Friday, February 6, 2009

Each morning I “google” Paris weather before heading out; a little tradition for me. Usually there are those icons showing sun or snow or rain. This morning the first thing that popped up was this headline: “Paris Hilton beats chilly weather without bra”. Amazing what those two words, Paris and weather, brought forth this day. What an odd icon to launch Friday. Because I have a good amount of time here, I am moving at my own pace, ticking off various items on a list of things I want to do and see. This was another really nice and sunny day, and probably the warmest so far; therefore an outside motif appealed. So I went to the cemetery. Pere Lachaise is Paris’ best, and among of the world’s most notable. It a considerable distance from the main part of Paris, as you would expect, and so I chose to approach it via the Metro. It was early afternoon when I emerged on the Boulevard Menilmontant and it was not necessary to ask where the cemetery could be found. It was there to behold, with dozens and dozens of monuments visible alongside but behind a long stone wall which lines the boulevard. First stop for me was the neighborhood brasserie, au Rond-Point, where I had a perfectly good veal chop with mushrooms. I was tempted but declined to have one of their signature desserts, the Coupe Pere Lachaise glace, ice cream with raisins, rum, coffee and other delectables. Don’t know that I ever have seen a dessert named for a cemetery. It is a good idea to get a map on entering the graveyard, as there is no obvious order to the numbering of the divisions and, in good taste, there is no signage pointing to where the famous lie in repose. That of course is why everyone comes here, to see the graves of. . . well the list is lengthy beyond belief and the names would, and do, fill pages. Among the most visited sites are the graves of Chopin and Balzac and the lead Door, Jim Morrison. Whereas many of the edifices are true works of art—bronze and marble figurines and busts and great torsos and the like—Morrison’s grave is entirely undistinguished except by the number of visitors having a look and tossing wilted flowers about. A guidebook is also handy here; else you would never know the story behind that the very well done but highly unusual bronze of two guys lying supine side by side and hand in hand, with each appearing to have something of a grimace. Well, they were highly successful balloonists, but literally were victims of their own success, as they soared so high one day that they ran out of oxygen. Eventually the balloon landed with them aboard, apparently looking a lot like they are depicted as looking here. Another curious statue is of Jean Pezon, shown waving proudly while riding his lion. Thanks to the guidebook I learned that at some point along the way, the lion ate Monsieur Pezon, clearly hastening his arrival at Lachaise. I would say that if you really are into this sort of thing, this place would be about as close to heaven as you could be. The legendary lie alongside regular citizens (those who can afford a spot here); many of the monuments are just breathtaking (I started to change that word but let it stay); it is well worth a stop if your itinerary allows. You cannot see every famous gravesite in one visit and the cobblestones make for very rough footing. But if I lived in Paris I know I would come time and again just to meander. I have to note that as someone who never visits cemeteries, I within four days have walked among headstones at two very different burial grounds. The symmetry at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach is in dramatic contrast to the hodgepodge in Pere Lachaise. That is fitting, because those in Normandy have more in common with one another than just being deceased.
I decided to walk home. It was glorious and sunny and I was feeling fit. Good to be fit for this walk, as it is quite a long way along Boulevard Roquette as it winds toward the Ile. This is Paris beyond the guidebooks, with its hair rolled in curlers. I stopped at a sidewalk cafe at Place Leon Blum (I will have to “google” Leon) where Boulevard Voltaire comes through and I sat for 30 minutes or so, people watching. How sweet the many neighborhoods Paris has to offer. How timeless and solid and impressive are so very many buildings which seem to line every street. The markets, the shops, the Parisians . . . this is addictive.

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