The Adventure, Continued: Cimitière Père Lachaise


The Parc de Belleville, 18 November 2009

This is my second posting of the day. On Thursday, I wrote some of my musings as inspired by fellow blogger Betsy Shaw (see here), but I did not get to the point where I was ready to post the blog, so I revised it a little today, posted, and now am continuing what I had hoped to finish yesterday and did not: the last part of new friend Karen’s and my adventure to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, the Parc de Belleville, and Cimitière Père Lachaise.

The Adventure, Continued: Cimitière Père Lachaise

I have already written about the first and second parts of the adventure of my new friend Karen and I went on here and here. The third part of our adventure was to the Cimitière Père Lachaise, what is possibly the best cemetery in the world!

I love going to Père Lachaise. Part park, part sacred ground, it is 118 acres of a visual feast. I love to photograph there as there are so very many fascinating headstones, statues, and other memorials. The colors and textures are beautiful. Plus there are the resting places of so very many famous people for both the French and residents of other countries: Frédéric Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Berhardt and, the Lizard King — Jim Morrison of The Doors.

Karen and I walked from the Parc de Belleville to the cemetery.

Parc de Belleville - Mappy

Map from

We exited the park at the southwest at the Passage Julien Lacroix (the little sticky-outy bit at the south of the park where Rue Julien Lacroix joins Rue des Couronnes). We continued east on the Rue des Couronnes to the Rue Henri Chevreau and then south to the Rue de Ménilmontant.

rue henri chevreau - mappy

Map from


The park around our point of exit at the Passage Julien Lacroix.


Karen noticed this sign on the side of what appeared to be an apartment building on Rue des Couronnes.

Hmmmm. RAPE 66? We were really wondering what that could be about!


We saw a lot of paintings on buildings like this. I have noticed these in the area around the Canal Saint-Martin, too. Some take trompe l’oeil to a whole new level! Some are just fun like this one.

I think this one must have been on Rue Henri Chevreau. I know it was before we got to the Place de Ménilmontant, which on the map up there is where you see the green bit with the cross in the middle of it on the Rue de Ménilmontant.

That’s because these photos are next:


This plaza is where the l’Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix is located.

Just to let you know the crazy things that go through my head as I write, I put in and took out the “the” in that sentence about five times. The “L” with the apostophe there means in French either le or la — depending on the gender of the noun which it precedes (no idea if “eglise” is masculine or feminine, but I am guessing feminine, so “la”) — which is “the” in English. It is contracted there because it precedes a vowel. It is bothering me on some level to be writing what amounts to “the the Church of Our Lady of the Cross,” but it sounds stupid in English without the first “the” to my internal ear. What’s a writer girlie to do in these situations, eh?


The l’Eglise de Notre Dame de la Croix



This is the photo from the Parc de Belleville with the church in the distance:


Something else that made me understand that Karen is a chica I can really be in sync with is that when we were discussing which route to take to the  intersection of the Boulevard de Ménilmontant and Avenue Gambetta in the map down there, either the Rue Duris route or the Rue des Amandiers, she spoke up and said “I think the Rue des Amandiers because I like almond trees!”

Amandiers, as you might have guessed, means “almond trees.” I love a girl with my kind of logic. 🙂 We did not take the route that seemed the shortest distance, but the route that sounded the coolest based on its name. So, Almond Trees Street it was.

Rue des Amandiers - Mappy



A side street off the Rue des Amandiers.


More trompe l’oeil, which by the way I have learned since coming to France is pronounced “tromp loh-eeee” with a slight little “yuh” at the end, which is how the “L” is not pronounced. Ahhhh, French pronunciation!

(You might want to click on that photo to see it larger in Flickr. It really is very cute to see the things going on in each “apartment” there in more detail. Also, I just said “tromp loh-eeee-yuh” to myself about five times, extending the “eeee” each time, until I had myself in giggles. See? Total weirdo am I! I remember doing that as a kid though: saying a word over and over until it sounded absolutely ridiculous. If you don’t know what I am talking about, try it sometime! I guarantee you will wind up giggling, too, or your money back!)


And still more trompe l’oeil. (I bet you said it out loud that time and giggled, didn’t you?! :D)


An apartment courtyard.


