May 1, 2012

Chopin, and a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

I've been listening to a lot of Chopin lately.  I like classical music, and I often put it on as background while reading.  Amazon had a whopping eight hours of Chopin for $2, so I couldn't pass that up.  Gorging myself on Chopin for the past few weeks has made me think of my aborted piano lessons.  I wish I could play the piano.  If I tried, I could probably still read sheet music and pound something out, but it would not be good, and I could never play anything like Chopin.  Christmas carols, Beatles songs...Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I didn't get far in my musical education.  I know the exact reason why.  I started two things the summer after I turned eleven: piano lessons and riding horses.  Horses won easily, and the piano was abandoned. 

My mother, however, could play quite well when she was younger.  I'm allowed to say that because she would be the first to admit that she is out of practice from not playing for years.  But, I have seen the impressive and intimidating sheet music from all the classical composers she used to play.  The piano in my parents' house is the one on which she herself learned.  In fact, the thing I still play the best is the duet she taught me when I was eleven.  After hearing the stories about her piano teacher, I'm amazed my mom learned anything.  Well, maybe they were more about things being done to her piano teacher.  I seem to remember one about someone hiding on the stairs of my grandparents' house and sending spitballs her way.  The teacher blamed it on my uncle, but it was my grandfather!  Anyway, having attempted to learn to play the piano myself, I feel like I have a greater appreciation for Chopin.  I experienced firsthand how difficult it is and how accomplished you must be to play his music.  And, ultimately, how beautiful and moving it is. 

Now, having said all that about Chopin, I'll share a photo I took of his grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  I should note that Chopin's heart is buried separately in Warsaw.

Père Lachaise is an extraordinary cemetery situated on over one hundred acres in eastern Paris.  It's in the 20th arrondissement, if you want to get technical.  It can be overwhelming.  To find specific graves, the purchase of a map is a must.  The cemetery is a who's who of impressive people.  There is an exhaustive list here, but the non-famous far outnumber the famous.  Let me share a few more photos I've taken there.  First up is Oscar Wilde.  Wilde is brilliant and witty and known for writing The Picture of Dorian Gray, among other things.  This is how his grave used to look.

All those red marks- those are kisses.  People put on lipstick and kissed his monument as a tribute.  Someone had even drawn a face on it here.

The caretakers of the cemetery kept finding it necessary to clean the grave, so Père Lachaise recently decided to do something about it.  The stone was made pristine again, and a glass barrier was erected to prevent further graffiti.  No, I did not add my lips to those seen above.  But, knowing that now I never can kind of makes me wish I had.  Père Lachaise says that the grease from the lipstick and the cleaning it necessitated were eroding the stone, but the kisses were such a touching display of adoration from Wilde's fans.  This was a man who was sent to jail for being gay, was forced out of England, and died in poverty.  I wish he could have seen this outpouring of love. 

Molière was one of the first "big names" to be buried in Père Lachaise.  He and Jean de La Fontaine are buried next to each other.

Honoré de Balzac and Gertrude Stein are also buried here.

You can see in the photo of Gertrude Stein's grave how crowded Père Lachaise Cemetery is.  Jim Morrison's grave has been repeatedly vandalized.  It used to have a bust of Morrison.  Now it is a simple stone marker.  A guard is stationed there, and a metal barrier keeps visitors from getting too close. 
I could go on and on about all the people buried here, so let me just mention a few more:  Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Bizet, Colette, Eugène Delacroix, Ferdinand de Lesseps (architect, Suez Canal), Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, and Georges Seurat. 

Bellini and Rossini both were originally interred in Père Lachaise but later had their remains moved to Italy.  You can still see their tombs.  Maria Callas, also from the world of opera, had her ashes buried here.  After the ashes were stolen and later recovered, they were scattered at sea, but her memorial remains.  

It's not only the graves of these inspiring people who contributed so much to our culture which makes this cemetery a great destination.  It is a serene place in a busy city.  It is so large that while a lot of people may visit every day, it doesn't feel packed with tourists.  There are unique headstones and mausoleums.  Père Lachaise is a beautiful place. 


  1. Great post. I particularly liked this observation: "It is a serene place in a busy city." I think that's why I like cemeteries.

    As the poem tells us, "The grave's a fine and private place, But none I think do there embrace."

    (A Fine and Private Place is also the name of a book by Peter Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, and it's really pretty neat.)

    1. Thanks! I think you, Jen, and Lily would enjoy Père Lachaise Cemetery.


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