Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dead white french women - a visit to Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise

Last week we spent a day in Paris visiting the tombs of famous women at the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. The best part of the visit was simply wandering along curving, tree-lined paths surrounded by scads of small, moss-covered mausoleums, looking like the world’s poshest collection of run-down outhouses.

The secret to the success of the cemetery - as with many notable French accomplishments - was Napoleon. He was determined that Paris should get a “modern” graveyard, and to make sure that people would be dying to get in*, he imported a number of France’s most famous dead people into the cemetery. PT Barnum had nothing on Napoleon!

Led by Paris tour guide extraordinaire, Kelly Spearman (ksartantiques @, we visited the resting spots of famous French women. While many of the dead white guys in the cemetery were either good mass murders (e.g., grand marechal xyz) or bad singers (e.g., Jim Morrison), the woman were a uniformly fascinating crew.

The high points of the tour were learning about the wild and wonderful life of Colette, and the love story of Heloise & Abilard. Colette single-handedly jump-started the Parisian hair salon by becoming the first woman in Paris to bob her hair. She also wrote the Claudine series of easy-to-read french books, making her my new favorite author.

Heloise & Abelard have a cosy little mini-gothic mausoleum in a secluded area of the cemetery. Theirs is a love story from the middle ages that makes Romeo and Juliet look like lightweights, go here for a great description of the love affair of Heloise & Abilard.

For more photos of the cemetary, see Paris one photo a day. For a virtual tour, there is a mostly useless but very diverting interactive website plotting all the famous graves at Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise.

Tags: Paris travel

* sorry