Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Almost Infinite Père Lachaise . . .

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In Paris for an appointment on Monday morning, I couldn't help but take a short stroll through Père Lachaise Cemetery on my way home, given that I was already in the neighborhood. Père Lachaise is such a vast and dense burial ground, an almost infinite open air museum, that each time I venture into those criss-crossing alleys and winding paths of memory and history, invariably I come away amazed at all that can be found there, even when simply wandering at random, without the use of a guide or map, as I did the other day. While treading the cobblestone streets or remote corners along the cemetery walls, one can find all manner of fascinating memorials and funerary artwork, or touching details among objects left in veneration and mourning at the solemn place of eternal rest for a loved one. It is always a challenge for me to choose among the photographs taken therein, to select a few to share with you out of the total. The other day I made over 150 photos inside those ancient walls, what follows is just a handful. And appropriate for an entry on Julie's Taphophile Tragics meme out in Australia.
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This first caught my attention when I stumbled on it by chance; a foot surgeon who had cared for the toes of those no less than the brother of Louis XVI, the imperial Napoleon and Josephine, and who later ministered to the podiatry of Charles X. Quite an illustrious career for Tobias Koen who lived to be well over 90 years of age. I wonder what tales he could tell of such remarkable toes, nails, arches, or insteps, and what royal odors he may have been thus subjected to as an occupational hasard, what insights into their elevated souls he may have gained through studying their soles ? 
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An angel's wing, ready to take flight toward destinations unknown...
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A cherub performing a disappearing act, disintegrating into grainy, sooty oblivion...
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Fallen flowers with feather; forgotten, faded, forlorn... (but photographed)
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A minimalist crucifixion, headless, armless, legless, harmless...
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A cluster of ragged reproduction roses, worn, frayed, tired, but retaining their rosy colors and rosy forms...
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When I took this photo of a lovely praying young beauty, I failed to notice the two ladybugs who had settled in close communion in her sculpted hair...
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From both fore and aft she radiated loveliness...
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Père Lachaise is on a hilly piece of ground, and thus is built up on several levels, some requiring stairways to ascend or descend from one area to another...
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One can find all sorts of stories there, like that of this Iranian Kurd leader, assassinated in Vienna in 1989, but buried in Paris. Mysteriously the three people allegedly responsible for his murder were allowed to leave Austria and return to Iran. No one ever stood trial for his death, nor the deaths of the two other Kurd representatives who were killed with him.
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Before coming upon this tombstone by chance I'd never heard of Jean-Baptiste Clément, nor his well known song "Le Temps des Cérises". A fine example of why wandering in cemeteries can be a culturally enriching activity.
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This small angel had lost her wings. What sort of brute would break the wings off an angel ?
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This grave looking young man died in captivity in Germany during WWI at the age of 21, having served as a machine gunner during the war. He now gazes into an impenetrable distance.
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Although I searched a bit I couldn't come up with any details about L. Barbot, who is remembered as a historien of Père Lachaise. But my searching did lead me to a website about cemeteries that I had not come across before containing large numbers of photographs and much other information about cemeteries, primarily in Paris and France, but with many entries from other places in the world... if you have minute do take a look at lescimetieres dot com.
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Finally for today one last tomb of interest found during a haphazard exploration is that of René Mesmin who died while making a second attempt to establish a distance record by flying from Paris to Tokyo in 1931. A first attempt had already ended in failure with the loss of an aircraft and a brush with death over Siberia, but he persisted, and the second effort proved fatal. Searching for information about Mesmin led me to another website I had not previously come across, which also contains a wealth of information and photos about Père Lachaise : the APPL, which stands for Amis et Passionnés du Père Lachaise... Friends and people passionate for Père Lachaise Cemetery. Happy hunting. Or should I say, happy haunting ?
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24 comments:

French Girl in Seattle said...

What a fantastic place le Père Lachaise is, even after so many visits-- an odd thing to write about a cemetery, admittedly. There is so much to see there, if one has a observant eye and a curious mind. Loved seeing some of the well-known residents (Jean-Baptiste Clément) as well as some anonymous guests. I felt sad for the young "Poilu" who died in captivity in Germany during WW1, or the poor little angel who lost his wings. Great job, Monsieur Toad. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Le Journal de Chrys said...

La photo de la statue à la tresse, les mains jointes est magnifique!

Nevine said...

Your photos are simply stunning, Owen. I am especially fond of the second and third photos, but every one of them is special in its own beautiful way. So lucky to have stumbled by, today!

Nevine

James said...

Another wonderful tour of this fascinating place! I especially liked the two photos of the young woman with the ladybugs on her head.

Steve said...

Yet again you prove that cemetaries are places where the living should spend more time...

Herding Cats said...

Fantastic post, such amazing pictures and such a rich history. maybe one day I'll get to visit Paris, but not for it's famous tower.

Céline said...

J'y suis allée une fois, en automne il y a près de 15 ans... et voir tes photos me rappellent que cet endroit est "magique", tellement de choses à voir, d'histoires à s'inventer ou à revisiter, et un indéfinissable charme.
Et je suis d'accord avec toi, quelle brute celui qui a arraché les ailes du joli chérubin !

