Friday, June 5, 2009

Joyeux Anniversaire à Moi

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Yesterday was my birthday, celebrating 47 years of mostly enjoyable life experiences with only the occasional poignant moments, and also celebrating 22 years (almost to the day) since I started travelling the world.

For various reasons … accrued long service leave; a habit of converting all overtime into holidays rather than being paid in cash (and I work in IT, with mainframe computers, so there is lots of on-call and overtime to be worked, at times when everyone else is asleep or enjoying their weekends); regularly leaving jobs and taking extended periods of time off work; following my brilliant research academic wife on her research and conference tours of Europe and the USA … I have been leaving Australia and adventuring overseas for about two months every two years on average since I first got a taste of life overseas.

And it is this which I think is important in life and what I like to celebrate; seeing new people and places; experiencing (to some extent) other cultures; hopefully making new friends … I also love meeting old friends in other countries; seeing life from another perspective; wandering through different markets or architecture. So I like to travel and do so as often as I can.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

It has been even better in recent years. This particular trip we are in Paris for 4.5 months and no longer have a permanent home in Australia. Last year we were in Los Angeles for 6 weeks, with the occasional side trip to Vancouver, Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon. We spent three months of the “summer” of 2007 (wetter than any of our winters in Australia) in Exeter which also included many side trips to Europe. Anyhoo, I digress.

So, what did I do to celebrate the (to others perhaps very scary) milestone of 47 years on this planet? I believe one should celebrate their birthdays, not necessarily with gifts or expenses, but with a joy de vivre and a search for experiences. But what did I do, you (the solitary reader of this blog) ask yet again? I went to the third largest “green space” (i.e. the third most heavily wooded, I would stop short of calling it a “park”) in Paris, which also happens to be a place for the dead … Père Lachaise cemetery.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

Don’t read anything into my visiting a cemetery to celebrate my birthday, I have visited many cemeteries around the world, including the three main cemeteries in Paris (Père Lachaise, Montparnasse and Montmartre) and still plan to revisit Montparnasse Cemetery where Serge Gainsbourg (amongst one or two others) is buried. I enjoy wandering through and looking at many of the ancient structures these cemeteries offer. Père Lachaise particularly contains some very gothic tombs and statuary.


We started the day with a late breakfast of a half bottle of very fancy French champagne, a selection of patisseries and some lovely fresh fruit. Our journey across Paris was on foot, we walked the few kilometres from the 4th arrondissement in the centre of Paris where we live, through the 11th arrondissement which contains the Bastille and up to the 20th arrondissement which Père Lachaise dominates.

Père Lachaise cemetery was created in 1803 and contains 47 hectares of hillside consisting of trees, tombs, wreaths, roses, gravestones, gravel, cobbled paths and crows. It contains the remains (or tombs) of personages such as the famous doomed lovers Héloise & Abélard (currently under repair); artists such as Amedeo Modigliani, Max Ernst, Camille Pissaro and Eugène Delacroix; performers including Edith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas; the writers Marcel Proust, Molière, Honore de Balzac, Colette … and for the English speakers amongst the ruins, the remains of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

I first visited Père Lachaise on my first visit to Paris in 1987. At that time my best mate and I were driving across Europe and we met up in Paris for a few days with two of our closest friends, who were on a separate world tour. Together the four of us celebrated our world travels with a picnic lunch in a quiet corner of the cemetery with Dr Ant Ritti.

Today I was celebrating with my darling wife, and as fate often decrees with the coincidences of life, on our wanderings off the cobble-stoned paths (as is my want) we stumbled across an area which was vaguely familiar and contained the remains of Dr Ant Ritti. An interesting coincidence indeed considering the fact that Père Lachaise cemetery shelters the remains of some 70,000 “people”.

The cemetery is still in use today, and apart from the groups of mourners attending to their own recently departed, the largest number of visitors in any one location were tourists who flocked to the (now fenced off) grave of Jim Morrison.

Pere Lachaise cemetery

I had a wonderful warm spring day ambling through the ancient tombs, many decorated with rose bushes wafting sweet scents. Five hours later we walked home through Paris again, taking a different route this time, stopping for a very nice millefeuille at one of the nicest patisseries in Paris, Lenòtre.

They are two of my favourite things to do in Paris, taste the patisseries and bread products and to just walk the streets of Paris … and always along a different path.

1 comment:

Édouard De La Vendange said...

Excellent. Sounds like my sort of birthday. Père Lachaise rocks!