This is the plaque on the side of an apartment building which says:

In the memory of



MOYEN Raymond

MOYEN Alkmar Julie

Deported and killed by the Nazis

and of

ZALKINOV Noél   Father

ZALKINOV Fernand  Son

Members of the French Communist Party

Shot by the Germans

9 August 1942

I wrote about Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key in the previous posts about Karen’s and my adventure, especially in my post about the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. It was touching and interesting to see a plaque such as this pop up out of nowhere, yet another memorial to the atrocities that happened during World War II in Paris.

We saw more memorials, too. I have noticed on various school buildings in the 19th arrondisement this plaque. We came across another one like this one earlier in our day, too:


It basically is memorializing the 390 children who lived in the 19th, especially the ones who attended this school, and who were exterminated by the Nazis from 1942 to 1944. It says that they were innocent victims of the barbarism of the Nazis with the complicity of the Vichy Government, something I wrote about in that previous blog. I added the italics there as that part of the plaque is so important! The barbarism of the Nazis has never been disputed as official party line in France. The italicized portion there is an indication of the shift in official policy ever since the 1995 speech of Jacques Chirac where he condemned the role of the French government and its law enforcement branch as being “complicit” in the Nazi regime in occupied France.

Interestingly, Karen’s and my touching upon this part of Paris’ history was not over with seeing the plaque memorializing the family up there. More on that in a bit.

From the map below (the link connects directly to the cemetery map, not in general, if you care to see the whole of it), you can see how the Rue des Amandiers meets Place Auguste Métivier/Avenue Gambetta. I usually go into the corner entrance of the cemetery there. It is across the street from where M° Père Lachaise, Lines 2 and 3, exits at the Boulevard de Ménilmontant.

entrance - pere lachaise - mappy

I am also so in love with Google Maps! I love how it is possible to zoom right in on actual photographs of the area in question. The below is a screen capture of the same stuff in the map above it.

Google Maps, Cimitière Père Lachaise.

To play “virtual tourist,” click on the link there and then click on the “Street View” link in the description of Père Lachaise.  (You may have to first click on Point A to be able to do that. In fact, by doing so myself, I learned the link takes you to the Rue de Repos entrance, one I do not know about. If you click on “D,” the Métro Père Lachaise, then “travel” down the Blvd Ménilmontant to the south, you can see the entrance I usually go in at the northwest corner of the cemetery.)

entrance - pere lachaise - google maps

A closer view of the intersection near the Blvd de Ménimmontant entrance to Père Lachasie.

entrance - pere lachaise - google maps02

And, the screen capture from Google Maps of the street view of the Blvd de Ménilmontant entrance. There is usually a guy with a map stand at that entrance (the stone doorway there on the right) selling cemetery maps for about 2 €. I *highly recommend* that you buy a map. I use mine every time I go there as Pére Lachaise feels like a small city unto itself!

pere lachaise - menilmontant entrance - google maps

(I am kind of laughing at myself with this post at this point. I *dearly LOVE* to get these screen captures and maps and show you exactly where I have been and how YOU can get there, too! It also really helps me re-live the experience and then be able to write about it, recalling each and every street traveled, and what I saw there. My oh my I love the Internet! It is a reader and writer’s dream-come-true to me.)

Ahhhhh. Okay, so where was I? That’s right: map of the cemetery. GET ONE. Spend the two euro to have one! I know they are also sold in the flower shop there to the left of the stone doorway entrance.

A word to the wise about the cemetery, too: wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to get some exercise. This would not be the kind of place to bring the 85-year-old mother and the three-year-old. Nor anyone who has bad knees or feet or any other kind of impairment involved with walking. This is not going to be a wheelchair-friendly place, either, not that France, in general, is friendly that way. They are working at it, but at a snail’s pace compared to the States. I wish it were different for folks who have special needs, but it is not, unfortunately. Maybe in the future it will be different. For now, though, please experience this virtual tour. I mean, with the Internet, you can see it all! The wind may not be blowing in your hair, and you may not feel the sun on your face, nor the rain on your back, if it is that kind of a day, but you can at least get an idea about what it is like there.

Oh My Goodness, Now What?

I actually, at this point in this post said out loud, with a great sigh, “Oh my gaaaaawd!”

I have so many photos and so many things to write about this journey.

I think what I am going to do at this point is choose my Top Five photos from the afternoon, post them here, and then go over to the Flickr Set of this afternoon and annotate the photos there with descriptions that are more specific to each photo. How does that sound? I am already feeling like, at just over 1,800 words for this post, that I could write a WHOLE NOVEL just based on this one day! LOL! And it is exhausting me. But, I still want to tally words for NaNoWriMo to see how far past 50K I can go, so I will push on just a wee bit more.