Patricia said...

You grabbed my heart with the bouquet of tattered roses.
Wonderful post and images!

linda said...

Now, this is a place I would like to visit before I die!
Owen, your photographs are so very beautiful abd poignant. I love the one of the anfel's wing, and the cherob with the broken wings, and those tattered cloth roses,-still defiantly colorful!
Bravo!

I love the internet!

hamilton said...

I have an acquaintance who once spent 10 days in Paris solely to visit this cemetery. He saw little else of the city, though I am not sure if he meant to go back at a later date to see other highlights of Paris. I can see spending several days wandering through here.

Julie said...

Informative, delightful, and full of wit, Owen. You are a treasure. I have not taken those two links as yet, but will do so after this comment. Will also record the links on my own Taphophile Tragics site.

I wandered up and down PLC during my most recent visit, April 2011. It was my third such visit. One could visit annually until ones own death and still not exhaust its joys and insights.

You have a delightful way of telling the story with snippets of image. I do like this method very much.

Thank you so much for your contribution to Taphophile Tragics this week.

Alistair said...

Isn't it incredible - the pull the dead still exert on us through places like this. History really is life and death combined.

I could look at these images all day and never fail to explore a cemetary or two whenever I have a moment and a camera.

Kathy said...

Amazing. One could lose themselves for days in this place.

Pastelle said...

Enorme coup de coeur pour la jeune fille aux coccinelles ! ♥

louciao said...

The ravaged crucifix and the ragged roses really do it for me. Things fall apart. Life goes to pieces. We try to hold on to memories and loved ones, places and faces, but all eventually crumble and fade. I love the "architecture" of the cemetery; the ghost houses stacked higgledy-piggledy; the ornate next to the humble; the byways leading off the avenues. I imagine one could make it a life's work to document all the dead through photographs of their resting places (though I do not believe for one second that anything but their bones reside there) in such a place. Infinite ponderings for endless wanderings.

Catherine said...

I have never been here and look forward to visit when I get back to Paris.....thanks for the wonderful sequence of photos...

Springman said...

It's interesting that many of these stones celebrate the peak experience of the ruddy souls their shadows cover.
Being a plumbers son(such as I am), it never occurred to me to list the most famous toilets my father plunged on his head stone. Tobias Koen's final summation as podiatrist to the Stars rather than Father/Husband is my first giggle of the day. This is not to discount the suffering the good doctor relieved during his many years of service, far from it.
Rene Mesman's memorial is so effective, a tribute to the stone carvers art of capturing in sculpture and a few words the ultimate essence of an intrepid souls flight through life. Are these memorials "twitters" Stonehenge, the condensation of a complicated narrative into a few granite chips?
My dear Philip, it is your special talent to bring the party favors to the House of Pain and lighten the mood of the dearly departed who stressed so in life to make a significant scratch. I know they enjoy our company as much as I do!
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
King Solomon's Grave

Virginia said...

Owen, you do cemeteries like nobody else possibly can. NExt trip, you and I have a date at PL!
Bon dimanche mon ami,
V

Stickup Artist said...

Tobia Koen, foot surgeon to royalty-What a find! And I can relate to the angel with the missing wings. I feel like my wings have been clipped with the recent spike in fuel prices. I love that overview shot with the steps! And how you sprinkled the faded, but colorful flowers in the midst of all the grays and greens. I also love the green wing in front the whitish sky and bare tree branches behind it, and, oh yes, the cracked up Jesus! Scrolling thru again, I'm smitten by the green statue of the girl's back, the single braid, and the cemetery and bare trees filling the background. It all makes me think that we might do better to honor people's lives more when they are here...

Peter Olson said...

You know how I share your passion for cemeteries, so much to see, so much to learn about the buried people ... often just beautiful to watch!

But... JB Clément should of course have been buried at the Montmartre or the Saint Vincent cemetery!

Roxana said...

i see i have the same reaction to this as i had the first time i saw this post: the green rusty angel wing breaks my heart! and then, when i think it can't get any sadder, i see the face of the beautiful praying girl, her long braid, and i want to close my eyes and not look any longer - you see why i avoid visiting graveyards! :-)

Jenny Woolf said...

What an interesting set of pictures. There's something particularly poignant about that fallen feather among the faded flowers.
I find it creepy seeing pictures of dead people on graves but I have to admit it is more interesting and perhaps it helps them to be remembered or considered by passers by.

Why has M. Clement got a holly wreath around him? Is this a particular French thing>? In England it would, of course, signify Christmas..

I too am mystified why anyone would want to tear wings off an angel. I guess the kind of people who desecrate graves aren't much into reflection or examining motivations, though.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

It's taken me awhile to get back to this post because your photos cannot be just flicked through without thought and consideration. Lovely all of them, the fading roses dotted with turquoise, the sad and interestingly departed, and the jolly potted garden showing behind M Barbot. I can just imagine you getting lost in research about the named ones.

MJ Reynolds said...

My first visit to Paris is May 2012, although I have before mentioned Père Lachaise in a Gertrude Stein poem in 1981. So to say the least, I am excited and excited that I made a happy stumble over to this Paris blog via Google+ Blog page.