One of my favourite places in the whole world has to be Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It's easy for me to lose a few hours just walking the cobbled streets contemplating life and death in the knowledge that I'm surrounded by the once great and good of Paris.
My camera is usually out as I look for yet another "perfect" picture that will capture the spirit of the place. From the simple stones laid for the more humble to the family crypts to the more grandiose stones and sculptures that hint at a great life once lived, to the memorials that surround the cemetery all moving and all inviting you to stop and reflect at the horrors of war and the concentration camps used during that time and finally to the plaque commemorating the plight of the communards. There I am, ready to click, It's all there.
As the years have passed and my affection for the great city of Paris has grown many of those lives now fully lived have left a mark on me, none more so than Jane Avril. This simple website bears testimony to that.
But who are the others who I'll be visiting this time round? Who will I spend a few moments with to reflect on their lives?
First and always will be Jane AvriI. I will spend a little more time and make a little more fuss as I always do.
Who are the others? Well, this is my list: -
French philosopher Peter Abelard and his one time lover Héloïse.
Jean-Dominique Bauby - French Journalist. A man who was struck down by locked in syndrome and wrote the most moving book I ever read. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. All dictated by the wink of an eye. There are many ways to gain perspective on life, this book helps me achieve it over and over.
Sarah Bernhardt - French stage and film actress.
Frédéric Chopin - Polish composer and for me the greatest of them all. His heart is entombed within a pillar at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. It is where his heart belonged.
Eugène Delacroix - French romantic artist.
Jacques-Louise David - Napoleon's court painter was exiled as a revolutionary after the Bourbons returned to the throne of France. His body was not allowed into the country even in death, so the tomb contains only his heart. A truly great artist!
Loie Fuller - French dancer.
Yvette Guilbert - French actress and singer. A truly great artist in her own right and also immortalised by Toulouse - Lautrec. But for me she is remembered as a friend of Jane Avril who was so kind to her in her later years when her friendship, time and talent was required.
Georges Haussmann - French civil engineer and town planner. The Paris you enjoy today is because of him. Raise a toast to him the next time you sit in a café or bar.
Edith Piaf (The Little Sparrow) - French singer. No regrets! A little singer with a massive voice.
Marcel Proust - French novelist, essayist and critic. I promise here to read more of your works.
Gertrude Stein - American author.
Alice B Toklas - American author, partner of Gertrude Stein, Toklas' name and information is etched on the other side of Stein's gravestone in the same sparse style and font.
Sophie Blanchard - First professional female balloonist and the first woman to die in an aviation accident.
Finally, Oscar Wilde - Irish novelist, poet and playwright. By tradition Wilde's admirers kiss the Art Deco monument while wearing red lipstick, though this practice will no longer be allowed because of the damage it has caused to his tomb, which had to be repaired and encased in glass. Personally, I'm thrilled by this. (refer to previous blog entries to read more on this subject). I'm looking forward to seeing Jacob Epstein's sculpture clean for the first time.
So there it is, the lives that have touched mine. I suspect as the years pass by more lives that rest in this most beautiful of places will be added to my list and result in another excuse to visit my favourite city.