Monday, November 29, 2010

An Earnest Man's Grave . . . 30 November, 1900

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Walking in Père Lachaise cemetery the other day, we came across, through a little twist of fate, Oscar Wilde's tomb, which I had never visited before, in all my many trips to Père Lachaise. Along with Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf, it is probably one of the most heavily visited sites in Père Lachaise, I don't know how I'd missed it all these years. As you are probably aware, Oscar Wilde passed away in poverty in Paris on the 30th of November, 1900, so 110 years ago today. From a distance, I couldn't understand what all the red marks were on the large stone block of sculpture there.
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It was only on closer inspection that I realized that for the most part, the red marks were traces of kisses with generous amounts of lipstick involved. A multitude of kisses decorate his grave ! Oh, what man wouldn't be happy to have so many come and kiss his tombstone ?
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Some graffiti left could not agree on the right wording of a quotation.
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Some of the graffiti, though well-intentioned, was misspelled, the word "coeur" is masculine in French, so it should say "mon coeur" and not "ma coeur". I'm not sure that Oscar would have appreciated such flaws of language.
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I admit I thought it a bit unfortunate that even the epitaph carved in the stone had been written over by inconsiderate visitors. In case you may not have been there to read it, it says :
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"And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn"
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This is, of course, a verse from Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol . . . a dark and epic poem if there ever was one. I think the only piece of writing I can ever recall reading which was longer and even grimmer, if that is possible, was The City of Dreadful Night, by James Thomson. Wilde's prison inspired Ballad was written some twenty years years after Thomson's dire piece of writing came out, one could almost wonder if there was some inspiration found there.
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Even the Sphynx had been kissed . . .
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Before that afternoon and actually seeing Wilde's tomb (seeing is believing) I had no idea that a long-running tradition called for fervent admirers to leave a trace with a well-lipsticked kiss on the monument. But while I was there, three young ladies were carrying out the tradition. Preparing the lipstick:
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Ready !
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Go !
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One of her friends took the plunge shortly thereafter, after testing the effect on her friend's cheek. I imagine it must be a fairly cold surface to kiss.
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Perhaps the most loving of tributes, a bouquet of red roses . . .
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58 comments:

Oakland Daily Photo said...

A striking post. The kissing mademoiselle is beautiful. One of my favorite Wilde quotes are his putative last words, "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do." Sounds like him, don't you think?

K'line Bloom said...

La dernière image...ces roses...
Bises

Steve said...

Ooh la la. She can kiss my headstone anytime...

pRiyA said...

My goodness, what a treat, this post!
Those lipstick photos are going into my Seaweedsoup tumblog.I think it is the fact that you rrreally , rrrreally enjoyed clicking pics especially for this post that sets it apart from the rest.

Adam said...

Excellent post, and I wasn't aware of this anniversary. I think you had perhaps never come across his tomb before because it's damned difficult to find!

I'm from Reading myself, so his poem has always had a bit of resonance for me. For some reason, it's always the last verse that I remember:

And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

mythopolis said...

Fantastic! The monument itself is unusual, the embellishment of kisses like the gold leaf adornment of the Buddha. And the roses dying with their heads hung as in grief. Really something. Thanks!

the fly in the web said...

The monument is superb....but when did this lipstick tradition start..and why..and who...?

Springman said...

I would give this epic post a big Bette Davis smooch if I could.

"I'd love to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair!"

Bette Davis
1908-1989

By the Way:
This art deco tomb also contains the ashes of Robert Ross, who was responsible for erecting this monument. Be not troubled, Oscar does not sleep alone. RIP

Olga said...

It seems like all the girls kissed his tomb except me.

Stickup Artist said...

This is amazing! I've devoured all that Oscar Wilde has written and those kisses are well deserved. It is sad when recognition of beauty comes too late. To me he is yet another fallen hero who shines through his words and deeds. These images are forever imbedded in my mind. How awesome to have caught that lovely girl with such creamy skin in the act! It makes one wonder what witty remark he would have at his fingertips regarding this tradition. I also love how the pattern of kisses is echoed in the woman's sweater. So glad you found this scene and brought it to us lucky readers!

Now off to YouTube to listen to the song you recommended!

Owen said...

Dear Oakland, Indeed, indeed, I saw that quote about the wallpaper going or him while looking through material prior to putting this post together. It must have been some pretty Hideous wallpaper, to have caught the attention of a sick and dying man to that degree !

Owen said...