Before I post the five photos, though, I would like to write about first, Héloïse and Abélard, and second, a woman we encountered when we got to the main entrance within the cemetery, which is a little further down Blvd Ménilmontant.

Karen and I met her while we were looking for the memorial tomb of Héloïse et Abélard.

Héloïse and Abélard

The Wikipedia article on Père Lachaise, in the section called “Origins,” says the following;

At the time of its opening, the cemetery was considered to be situated too far from the city and attracted few funerals. Consequently, the administrators devised a marketing strategy and with great fanfare organised the transfer of the remains of La Fontaine and Molière, in 1804. Then, in another great spectacle in 1817, the purported remains of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse were also transferred to the cemetery with their monument’s canopy made from fragments of the abbey of Nogent-sur-Seine (by tradition, lovers or lovelorn singles leave letters at the crypt in tribute to the couple or in hope of finding true love).

Pierre Abélard was

a medieval French scholastic philosopher, theologian and preeminent logician.


At the tender age of 22, he set up his first school in north-central France, and then moved closer to Paris where his teaching became well-known and he had quite a following of pupils.

I love how the same Wikipedia article expresses the next bit of information, so I am just going to quote it rather than get more creative on my own:

Distinguished in figure and manners, Abelard was seen surrounded by crowds — it is said thousands of students — drawn from all countries by the fame of his teaching. Enriched by the offerings of his pupils, and entertained with universal admiration, he came, as he says, to think himself the only undefeated philosopher in the world. But a change in his fortunes was at hand. In his devotion to science, he had always lived a very regular life, enlivened only by philosophical debate: now, at the height of his fame, he encountered romance.

Oh la la! Romance!


Painting from 1822 by Edward Blair Leighton: A Scene of Abélard Schooling Héloïse

Héloïse, young, certainly beautiful, and very intelligent, was living under the care of her uncle, the canon Fulbert, as his ward, when Abélard sought a position in Fulbert’s home as tutor to Héloïse. He set about to seduce her and was successful. Abélard became something of a braggart about his conquest, the affair was apparently also interfering with his teaching, and they were found out by her uncle. He forbade them to see one another, but they continued to meet in secret. Héloïse got pregnant, and upon this discovery was sent off to Brittany by Abèlard, where she gave birth to a son and named him “Astrolabe” after the navigational instrument.

[Aside: BWAH HAH HAH!!! ASTROLABE!! Hahahahahaha! Poor kid. Reminiscent, too of Hollywood parents naming their children interesting things as well, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s daughter “Apple.” Only this was in the 12th Century, A.D.]

In an attempt to smooth Fulbert’s ruffled feathers and unsully his reputation as a teacher, Abélard proposed a secret marriage to Héloïse. Héloïse initially rejected this proposal, but still they married.

The Wikipedia article states what happened next:

When Fulbert publicly disclosed the marriage, and Héloïse denied it, she went to the convent of Argenteuil at Abélard’s urging. Fulbert, believing that Abélard wanted to be rid of Héloïse, had him castrated, effectively ending Abélard’s career. Héloïse was forced to become a nun. Héloïse sent letters to Abélard, questioning why she must submit to a religious life for which she had no calling.

[Aside: Castration ending Abélard’s career??? Career as what? Stud stallion? I do not understand that part. I guess one has to be acculturated into 12th Century mores to get that one. Sounds like there was a major misunderstanding, though. Oh, miscommunication! This has the markings of a Shakespearean tragedy à la Romeo and Juliet, no? I wonder if Shakespeare knew about these two when he was crafting his tales for the stage. I’m sure he did. There are even some very cool modern cultural references about Abélard and Héloïse.]

So, Abélard joined a monastery, re-started a school, got disillusioned, took joy in irritating monks (he is sounding kind of like an annoying, arrogant smartypants, this Abélard!), and then he was allowed to leave the monastery. This next part makes me laugh. When all else fails, go turn into a hermit, wear a hairshirt, and build a hut out of sticks!

In a deserted place near Nogent-sur-Seine, he built a cabin of stubble and reeds, and became a hermit. When his retreat became known, students flocked from Paris, and covered the wilderness around him with their tents and huts. When he began to teach again, he found consolation and in gratitude he consecrated the new Oratory of the Paraclete.

