Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Walking Through Time - Pere Lachaise Cemetery July 14, 2009

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” - Moorish proverb

Tuesday found us wandering in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. It is Paris's biggest cemetery and the most visited. It is located on a shady hillside, with many twisting paths and a few stairs here and there. Many famous people are buried there: Honore de Balzac; Sarah Bernhardt; Eugene Delacroix; Isadora Duncan; Max Ernst; Jean de la Fontaine; Marcel Marceau; Moliere; Edith Piaf; Marcel Proust; Gertrude Stein; Alice B. Toklas; and Oscar Wilde, just to name the few I recognize.

But of course, for Americans of my age, the big draw is the grave of Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, who died of a drug overdose in 1971 and was buried at this cemetery. His grave is one of the most visited sites; indeed, it was one of the few that was roped off from the crowd.

Strangely, it was tucked in behind several other graves. It took us awhile as a group to find it. Several tokens had been left on the grave, but one item was missing -- the bust of Morrison had been stolen years ago.

The walk through the cemetery is peaceful and not at all scary. But as we traveled through, I thought, "All these souls were at one time living and breathing on this earth ..." and then realizing that they are but a miniscule percentage of the people who have habited this planet over time. Some had huge monuments raised to them, yet their names are unfamiliar to most who stroll through this place. It truly does give you perspective on the little time we have on this earth.

People are still being buried there. The latest grave I saw was placed in 2008. There were a few that were double plots, but one side was still empty -- its future occupant still living and breathing, I assume.

After leaving this serene place, we took the Metro over to photograph almost the polar opposite of the cemetery -- The Moulin Rouge. It is a big building front with the famous red windmill overlooking a very busy Paris street. We only stayed long enough to snap photos, then rode back two stops to visit Montmartre and Sacre Couer. The Grand Escaliers could take you up to Sacre Coeur, but we rode the Funiculaire, which is a small tram that takes you uphill. The views from Sacre Coeur are wonderful, but because it was Bastille Day, there was a huge crowd already vying for spots from which to watch the fireworks that night. I made a rather quick tour of the basilica, which was beautiful and much simpler than the cathedrals and abbeys of Great Britain, but elegant nonetheless. We caught several glimpses of the Eiffel Tower from there.

Our day ended with a nice dinner at Bar des Huitres (Oyster Bar), and a decision not to brave the crowds to see the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Instead we hunkered down for the night and listened to the "kablooms" from our room.

Tomorrow -- our last official day of classes.

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