It’s been a while since I last stopped by the Pere Lachaise cemetery, but as my little sister and her boyfriend had stopped over for a few days, I took the opportunity to visit with them. My sister lives in her own strange bubble full of child naivety, and I’m always guaranteed she will unintentionally come out with something to make me laugh. Knowing they would only be familiar with a few tombs, I said I’d start with Jim Morrison. After repeating the name Morrison several times I heard a perplexed voice declare, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Morrissey from the Smiths was buried here.’ – Personally, I didn’t know Morrissey was dead! My poor dear sister really lives in her own little planet.
I was quite impressed by my navigational skills, and found Jim Morrison’s grave with no difficulty whatsoever; without a map it is very easy to miss. The tomb itself is incredibly modest, but then I read that the funeral itself was an extremely low-key event.
We took lunch on a bench, and one of the pleasures of the Pere Lachaise cemetery, is the guarantee of seeing something new on each visit. As I peered behind the bench I was sat upon, I spotted what I mistakenly presumed to be the grave of a clown. The writing had completely faded, but after a bit of google research I discovered it is the burial site for a Mirelle Albrecht (1924 – 2007), who spent some of her childhood in London before moving to Paris. Her mother was a member of the resistance, and Mirelle was only 15 years old when the second world war broke out, and had to go into hiding. After the war she fell in love with a man who died in the earthquake of Agadir, which led her to travel to South Africa with be with her father. Whilst there, she met an Englishman named Charles from the Royal Air Force. Mirelle fell pregnant and they returned to Paris without a penny to their names, marrying one year after the birth of their daughter. Charles and Mirelle later moved to Provence and ran an English pub, serving Indian curry (then unknown in France), and started English fish and chips in Saint Tropez which Brigitte Bardot once visited. Mirelle later moved to Aix in Provence (running an art gallery), and then spent some time in Indian, following a divorce… The full story and more can be read here (ALBRECHT Mirelle). The tomb was actually designed by an artist and friend, featuring symbols of Auroville, India. The chair’s unbalance is to symbolise Mirelle’s life.
Pere Lachaise holds the fascinating, scarcely known stories of thousands. If you’re in the 39th division and see this chair, then you’ll at least know the story of one more of its occupants.
The other tomb most frequented by English speaking tourists is that of Oscar Wilde, where the tradition is for women to wear lipstick and kiss the tomb. Lipstick graffiti is also a common trend. Oscar Wilde probably wouldn’t have minded the attention, though perhaps American sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein who created the tomb would have been a little peeved… Even more so when the penis was snapped off, and allegedly used as a paperweight by the superintendant of the cemetery.
I will finish this entry with a few more photos, the most harrowing of which relate to the Holocaust. For more general information, see Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris Guide