Héloïse, meanwhile, became a well-respected nun, accepted fully her religious fate, eventually becoming an abbess in the Paraclete. They wrote letters to one another in which she expresses her resignation to her and Abélard’s being as spiritual brother and sister to one another, in holy love. The Wikipedia article on Héloïse says the following about this period of time:

About this time, correspondence began between the two former lovers. After Abélard left the Paraclete, fleeing persecution, he wrote his Historia Calamitatum, explaining his tribulations both in his youth as a philosopher only and subsequently as a monk.

Héloïse responded, both on the behalf of the Paraclete and herself. In letters which followed, Héloïse expressed dismay at problems Abélard faced, but scolded him for years of silence following the attack upon him, since Abélard was still wed to Héloïse.

Thus began a correspondence both passionate and erudite. Héloïse encouraged Abélard in his philosophical work and he dedicated his profession of faith to her. At one point, she tells him to share every detail of his life and not to shield her from unpleasantness.

Ultimately, after telling Héloïse of instances where he had abused her and forced sex, Abélard insisted he’d never truly loved her, but only lusted after her, and their relationship was a sin against God.

Some scholars consider Abélard was attempting to spare her feelings (or his feelings, altered from disrupted hormones [from the castration]) and others point to the damage of his hormones and psyche, but from this point on, their correspondence focused on professional subjects rather than their romantic history.

There are sections both of the Wikipedia articles on Héloïse and Abélard referring to religious intrigue and persecution of Abélard and his eventual expulsion from the Paraclete, but what stands out the most in the remainder of it is this piece of information. Upon his death in 1142, his last purported words were:

I don’t know.

Oh my! Could not have said it better myself.

His remains were given into Héloïse’s care at the Paraclete, where she was still abbess. Upon her death in 1163 or 1164, she was supposedly buried with him there at the Paraclete, and, after several moves of the remains, they allegedly rest together as of 1817 in Père Lachaise.  Some say they do not rest there, and it is only a memorial; others say it is only Abélard’s remains there.

This website says the following about Héloïse and Abélard:

The two were ultimately reunited, in death and burial, at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the 12th century. They are buried in the same crypt and are the oldest residents of that famous address. The abbesses [sic] who added Heloise’s body to Abelard’s crypt swore that his arms opened to receive her in an eternal embrace.

Regardless, it is a monument dedicated to life-long romance, and thwarted romance, and tragic romance. ***SIGHHH***

Here is my photo of the crypt, which is covered by scaffolding most of the year as it needs constant refurbishing after Valentine’s Day, when allegedly hundreds gather to leave messages with hopes,wishes, and desires for true love, according to a self-appointed tour guide we ran into at the cemetery.


That’s Héloïse on the left, when standing at the foot of the tomb. The somewhat odd, wild-eyed and wild-haired self-appointed cemetery guide (I wish I had snapped his photo) told us the dog at the foot of the tomb was a symbol of fidelity.


We were to discover unofficial guides such as this are a bit common in the cemetery: people who love the cemetery and are knowledgeable about it want to show people to different graves. They hang about and walk around looking for people with whom to share information. As far as we could tell, Karen and I did not think they wanted money for any services rendered. They just seemed to want to talk about the cemetery and tombs. Maybe we were naïve about the whole thing, but it was interesting to hear the man we ran into speak about this crypt. We ran into another man later who offered to take us to Molière and La Fontaine’s tombs. We let him show us. He did not ask for remuneration, and in any case, neither Karen nor I had small change to offer so we did not try to give him any money.  I am uncertain about the role and desires of these folks who hang about, waiting to show people where graves are, but she and I took advantage of the situations and learned a lot. It was also useful that Karen spoke French as one of the guides we ran into spoke only French.

The Interesting Woman

But not the anonymous woman who came up to us, clearly a tourist as well, but also clearly a French one. She was probably in her 70s, a petite woman, with white hair in a chignon, wearing glasses, and who was smartly dressed in a practical, older French woman sort of way. She had her map in French with names written on it (not Jim Morrison, although he is the cemetery’s number one resident in terms of visits) and areas circled in pen. When she first saw us, she must have taken us for French women, for she started talking to us in French. Karen tried to keep up, but then when I turned to Karen and said something in English, the lady said, in English, “Oh! You speak English! I could tell from your expressions you were not understanding me completely,” and proceeded to negotiate the rest of the conversation in English. She was so excited, exuberant, to be searching for all the famous people on her list.