Oui K'line, totalement, ces roses, ces belles belles roses, encadrées par deux coeurs rouge vif, et un petit symbol de paix...

Je ne peux surtout pas me permettre ici d'applaudir mes propres photos, mais si je l'ai mise en dernier, à la fin ici, c'est comme les dernières notes de musique qu'un compositeur mettra à la fin d'un oeuvre pour finir en beauté...

Merci K', et bonne soirée...

Owen said...

Steve !

Whatever do you mean !?!

Your headstone... and what about your cheek ?

I'm sure no one you know ever calls you "cheeky" !

Just don't ask anyone anymore to kiss your Face...
:-)

Owen said...

Priya ! Sssshhhhhhhh...

(no one was supposed to realize just how much I rrrrrealy enjoyed shooting these images that day... just how hard I worked to get the exposures right)(and certainly don't ask James, for he was there also, and I think he also shot some images here)

Owen said...

Hi Adam,
Well, I guess like most anything, if one knows where it is, then it isn't so hard to find. The problem with Père Lachaise is the density of famous people buried there, so even if one has a map, which I did, one really has to be intent on seeking things out. In our case that day, it was a pair of lost Irish tourists who saw me with my map in hand, and asked if I knew where Oscar was, so I looked it up for them, and it happened to be very close to where we were, so we all wandered over there... and one thing led to another. But actually we'd been off to go find Edith Piaf, when we happened on the lost Irish...

Anyway, I hope you will never have to spend any time in the Reading Gaol, it sounds like an awful place...

...louciao... said...

I've enjoyed all the comments as much as I have the images and informative text. ("A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal." Oscar Wilde)

Margaret Pangert said...

I had forgotten that Wilde died in Paris; the French appreciation of his style, humor, and attitude would explain this infatuation. The Dublin statue of Wilde is pretty clean!

The Sagittarian said...

Fabulous post and photos to match, as usual. I am constantly amazed at how focussed your photos are, considering how you imbibe at my place!! :-)

ρομπερτ said...

How grateful he must be, being allowed to receive, even beyond time of his life.

Please have a good new month.

daily athens

Owen said...

Hey Mythopolis... even the roses were grieving, though they might have lasted a little longer if they'd have been left in a vase...
But it still needs quite a few more kisses to get it to the point where it could be considered a lipstick-plated Buddha... so, come on all you ladies with glossy lipstick, get on over here to Paris and get to work, ok ?!

Owen said...

Dear Fly,
I'm not sure who started the kissing tradition, nor exactly when, but there is an interesting discussion of the situation in this article :

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/oct/29/books.booksnews

Googling a search phrase like Kissing Oscar Wilde's Grave will bring you more information and pictures...

I too wondered about the oily/fatty base of the lipstick and the effect on the stone, Wilde's grandson's remarks sort of confirmed what I was thinking. Leaving roses is perhaps kinder to all concerned...

Owen said...

Hey Springman, fantastic idea, you may have just started a tradition... if everyone who stops by here leaves a big kiss on the page, then in no time I'll be smiling broadly, and if Bette Davis's ghost stops by to leave a smooch, I'll be even happier ! Now if we can just figure out how to get the lipstick to stick here in the arctic white of the comment box...

Now, for goodness sake, go dry your hair man, you are dripping all over the welcome mat !
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Olga, welcome, welcome, and if you need to come back to Paris to take care of that unfinished business, well come on over. Though it is not as warm here as in the Dominican Republic ! Far from it... Winter has set in early, with a vengeance !

Many thanks for stopping by...

Owen said...

Hey Stickup,
After reading Wilde's grandson's comments in the article at the link left in answer to Fly above, I guess potential kissers of his tombstone should think twice before adding more lipstick to the stone... However, the part where his grandson says that Wilde would have hated for people to kiss his grave, I'm not so sure, that may be projection of his own anger about it... I rather suspect he would have been tickled, but what do I know... Guess you'll just have to come on over here and go take a look, and decide whether you want to join the ranks of those who have left there lips there...

Owen said...

Dearest Lynne, omg, I better stop being so damned serious then, it might end up killing me ! So, what color lipstick are you going to add to the collection here ?

Owen said...

PS and Lynne, if you wanted to work a little of your Lynne-spiration on those roses, could be right up your alley ? A little distressing, a little of thissing and thatting, and they might become something entirely different...
:-)

Lydia said...

I love this post, everything about it. In fact, I think it is one of the best posts I have ever read and feasted my eyes upon! Bravo, Owen!

