New York writer Robin Glasser moved to Paris for three years to live with her French lover. Later, she wrote about the experience in her book My Life as a Concubine, available at Smashwords. During her time there, her lover’s loathsome brother Pierre and his dog Racine came to stay with them. The following account of her encounter with Pierre and her walk through the Père Lachaise cemetery is adapted from the chapter entitled “Pierre Moves Out.”
Escaping the hellish house guests—my lover’s smelly brother Pierre and Racine, his ancient, incontinent mutt—I decided a trip to Père Lachaise would calm me down. After all, what could be more relaxing than a walk in a cemetery and Père Lachaise happened to be among my favorites. It was roughly an hour’s walk from our apartment house to the dead zone. The July day was hot but not unbearable—like some fungus-footed canine lover I knew. The exercise would do me good and clear my head.
The vast plot of land was originally owned by Père Lachaise, Louis XIV’s confessor. In 1804, the estate became a burial ground. Urban planner Nicolas Frochot, who developed the cemetery, persuaded authorities to replant Molière, La Fontaine, and Abélard and Héloïse there and the bone yard quickly became a symbol of the rich and famous.
Horoscopically speaking, if your planets are aligned you might luck out, find a ghostly guardian, and get a free plan of this monumental resting place. Even with a map, it’s difficult to find your way around the immense necropolis. The first time I visited this city of the dead sans lover, I was fortunate to attract the attention of a groundskeeper who gave me a guided tour. Being French, he wanted to give me more, but that’s another story. The map shows all the stellar grave sites. It’s a virtual Who’s Who of the dead, featuring such luminaries as Victor Hugo, Maria Callas, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Chopin, Proust, and Jim Morrison.
For those of you not in the know, the infamous American rock star’s shrine is a major tourist attraction—on par with le Tour Eiffel. The French being, well French, aren’t too pleased. Pilgrims to Morrison’s tombstone are not exactly religious types. Rather, they’re the pot-smoking, flower-stealing, let’s-get-down-and-dirty sort of worshipers who know how to party. In fact, the guardians of Père Lachaise have concealed a camera inside an old gas lamppost to keep tabs on the rock-and-unholy-rollers. A chain-smoking policeman has also been posted to keep the uproar under control. Personally, I doubt that there’s any film in said camera and the bodyguard, euphemistically speaking, is usually elsewhere, doing something better with his time.
Like any cemetery lover, I had priorities—the older the final resting place, the better. An impressive number of the departed reside in mausoleums big enough to house an army! Many of these deluxe dwellings for the dead are constructed of imported Italian marble. They contain stained glass windows, museum-quality statuary, obelisks, cherubs, angels, and other such funerary folderol. Wrought-iron fences, serving as deterrents for trespassers, surround the lavish domains.
As I stumbled along the cobbled streets of the cemetery, gazing at the incredible array of corpse chalets, an idea struck me. Pierre could live here. Several of the tombs made our apartment seem about the size of a pup tent. It was quiet. There were plenty of trees for Racine. To me, this plot of paradise had to be a thousand times better than squatting in an abandoned building. I decided that a visit to Oscar Wilde’s grave would be the perfect place for me to mull things over.
As usual, the rapier-witted writer’s tombstone was littered with mementos. Most of the offerings were from gays. However, lipstick stains, which I surmised had been left by women, smeared the smooth stone. Notes—some clever, some not—candles, flowers, even articles of clothing added color and fragrance to the Irishman’s burial plot. I later discovered that the prominent penis of an angel guarding Oscar’s tomb had literally been hacked off, never to be seen again.
Another tomb that I found interesting was the burial plot of obscure journalist Victor Noir. His monument featured the sculpture of a man lying as if shot—which he was—in a duel. There appears to be a healthy erection inside the trousers of the bronzed body. Legend has it that by rubbing the crotch and placing a flower in the sculpted hat next to Noir’s effigy, a woman is guaranteed to get married within the year. The shiny spot definitely stands out, signaling that legions of women have fondled this area in hopes of waltzing down the petal-strewn aisle.
Although I wasn’t happy about facing my house guests from Hades, I took le Métro home. Luck was on my side. The place was deserted—quiet as any tomb, with the exception of Jim Morrison’s.
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