Of Artists and Potatoes

Strolling through cemeteries isn’t for everyone…but I’m one of those people who find it fascinating. For me, it’s incredibly interesting to meander through a cemetery and contemplate the lives of all the people laid to rest. In virtually every cemetery, you’ll find soldiers, children, mothers, fathers, young adults and the elderly and they all graced the planet for their little moment in time…just like you and me.

Given that, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite things to do in Paris is to wander around Le Pere-Lachaise. This cemetery was opened in 1804 in an ancient park and it’s the last resting place for a lot of very famous people. So, this morning, John and I took our guests — The Seifers and the Millers (who joined us on Sunday) to Le Pere-Lachaise.

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On this visit among the dead, we ran into a retired head waiter, Gerard, who served as our tour guide for a “petite” fee, of course! One of the most popular residents in La Pere-Lachaise is Jim Morrison of The Doors. Gerard took us on the grand tour with our first stop to lay a rose on Jim’s tombstone. It saddened me to see that since my last visit in 2010, the cemetery had been forced to place a gate around Jim’s grave to deter vandals. But, there’s always a crowd around Jim’s final resting place, and Gerard explained that the initial headstone featured a bust of the famous rocker. It was stolen and was replaced  with a duplicate copy of the bust which was also promptly stolen.

Upon entering Le Pere-Lachaise, you can go into the cemetery’s administrative building and ask for a map which is a necessity since you don’t always run into a walking encyclopedia like Gerard. The 160-plus acre cemetery is divided into divisions and the flip side of the map lists all the famous residents and their location within the cemetery. Le Pere-Lachaise is the final resting place for scientists, doctors, and creative types like Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Marceau, Oscar Wilde, Yves Montand, and other people of note — from politicians to Gertrude Stein. Of course, many of the people interred at Le Pere-Lachaise are known to the French, but not to an American visiting. My favorite was Monsieur Parmentier who brought potatoes to France in the 1700s — resulting in les pommes frittes.  What American doesn’t like french fries? Well, you have Monsieur Parmentier to thank for french fries!

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People love ’em because they visit his grave and in lieu of flowers — leave potatoes.

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