‘Hey you – Kangaroo…allons…catch up.’
We were in Pere-Lachaise Cemetary – the most visited cemetery in the world – and had managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost. Of course, we could have booked ourselves on one of the tours of the cemetery, but that clashed with being able to visit the Bastille Markets – and we really wanted to do that. Besides, booking a tour would mean we’d need to be there by a certain time and what if we saw something interesting on the walk on the way there?
No, a tour, whilst tempting, would be way too constrictive – we’d do it ourselves instead. How hard could it be? I’d uploaded a map – okay I’d taken a screen dump of the map showing the important graves – but nothing had prepared us for the sheer number of them – and the size of the cemetery.
Although Paris residency was the only qualification you needed to be buried here, among the notable are the writers Proust, Gertrude Stein and Colette; the composer Chopin; Edith Piaf. Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison; painters Seurat, Modigliani and Delacroix; and the dancer Isadora Duncan.
We quickly found Colette’s resting spot but from there we struck trouble and I had to admit the unthinkable – I had no flipping idea where to find Edith Piaf or Oscar Wilde, let alone Jim Morrison.
Just as we were approaching the first of the hills in the cemetery – which sits quite high over Paris – we come across a middle-aged man with long black hair and wild eyes holding a worn clipboard holding equally worn papers. He’s talking to an American couple outside Chopin’s grave and he reckons he has a shortcut to Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde.
We tag along – him calling me Kangaroo the whole time. Of course, we know that he’s an unofficial guide and that he probably ropes people like us in all the time, but he’s hilarious so we don’t care.
Along the way, he points out graves of people of interest and tells us about the history of the cemetery. There have been a million people interred here over the years, but, he says, not that many here now.
‘You know what happens? Kangaroo, do you know?’
‘No, why don’t you tell us.’
‘Barbecued,’ he says, indicating his head towards the crematorium. As an aside, that’s not strictly correct – and not at all respectful – but we’re getting the idea that neither respect nor accuracy is that important to him. Besides, we’re too busy trying to keep up with him.
‘Allons Kangaroo,’ he says again. I wave his words away and continue to take my photo.
‘How much do you reckon this will cost us?’ asks hubby under his breath.
We see another American woman looking for Edith Piaf. ‘She died,’ our “guide” says, completely deadpan. She doesn’t smile.
At Monsieur Noir’s grave we all – except for hubby – rub the….okay Mum and Dad, if you’re reading turn away now….we rub the very worn stone at his, well, crotch. Apparently, it’s good for one’s sex life and fertility.
‘How many children do you want?’ our guide asks the American couple who he calls Chicago.
‘We want twins,’ says Mrs Chicago.
‘You both better rub very hard then,’ he tells them. They each place one hand on his crotch and one on his foot – no, I don’t know why either – and lean in to kiss each other. I hope their wish comes true.
Judging by the worn nature of the ahem area, plenty of other people have tested the theory. I could tell you a story about how the legend came about – it has something to do with when Victor Noix, a 21-year-old journalist, was shot through the heart by Napoleon III’s nephew in a botched duel, a certain part of his anatomy – but no, I won’t go any further because I suspect my mother is still reading.
Eventually, we find Edith Piaf and Bugatti – who has a seriously tiny headstone for someone who invented such an expensive car.
At Oscar Wilde’s grave – which has a glass screen around it now to protect against the lipstick – our “guide” leaves us and heads back down the hill to find more tourists needing a shortcut to Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde. He’s 50E richer (we gave him 20E) and we’ve laughed steadily for the last half hour or so.
As for us, we went looking for Jim Morrison…and, after joining forces with some other tourists, eventually found him.
We walked up via the Bastille Markets (more on that next time). It was an easy walk through a part of Paris we otherwise wouldn’t have walked through.
You can, however, catch the metro – Père Lachaise or Phillipe Auguste.
If you want to take the tour – a friend of mine recommended this one – it takes 2 hours, runs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and costs around $25USD per person.