Sunday, November 22, 2009

72 Million Bodies

Saturday began at the bright, sparkling hour of... 11:00 a.m. (Did I mention the jet lag?) To balance, we were out until midnight or so on Friday - but still, there was a disproportionate amount of sleep involved, even for my mother... who is known far and wide for her ability to subsist on long blinks.

Sarah and I officially missed the hotel's breakfast, which was a buffet of simple cereal, yogurt, croissants (plain or chocolate) and various drinks, but Mom and Mary liberated a basket of breads and jams for us, so we weren't left to face the day without sustenance. The hotel also provides a free "picnic lunch," which means a pre-wrapped sandwich (tuna or chicken salad) and a bottle of water. Around 5:00 on Sunday afternoon, Mary and I sat, propped up against the wall overlooking the Seine, at the Place de St-Michel near Notre Dame and the Conciergerie, and inhaled our sandwiches. They were the best sandwiches in the history of sandwiches... or perhaps that view was tainted by starvation brought on by several hours of walking. In any case, it was one more reason to be quite pleased with our choice of accommodations.

Anyway, once vertical, we showered ourselves conscious. (In typical European fashion, the shower is a tiny, coffin-sized-but-vertical box, but here the water pressure is such that my hair is entirely conditioner-free within about 10 seconds flat. No mean feat, that, since I've got thick, long hair normally and it's only enhanced by the pregnancy.) And then off we went - our destination, the Père Lachaise Cemetery, permanent home of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and various other famous types.

It was, to say the least, picturesque...


Rumor has it - and by "rumor," I mean, the weird guy who appointed himself our tour guide for 20 minutes or so - that there are 72 million bodies within the cemetery walls. He pointed out a few things, explained a few others, and then vanished - but not before delighting us with a sing-songy, "Bar-be-cue, bar-be-cue, everybody bar-be-cue," to explain how many people can be housed in one smallish area... never having heard "cremation" referred to as "bar-be-cue" before, we were stunned enough that we didn't think to offer him a pourboire until he disappeared just as abruptly as he appeared.

Beyond the photos from above, I did have a few favorites...

This guy just amused me. I'm sure he's someone important and the statue is intended to be quite impressive...


...but without a blade, it looks a lot like he's saying, "Hey.... somebody stole my pointy thing! Help! Somebody stole my pointy thing! Quick! I think they went that way! Help!" Poor guy.

And this was an interesting combination, to me. From above, which was where we first saw it, it looks a lot like a soldier threatening the poor, innocent woman, with a child trying to distract him or call for help, down below:


But then, upon closer, ground-level inspection, it's actually a much more dignified soldier, with a child adding sentiment to a potentially austere monument. And the lady next door was apparently entirely unrelated, and just randomly happens to appear intimidated by his presence.


Another odd combination, occurring on the same grave:


This was a common motif among the graves and carvings, though it took me a while to notice it. Once I did - and realized the symbolism is not too obscure, because where other than a cemetery is there a stronger reminder that time flies? - then I saw it everywhere:


Apparently it is a tradition to place a kiss upon the grave of Oscar Wilde. That which I know about Oscar Wilde could comfortably fit into an espresso cup with room to spare, but, hey, if everyone else is doing it...


Note: My kids complain that there aren't enough photos of me when I go on vacation, since I'm the one holding my own camera. I know that there is at least one photo of me snuggling up to the gravestone, as well... once I get access to my companions' photos, I'll show up a bit more often here...

After several hours and hundreds of photos - seriously, I'm only posting a handful of the total I took here... and Sarah took so many her camera battery died. We're a clicky bunch, apparently - we escaped and headed toward the Left Bank. Sarah and Mom were considering climbing the tower of Notre Dame, but arrived about 15 minutes after the last group was allowed in. Mary and I peeked in at a bookstore and a street vendor or two, and then opted for the Sandwich of Wonderment, as mentioned above.


We then wandered back to the Eiffel Tower, with plans to take the elevator to the summit. I made it about 20 minutes into the two-hour-long line and my body announced, "Hey, guess what? We're done here." I just got tired, and sore, and overwhelmed, and had an intense need to get horizontal as soon as possible. So I left early, returned to the hotel and recharged my own batteries for a bit. The others had a lovely time at the top of the tower, and I'm sure photos will eventually surface.

There it is again! I told you, I cannot stop taking pictures of this thing.


DeltaDawn said...

Can I come next time? Loved Pere Lachaise - waht a wonderful and strange place. We had a lovely meal down the hill from there in '02. The cats are a bonus, bien sur!

Those sandwiches are the best ever - no matter how hungry one is - you're eating them in Paris on real French bread.

I so adore Paaris and am SO jello - as kitschy as it is, the Eiffel Tower is so beautiful at night.

How's the weather?

Alli Kat said...

Kate, dear, your photos are making me long for Paris again. I think I may have to insist on a trip one of these years with Mike - I fell in love with the city when I was there, but sadly only had about two days.

Knitorious Drivel said...


Love the pictures and the commentary! But don't worry about the number of pics - my husband's motto is "electrons are free!

Hope you have a wonderful time!

Baino said...

Since my life's mission is to go to Paris and apart from the Third World, I am arguably the only person not to have been there . . .these are awesome, awesome, AWESOME!