Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blaise Pascal, Jean Racine and the patron Saint of Paris

OK so these two are interred in St. Etienne du Mont, and not in an outdoor burial ground, the main focus of this blog and my Paris cemeteries website. But hey, they are, after all, two of the great luminaries of French cultural history. Anyway, located just across from the backside of the Pantheon this church is probably often overlooked by many tourists. They walk throuugh the hallowed halls of the Pantheon to pay their respects to the great figures of French history and probably never think to slide around the corner and stop in at the seemingly unremarkable church sitting in the back corner.

But that would be a mistake. Once inside you'll discover this is an amazing piece of artwork in wood, stone and glass.

In fact this very space was quite probably the location of one of the very first Christian churches built in Paris. Originally built in honor of Saints Peter and Paul, by Clovis, king of the Franks, he had the church rededicated to Sainte Genevieve (422-512) who was the patron saint of Paris (she reportedly turned Attila away from the gates of Paris). The first chapel was built around her crypt in the sixth century and subsequently extended and enlarged over the centuries. (That's her sarcophagus below.)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a mathematician (he wrote a treatise on projective geometry at the age of sixteen), physicist and religious philosopher. He also became one of the great French prose writers and his wit and insight reflected in works such as the Pensees, is still a touchstone in Western literature. (His death mask is below.)

Jean Racine (1639-1699) is one of the great French dramatists and poets, certainly one of the great tragedians of the 17th century, and is read widely today for his elegant and simple style of writing.

A wonderful little detour. and aftewards you can take the five-minute stroll over to the Place Contrescarpe for a coffee or aperitif. How about that?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chapelle Expiatoire

The Chapelle Expiatoire, or chapel of atonement, which contains the remains of some 3,000 people guillotined during the French Revolution, is closed until the middle of November while repair work is being done on the garden surrounding the vaults.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Montmartre surprise

I was in Montmartre cemetery tracking down several people -- residents of course -- when I came across quite a pleasant surprise.

One of my objectives was to note the information on the two large, perhaps the largest, monuments in the cemetery. Both are side-by-side in division 29 and front onto avenue de Montmorency. The tall obelisk belongs to the Duc du Montmorency-Luxembourg; the other, a much larger and grandiose structure simply notes "Kollitsch" and then below it "Sepulture Marc Lejeune." The grill on the door to the Lejeune mausoleum was a bit high for me to look through so I used my camera to take several photos of the interior. The results were astounding, as you can see below.

It is quite rare these days to find an older masoleum interior in such good shape -- and the colors are still vibrant and quite striking.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

General Andranik and Armenian independence

You may recall news stories within the past year regarding France's hard-line position on the issue of whether Turkey committed genocide in 1916 when various elements of the Turkish government systematically and wantonly exterminated more than a half million Armenians. France says that Turkey committed government-sponsored genocide and wants Turkey to admit it. Turkey says, no it won't admit to something that isn't true. It doesn't deny the deaths of a large porportion of the Armenians living in Turkey during the war but says it was not "genocide."

Anyway, France has a long history of affection for the Armenian people, many of whom fought alongside French troops during the First World War (when Turkey fought on the side of, ahem, the Germans).

Besides the grand monument to those soldiers who fell fighting for France (at the edge of division 88 along the avenue des etrangers mort pur la France) in Pere Lachaise, you can also find one of the most illustrious heroes of Armenian independence, General Andranik (or Antranik, 1865-1927). Andranik led the Aremnian volunteers fighting alongside the Russians against the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria and their ally Turkey. After the war he went into exile settling in Fresno, California, where he lived until his death. His remains were sent to Paris for burial, the communist authorities refusing to allow his body to be brought back home to Bulgaria where he had been born. In 2000 his remains were at last returned to Armenia.

Although he is no longer buried in division 94 (just around the corner from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, of all people), General Andranik sitting his jumping horse, waving his sword and leading his men forward, still cuts a most striking figure. (see photo above; photos below are details from the statue.)

A fan visits Marcel Marceau's grave

I met David on the path seperating divisions 9 and 10; he was trying to inquire from some workmen repairing a headstone, where he might find Marcel Marceau's grave. They seemed eager to help but were at a loss of trying to (a) understand what he wanted and (b) help him find his way. I was walking by and overheard his pleas for assistance so I quietly butted in and asked if I could help.

He replied in a very British accent that he wanted to find Marceau's grave as he has a few things he wanted to place on it -- he had heard that there weren't many in attendance at the funeral and was concerned that the great man's memory was already being lost. So here he was to make a small contribution to set things right.

I handed him a cemetery guidemap -- I always keep a half dozen or so handy for just such occasions and end up giving most of the out every time I go to the cemetery.

He said "no thanks," he had no idea where he was and would I be so kind as to show him the grave. He was most insistent on his lack of map-reading skills and appeared really so eager to find the grave that I said I'd be happy to show him the way. It was only a few-minute walk over to division 21 and so off we went.

Moments later and we were standing over the mound of flowers that had been left in wake of the funeral last week. (Get it, "wake"?) David then pulled out a sheaf of plastic-covered small posters, each imprinted with an image of Marcel and a little bit about his life. He then placed them around the flowers and I took his photo. He seemed so pleased to be able to do this for someone he felt had made an impact on his life.

I then pointed him toward the way back to the main gate. He thanked me and off he went smiling.

Wish you had been there,


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Fall at Pere Lachaise

This was shot looking over division 70 in Pere Lachaise cemetery, on Tuesday, 2 October. Fall is most certainly here in Paris notwithstanding the sticky, humid and otherwise summer-like weather.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Marcel Marceau is in division 21

For those of you looking for Marcel Marceau's grave it is smack in the middle of division 21, Pere Lachaise cemetery, just across Avenue de Saint-Morys, from the chapel and Adolphe Thiers' huge mausoleum. There is no marker yet but plenty of flowers to guide you.