The Stories in a Cemetery

Yesterday may have been my favorite day in Paris.

My two Atlanta friends and I decided to hike from our apartment to the Pére Lachaise. We had tried the evening before to go to this famous cemetery, but got re-routed due to a problem in one of the train stations.

Although the distance seemed a bit overwhelming, all of us could stand to walk off a few of the chocolate croissants we’d inhaled, so off we went.

This cemetery was breathtaking from so many angles. The structures, the history, the ligatures on the tombstones, the landscape and flowers.

This 110-acre burial ground sits on the highest point in Paris. It contains 70,000 tombs, all ranging from years 1804 to the present. Architecturally, there is everything from elaborate sepulchers and tombs to glass walls and metal sculptures. All reflect the personality of the deceased and the families left behind.

Each day I’ve been here in Paris, there’s been one little snippet of a story that has stood out in my mind. Today’s happened while we were in the ‘crématorium’, or columbarium, as we may call it in the States.

An unusual sort of fellow came over and spoke to us, gesturing to follow him. His hair was long and flailed in the wind. He was shabbily dressed, none of his clothes quite fit. A disheveled, mad professor type.

He spoke fairly understandable English, but his words and hands flailed about in a staccato manner. Because I hesitated for a moment, he came closer and tugged at the red scarf tied around my neck.

Heck, what could I lose? We were in a public place, in broad daylight. There was a cute young Russian couple with him plus Katy and Claire were nearby, although they were giving me the eye.

This little curmudgeon of a man led us from niche to niche, showing us where celebrities’ ashes were stored. He shared a quick story of each.

But Maris Callas’ story was clearly his favorite – he shared with us her story with such animated passion.

If you’ll remember, she was one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She was known for her long, tempestuous love affair with Aristotle Onassis. Even after marrying the prized Jackie Kennedy, Onassis and Callas’ relationship continued and as many report, it deepened. Maria Callas died of a heart attack just two years after Onassis died. Or, as this little man told us, “she died of a broken heart.”

Oh, next time I come to Paris, I will surely return to this most picturesque burial place. I’m going to look for this little man. He obviously has some great stories that I’d love to hear…and he’ll most happily share with me, I’m sure.

  • Constance Trover
    Posted at 08:33h, 21 September

    Lisa, as you may remember, my father was career military, which, of course, led us to moving a lot. Whenever we got to a new place, the first thing he and I would do was go to as many cemetaries as we could find. He told me that in order to understand and fully appreciate the area we were now living, one had to also understand the area’s past, so that combining the past and present, we could more fully understand the peoples of the community.To this day I cemetary-hop as much as possible….good ol’ dad was a pretty smart cookie. Am so happy you are loving Paris, these memories will last you a lifetime! Luvs ya, Connie

    • Lisa weldon
      Posted at 18:38h, 21 September

      Oh your Dad was so smart! I love old cemeteries!

  • Jane K.
    Posted at 09:16h, 21 September

    What a cool tale, Lisa! When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
    I’d never heard the Onassis connection. Poor Jackie!

    • Lisa weldon
      Posted at 18:39h, 21 September

      I had never heard this story either!

  • Patti
    Posted at 09:42h, 21 September

    Hi Lisa- When you return, you must come visit the Decatur Cemetery 🙂 It is our largest greenspace and we even have a “Walking Tour” brochure entitled, Lives that Made Our City. It is a beautiful and historic place – maybe a great place to gather for an Artist Way reunion.

    • Lisa weldon
      Posted at 18:40h, 21 September

      I’m going to hold you to a personal tour!

  • Buddy Lowe
    Posted at 14:15h, 21 September

    Its the most interesting Cemetery in the World full of History . What was exciting for me , was finding a Tomb with my Mothers last name on it , Keating Family and i have been there many times over the past fifty years and it was only a few years ago that i came across . So , don’t consider one trip as having seen it all . i enjoy your photos . regards Buddy

    • Lisa weldon
      Posted at 18:42h, 21 September

      Oh how cool! This was actually my second trip. You are so right, one trip is not enough. I will be back.

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  • Mary
    Posted at 19:26h, 03 October

    Abelard and Eloise buried there also.