronze Rubbings of Another Kind
A visit to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery promises much more than a macabre meander. These 44 hectares of Paris probably hold the world’s greatest “melting pot” of global talent, fame and infamy. Buy a map at the entrance and plan your route to visit your favourite fallen heroes which may include Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf or Oscar Wilde. Spending a few hours in this tranquil garden of bronze, stone and trees promises beauty, pathos, tranquility, and for the sleuthful some interesting new discoveries. Many of the tombstones are peppered with memento’s, tokens or small messages. We knew we were close to Jimmy when we spotted a clue. Some scrawled graffiti in red: Light my Fire. And just around the corner, there he was in an unassuming resting place surrounded by adoring fans.
As befits a cemetery in Paris, there are no garish signs indicating Edith this way, Jimmy that way. This is no tour of Hollywood Homes. Your search is low key and of good taste. The plots are lettered and numbered and within that quarter you need to do your search. But clues there are…
bouquets of roses for Frédéryk Chopin, lipstick kisses for Oscar Wilde and of course, a glass of red for Jimmy.
For the observant there are some surprises too. We happened upon a statue where the unfortunate victim looked as if he had been cast in bronze just as he fell on the street. He appeared life sized and fully dressed in a smart suit with his top hat dropped beside him. A closer look revealed an unmistakable protuberance in the area of his crotch. This was Victor Noir, a famous journalist of the 19th century who was shot by Prince Pierre Bonaparte, cousin of the ruling Emperor Napoleon III. His death caused tremendous political turmoil but his fame today rests in the tumescence within his trousers. Myth dictates that rubbing his member, kissing him on the lips and placing roses in his top hat will guarantee you (depending on which version) either a husband, a joyous sex life or a pregnancy within the year. Clearly, this is much loved lore as this area of Victor’s anatomy is polished to a high shine by years of hopeful attention while the rest of him has faded to an aged verdigris.
Fact file and Practical Tips
Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
Rue du Repos,
+33 1 55 25 82 10
The best route is to start at the entrance closest to Métro Gambetta and slowly zigzag through to exit at the Entrée Principale near the Métro Père-Lachaise and Métro Philipe Auguste. This is downhill all the way allowing sweeping views over the cemetery and surrounds.
More than a million people are buried here. While the cemetery still accepts new burials, there is a waiting list.
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