...louciao... said...

On the contrary Mr. Toad, it is not you who need fear an untimely demise due to an overabundance of seriousness but we, your devoted sycophants, who may be dooming ourselves with our sincere paeans to your pictures and prose (ie. "a great deal of sincerity is absolutely fatal"). Although, seeing as the sincerity is clearly aimed in your direction, perhaps you'd do well to wear some of that "protective clothing" that the factory for which you toil so devotedly produces in ever-increasing abundance.

But seriously, (oh dear, moving ever closer to the grave...pardon the pun) I do enjoy the comments left here because they often make me notice things I might have missed, or offer a point of view quite unlike my own, which makes me look with different eyes or, at the very least, a new shade of lipstick.

...louciao... said...

PS. Thank you for your kind offer of a bouquet of wilted roses draped over a tomb. But why tamper with perfection?

Olga said...

Hi!I am your new follower.
I look forward to each new post.

lgsquirrel said...

Very interesting post. But did the girls not prefer to kiss a living photographer instead of the tomb of a dead poet?

Roxana said...

!!!

Owen, this has blown me over, wow!!! not only because i am totally and forever in love with Wilde, but this kisses-ritual, with all its touching and kitschy aspects (i hadn't been aware of it either!), the ladies with blood-red lips, the fading roses: everything has a rather surreal touch to it, an attempt to "aestheticize" death - perhaps Wilde would have smiled at this, both ironically and tenderly.

thank you so much, so much, for this timeless story...

Peter said...

Oscar died in 1900, but the tomb is more recent (1914). I don't know how this kiss habit started, but I know that his family (grandsons or whatever) are upset about it. Although he married and had two sons, I also wonder to which extent Oscar would have appreciated these (mostly) female kisses? :-)

One of his lovers, Robert Ross, ordered the tomb and has also a little place there.

Catherine said...

How fascinating - I had no idea of this kissing tradition for Oscar!! In Buenos Aires a lit cigarette is always kept burning in the hand of Carlos Gardel the great tango singer - looks like an interesting topic for research....know any more??

Jilly said...

What a fabulous post, Owen! I've never visited Pere Lachaise but the one grave I'd want to visit (and of course I'd want to stroll for hours) is this one. I'd heard of the kissing and read about it before but have never seen photos such as these, the detail of the kisses and the girls preparing. As for the dying roses, that made me cry. Wilde was a genius - end of story and how he suffered. Too too awful.

▒▓█► JOTA ENE said...

ººº
Beautiful shots...!

Nathalie said...

How flabbergasting !
I'm so glad you caught the young girls in action and they kindly agreed to be photographed. Your two first portraits are just brilliant!
The frozen roses are wonderful too.

Love this post!

Deborah said...

Owen, I always feel like I'm stepping into another world when I come here. Your posts are like living books, for lack of a better description. and like some others here, I really enjoy the back-and-forth in the comments section - your posts inspire real conversation, not just compliments. I almost said 'flattery' but that does not do your readers' appreciation justice.

Owen said...

Hi Margaret, I do think the French appreciate him today, though the last years of his life here were far from pleasant. Will have to try to find a picture of his monument in Dublin, wasn't familiar with it, but chances are it has been blogged about or Google images will turn something up...

Owen said...

Dearest Saj,
Well if you took 300 photos of each subject, sooner or later you might just find one in focus ! Wonderful what the digital age of photography has done for totally inept and bumbling (perhaps partially inebriated)(or maybe just drunk on life) photographers such as myself.

So are you saying you'd still keep coming back if the photos were out of focus ??? What was that Beatles song... When I'm 64 ? Will you still feed me ?

Owen said...

Robert, If there is anything after this short brief spark of our existence, he must be living it up, getting his revenge on the cruel world that put a man such as he in jail... I would like to think so...

Owen said...

Lydia ! You have floored me ! Too kind by far !
:-)

Owen said...

Lynne !
Instead of speaking of sycophants, I think you might mention smarty pants !
:-)
Just kidding, and indeed, I can only thank the stars that a few kind and intelligent people seem to have found some sort of continuing source of interest, amusement, stimulation, whatever here, and tend to leave fascinating comments, comments that leave this Mr Toad hopping along trying to keep up with the quantum leaps of imagination and wonder which keep appearing here like magic... Very fortunate, I'm not sure what I'd do if a post turned up 250 comments all saying "Beautiful photo"...