What was most interesting was, out of the blue, she started talking about, guess what, of all things? The Vichy Government during the war. I understood from her comments that she had been a child during wartime in Paris. She spoke about the fear, and the disgust she had for complicit French collaborators with the Nazis, some of whom she was saying were buried in the cemetery.

It was so curious that fresh after finishing Sarah’s Key, Karen and I ran into yet more evidence and conversation about this dark period in Paris’ history.

I enjoyed that woman so much. Her spirit and enthusiasm were contagious. I remember thinking about her when we were conversing with her for the time we were,  I hope I can be like her when I am her age.

Also, it was her, when I said I was from Colorado and living with my “boyfriend”  in Paris, then waxing on about how it seemed silly to call an almost 50-year-old man (he is 46 next week, and will likely bristle a little at the “almost 50” part, but it is true!), my “boyfriend,” she looked me in the eye knowingly and said, “He is the l’amour de ton coeur.”

She could not have been more correct. Thank you, delightful woman, whoever and wherever you are, for that knowing and understanding phrase.

Top Five Photos for the Day

In conclusion, here are my favorite photos of the cemetery that day.


A statue I had never seen before in the six or so visits I have made to the cemetery.

Offerings. A 26-hour candle, and a moldy orange.

Karen, leaving a lipstick kiss on Oscar Wilde’s grave.

Mr. Fucker and Me

And last, but not least,


Intricate Shadows

If you made it all the way here, thank you for reading it all! This was such a wonderful day spent with Karen, and it really will go down as one of my best ever in the city because of all the serendipitous things we saw and did.

Until later then, I am Your,


an alien parisienne

Categories: NaNoWriMo, Paris Adventures, Paris Friends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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5 thoughts on “The Adventure, Continued: Cimitière Père Lachaise

  1. Pocketful of Shells

    ACK! I’m dying to get back now. 🙂

    • pariskarin

      Coolest view evah!! So yes, please return so I may showeth thee. 🙂

    • Lauri

      Me too, Ms. Pocketful! I’m so worried about my finances right now, but I must find a way to get to Paris. If we can coordinate times, I would be très heureux.

  2. Ken

    I know it is a bit morbid, but have these wonderful cemetaries full of history and people of note made you think about where you want to be laid to rest? I believe that I will be creamated and scattered with nothing to mark my existance exept a memory that will fade into oblivion as those who knew me die out of simply forget me. The idea of a headstone/memorial came up in that blog I made about my brother as to the question of where such would be appropriate. Would it go to where we we born, to where we died, to somewhere special to us inbetween? Where should our memory live on? Why were so many ex-pats burried there?

    I just remembered something that struck me years ago when I worked in San Francisco. Just blocks from where I worked were many buildings that housed the San Francisco Academy of the Arts and yet the graffiti in that area usually consisted of pretty pedestrian “tagging” while so many other areas of the city had some of the most creative, artistic and spectacular graffiti I’ve seen. Just seemed odd to me.

    A memorial to an entire family that were probably burried annonomously and would not have been rmembered outside of their own family exept for thAt memorial which keeps not only their existance alive, but the circomstances of their deaths and that period in history. Hmmm.

    Yanno, I’m a bit like those unofficial cemetary guides when I’m in parks (or on the street as I’ve shared information about Palo Alto, San Francisco and other places when passing visitors. I’m just annoying that way)there is just a certain satisfaction from being a “know-it-all”.

    • pariskarin

      Oh I like walking in cemeteries, but only want to be in one as a live person. Dead? Yeah, cremate me and feed a tree.

      “Why were so many ex-pats burried there?” They were living in Paris as residents when they died.

      That is kind of an ironic contrast with the graffiti situation you mention! I was noticing yesterday that the graffiti in our neighborhood seems to have increased — or at least I was noticing it a lot more. Maybe it is just that the leaves have fallen off the trees, exposing what was already there.

      I think you are right that the people in the cemetery acting as unofficial guides do get satisfaction from being there and talking to people. The older man who showed Karen and I Maria Callas, Yves Montand, and Molière had lived next to the cemetery his whole life he had said. It truly did seem like he just loved it there & wanted to show us a couple of places!

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