Paris Lockdown 2.0: Week 3

Père Lachaise Cemetery draws a small crowd on a sunny Sunday. ©Lisa Anselmo

Here we are at the end of Week 3. I’ve stopped whining now. I guess that’s what’s called acceptance.

This Tuesday night, President Macron will tell us our fate for the holidays, so we’ll see how jolly we’ll be. Until then, I’ve decided to take my wellbeing into my own hands. I’m doing Qigong every morning. I’ve cut out sugar, and cut down on excess fat and salt. And I’m getting the body moving because, let’s face it, confinement is the new smoking.

So, every day I take a walk—good for both body and mind. I never have a plan; I just start walking and follow my whims. Today, I wandered into the 20th arrondissement, which is still in my 1K confinement zone (I live on the cusp of three districts: 11th 12th, 20th). I found myself on one of my favorite streets, a tiny lane that leads to Père Lachaise Cemetery. The cemetery gate was open, offering me a shortcut to home. So I took it.

©Lisa Anselmo

It was a beautiful day, and I wasn’t alone. There were others taking the same stroll—couples, families, friends. The cemetery has its share of visitors thanks to its size, beauty, and famous residents from Edith Piaf to Oscar Wilde.

A celebrity resident. ©Lisa Anselmo

I’m not sure why people like cemeteries so much; in Italy they even picnic in them. I also like to explore a good cemetery now and then, especially old ones like Père Lachaise, although the last time I was here was for the funeral of a friend. The last two times, actually. I suppose that’s a sign that I really live here.

Père Lachaise Cemetery ©Lisa Anselmo
Sepulcher buddies. ©Lisa Anselmo

It’s not so much the celebrity residents that interest me at Père Lachaise; it’s the regular folk—the families who each have a sepulcher, like little houses of the dead lined up in this neighborhood of souls. And just like in life, the richer you are, the bigger and more showy your home.

How the rich die. ©Lisa Anselmo
Very swanky. ©Lisa Anselmo

I don’t find cemeteries depressing (unless I’m burying someone). And they’re not macabre to me at all. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m Italian and we’re a fatalist breed. My mom and her sisters’ favorite pastime was talking about who died over coffee. “You know how died?” “No! He was only 72.” Or maybe, being the youngest in my family, it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in them.

But when you think about it, for all the people buried under the ground, cemeteries aren’t for the dead. They’re for us, the living—a place where we celebrate the life of someone we love. And it’s the only place where, even if you’re a nobody, you get a monument. Maybe that’s why cemeteries don’t bring me down. It’s a place of lives remembered. And that’s always a beautiful thing.

Remembering all the souls lost to Covid-19.

Here’s little of what I saw at Père Lachaise Cemetery:
So sweet. ©Lisa Anselmo
The sun shines through the stained glass windows of this lovely sepulchre. ©Lisa Anselmo
A couple strolls along this cobbled lane. ©Lisa Anselmo
The new grave of celebrated Algerian-born Kabyle singer, Idir, who died this past May in Paris. I found it quite by accident. ©Lisa Anselmo
This crow could not have been more perfectly perched. All we need is Vincent Price. ©Lisa Anselmo
Reflections on the window of a sepulcher. Many have lovely stained glass windows in them. ©Lisa Anselmo
A rare glass sepulcher. ©Lisa Anselmo

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9 responses to “Paris Lockdown 2.0: Week 3

  1. Lisa – thank you for sharing your stroll through Père LaChaise cemetery. I’ve strolled there a number of times and found it very serene and beautiful. There was a pet cemetery a block down the street where I grew up, and the first house I lived in when married backed up to a cemetery!

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I’ve been to Père Lachaise many many times but you really captured its magic and I love your observations about being a place where the living celebrate the life of someone. I hadn’t thought of cemeteries that way but of course you’re absolutely right.

    • It occurred to me while I was walking around. It’s especially noticeable because of the elaborate sepulchers, which are rare in the US outside of Louisiana. They just scream monument. I saw a family of 3 generations when I was there, complete with toddling baby. There was laughter, and couples walking hand-in-hand. It was hard not to see life and joy in that place. I’ve learned that death and life are parts of the same whole, just as sadness and happiness are part of the same life.

  3. I too find strolling through Pere Lachaise meditative and peaceful-and the glass sepulcher is stunning. While I’m planning on cremation and my family doesn’t visit relative’s graves (morbid sidebar, sorry!), I am fascinated by cemeteries. First time I was at Pere Lachaise I was in college, and the Jim Morrison grave was still accessible, I placed flowers and photographed away. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving from NYC-it’s a strange one, to be sure. However you spend it, hope it’s a lovely one.

  4. Are those chestnuts in the heart shape on Proust’s marker? If they are, do you know their significance?

    I’ve never really read Proust, so I have no idea.
    I, too, find cemeteries to be peaceful places, unless I have immediate reason to be there. Then, I’m just overwhelmingly sad.

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