Monday, December 10, 2007

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

We visited the cemetery during our last full day in Paris, last Wednesday.

Paris is a site of multiple perspectives, multiple struggling forces, a plurality of currents sometimes cooperating and sometimes competing. This is fully reflected in the Père Lachaise. The cemetery seemed to me to be a site of free expression, within the boundaries of acceptable communication about the dead (and such boundaries are relatively loose and negotiable) and political struggle. Royalty being royal, military heroes glorifying their sacrifices, communists and socialists (graves piled with flowers) displaying the symbols of revolution for a better life, Holocaust victims and survivors... As in other parts of Paris, the self-reflection and contradictory nature of the French state, and French civil society, was apparent in the very design of things, in the the way the materials were themselves arranged, from the stone work and symbols to the layout of the whole place to the management of the many trees and bushes growing in it. This feeling is difficult to describe in writing, but maybe the photos will help make sense of it.
A vast, town-sized cemetery with neighborhoods of graves along twisting cobblestone paths, separated (regimented, like much of Paris's attempt to regulate the chaotic) by "divisions."

I'm standing next to the Communards' Wall, where the leaders of the Paris Commune were executed. I was overwhelmed by the understated nature of that memorial, as well as the fact that it wasn't mentioned in any of the "official" tourist literature on or in Paris. I knew what I was looking for only because I had read extensively about the Commune a couple of years earlier. A very important site, in a cemetery likely shared by some of the Communards' executioners.

The communal grave of many activists, most famously Paul Lefargue and Laura Marx Lefargue, married best friends who took their own lives together when they felt they were growing too old to do any more good...Paul wrote a wonderful pamphlet entitled "The Right to Be Lazy," and Laura, of course, was the most Marxist of Marx's daughters.

Various symbols, from the socialist Prometheus to a Rodan-like sculpture by a lesser-known sculptor.
Jim Morrison's grave after the removal of the famous bust that was always getting vandalized and stolen. I'm not a Morrison fan, btw...and even suggested to Andrea that a great punk cover would be a picture of one or both of us flipping off the grave. But we had come all that way, why not see it...
This cat was the only live animal I saw personally at the cemetery, and it seemed to me to be very determined and purposive in sitting in that particular location.
Memorials of the Shoah in general, and specific Holocaust survivors and victims, were especially disturbing, underscoring a kind of rebellion against the holiness of cemeteries...


Anonymous said...

Those Holocaust sculptures are haunting. Some of them were identified with particular victims or survivors?

Why the aversion to Jim Morrison?

matt said...

They were identified mainly as monuments to Frech complacency, deportation, and holocaust victims in general, but in several instances survivors' and victims' graves were there too.

Andrea and I don't hate Jim, but we aren't fans: not really our kind of music (I mean, everyone likes SOME old rock band or another, for me it's the Beatles, for Andrea it's the Who) and the Doors' catalogue seems rather repetitive and uninspiring to me. So it's a little punk sensibility and a little personal unenthusiasm.

Renegade Eye said...

That was an incredible post. Who would think of visiting a cemetary, while in Paris? Mot Moulin Rouge?

Great post.