So, off to your lipstick collection ! I'll see you once you've dressed up those lips.

Owen said...

Olga, I will do my best not to disappoint...
;-)

Owen said...

Dear Lone Grey Squirrel...
The young and honorable ladies in question pretended to ignore my very presence, though they could not help but notice me a few feet away, snapping several photos of them, while they were photographing each other. But yes, sadly or not, no invitations were offered to partake of any theatrical kissing by Wilde's tomb... sigh... Perhaps they were hoping for someone who looked more like (name whatever heart-throb young actor you care to think of)...
:-)

Owen said...

Ah Roxana, it is hard sometimes to be in love with people who have passed before... but I can understand... If only we could go back in time...

And for "everything has a rather surreal touch to it, an attempt to "aestheticize" death", most certainly, it was rather surreal, the entire tombstone with a male sphynx character on it. Apparently the male sculpture was anatomically accurate in most every way, but certain features got broken off more than once, it was rumored that a cemetery administrator used one bit of stone as a paperweight... saw that in an article about the tomb somewhere. Amazing what turns up if one scratches a bit !

Sort of like Jim Morrison's tomb which had a sculpture of his head on it, which got stolen... people are greedy...

Anyway, I am so very happy you enjoyed this... I hope someday you can come to Paris, and we can go for a stroll in Père Lachaise, it is a magnificent place.

Owen said...

Hi Peter, you are right I think on all counts... there are some very interesting articles out there on the net about his tomb, though it doesn't seem very clear as to who exactly started the kissing business... but I did see a story where his grandson was interviewed, and was not happy about potential damage to the stone from all the lipstick grease soaking into it. And I couldn't see, while looking at it, where the part was that held RR's ashes, but maybe I didn't look closely enough, or maybe it wasn't meant to be seen. I'll take another look the next time I'm down there...
Thanks so much for weighing in with that info...

Owen said...

Hi Catherine, that must be quite a bit of effort to keep a lit cigarette going around the clock, around the calendar, in all weather ??? There are so many interesting stories out there, I don't necessarily go hunting for them, sometimes they just sort of leap into my lap...
:-)

Owen said...

Jilly, my goodness, I can only imagine that you must have passed through Paris a few times, and hopefully will pass through again before too long... and Père Lachaise is a must...

It is beginning to look like we will have to organise a blogger day at Père Lachaise, and do a group visit... there is so much to see there. Well, do give a shout if you'll be coming up to Paris...

Owen said...

Hi Jota, many thanks for stopping in here, the more the merrier !

Owen said...

Hi Nathalie, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, because the young ladies in question didn't stay long, and James and I didn't stay too long there either... synchronicity I guess... glad you liked it, this may be the first time the word "Flabbergasted" has been used in a comment here... I shall remember, and will try to continue on occasion to bergast you, but we can leave the flab out...
:-)

Owen said...

Dear Deborah,
Thank you ever so much... living books... that does sort of sum up the thought process... when I have time, which is not always, I do try to create a train of thought, and hopefully entice people to jump on the train and ride a little while. And you are so right, as I said to Lynne above, it is always amazing to me to see what people are going to leave in the comment box here, am always deeply touched by the sincerity and the audacity and the imagination that seems to animate many visitors here... could it be a case of "birds of a feather" ??? Or should I say, "frogs and toads of a mind croak out loud together ???"
:-)

James said...

I had a feeling that you woud do a wonderful job of bringing this moment back to lfe. These beautiful photos tell the story so nicely!

Mimi said...

Hi there, I was drawn here by a comment you left on Aglio, Olio...blog.
This is a fascinating post, knew he was buried in Paris, but the lipstick thing is brilliant.
And I've enjoyed your wonderful photos too. Off now to follow.

Jilly said...

Owen, I haven't been in Paris since I fell in love with photography, not that that is a reason not to have visited Pere Lachaise. A bloggers meeting there sounds a brilliant idea except - for the moment anyway - I couldn't come as I can't leave my last rescue dog. When she has gone to her 'Pere Lachaise' then yes please!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Don't those young women realise he was gay?

Appalling and touching desecration at the same time. Great photos as ever.

Pastelle said...

Je suis contente, j'ai appris quelque chose ce matin.
Et vous avez eu de la chance de tomber sur de belles jeunes filles pour les photos des baisers. :)

Gwen Buchanan said...

Fabulous post Owen. so glad you shared this.. Your photos are gorgeous! He would have approved!