Saturday, September 26, 2015

At the Cemetery and the Taxidermist.

Sharon at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

I

  spent today with a group of 20-somethings and survived. In fact, I had a lot of fun hanging with them.  Nothing like being in the company of three college age adults to make you laugh and feel young again!

Earlier this week, I had exchanged text messages with Sharon.  After all that we had all gone through to get her laptop to her, Z and I decided we should all spend more time together over a meal.  Since Sharon works, it's difficult to nail down a good time for a meal plus there's no time to really just relax and enjoy each other's company.

So, I was ecstatic when she replied that she was free for brunch on Saturday.  I told her that we would meet at 11a at her place.

Well, as I had expected, it was hard waking up Z.  By the time we were ready to leave our apartment, I knew we would not make it to Sharon's place by 11a so I texted her to tell her we were running late.

When we got off the Metro, Z opened up his Paris city app and led us to Sharon's apartment.  Standing out front, I texted her to tell her we had arrived.  We then stood and waited and waited and waited.  We were wondering what happened to her.  Then, I got a text from Sharon.  She was wondering where we were.  I told her we were standing outside her apartment.  She replied that she was as well but she didn't see us.  Huh??  I decided to double check the address she had texted me and that's when I realized that we were standing at the correct address but on the wrong street.  We were on a Rue but needed to be on an Avenue by the same name.  Oh....my bad.  I told Z of my mistake and as he was looking back at his map, I texted Sharon to quickly explain to her and tell her we were on our way.

A short walk later and I found myself standing in front of Sharon's apartment building but she was no where to be seen.  Then, she found me.  Turns out there are two entrances to the building and I was at one and she at the other.  Funny thing is that I walked right by her!

Finally!  We meet.  We laugh over the silliness of everything.  It broke the ice.  We were hungry and Sharon took us to a cafe in her neighborhood.  She's eaten here several times and the food is good.  We're all about good food!



The small cafe was filled with people but we were lucky to score a table.  We chatted and laughed while we looked at the menu and ordered our food.  Sharon is a lovely young woman - she's smart, full of life and has a very solid head on her shoulders.  Her mother should be very proud of her!

Z and Sharon.  I look at this photo and I smile.

This cafe served very nice food at very reasonable prices.  Z had the roasted pigeon, Sharon ordered a steak and....


....I had the veal brain/tongue combo which was so good, it was sublime.  Every part was perfectly cooked.  The brain was creamy and the tongue tasted like a piece of tender beef.


At lunch I told Sharon that our sightseeing plan for the day was to visit Père Lachaise Cemetery.  I found out that she had yet to visit the place so I asked her if she wanted to join us.  She had a doubtful look on her face when I told here that this was a must-see place for tourists.  But I kept at it and finally, she caved in and agreed to come with us.  If I wasn't so certain she would appreciate this place, I wouldn't have pushed her but I think she'll be glad she went.

After we paid the bill, Sharon asked if a friend of hers could come along.  Absolutely!  I was guessing they had agreed to get together in the afternoon but they didn't have firm plans on what they were going to be doing.

Sharon wanted to go back to her apartment to get her camera and so Z and I tagged along.  There, we met up with her friend, Martin.  So we had me and three 20-somethings and a cemetery to go to!

From Sharon's place, we hopped on the Metro and got off at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Many of travel sites I read suggested getting off at the Gambetta stop instead.  I would recommend doing what we did which is get off at Père Lachaise, walk through the cemetery and exit at Gambetta.  You'll understand why when you get to the end of this posting.

From her apartment, Sharon took us back to Rue Cler.  She wanted us to try a version of the iconic macaron that she thought we would enjoy.

Rue Cler.
We stepped inside a little shop called Martine Lambert and Sharon made a beeline for the freezer.  Inside were the macarons.  Most macarons are filled with a cream or ganache filling.  These were filled with ice cream which explains why they had to be kept cold.  We ordered two strawberry and two vanilla to share.


Martin posing for a photo with the macarons.  It's all about the food photos these days!

Cheers!

Each macaron is so small it's really only two bites to finish off one.  I have to say, Sharon was right.  These were delicious!  First the cafe and now the macarons.  The girl knows good food!

After we ate, the guys had a bit of cheesy fun with a giant model of a macaron, plopped on the sidewalk outside a shop on Rue Cler.



Dessert over, we boarded the Metro and made our way to the cemetery.  On the ride, I got to know Martin a bit better.  He's originally from Ecuador and is studying film at the same university that Sharon is attending.  They only met recently so they're still getting to know each other.  He comes across as a very nice guy and it's nice for Sharon to have someone that she can do things with.

From the Metro exit at Père Lachaise, it was a very short walk to the cemetery itself.  Today was a lovely fall day and there were quite a few people strolling about the place.

Near the entry is a map of the cemetery.  The guys were checking it out while Sharon and I were busy taking photos.

The cemetery is divided into sections and the streets are named.  There are individual tombstones here as well as mausoleums.  As so often happens, we started out as a group of four but not for long.  Soon, it was Sharon and I walking together and the guys....well, they headed off in their own direction.

Sharon loves taking photos as do I so we were both snapping away.  Here's my photo album.










We happened upon a mausoleum, surrounded by a group of curious people.


The inscription indicated that a woman named Héloïse and a man named Abelard are buried here.  I had never heard of them so I Googled them a few minutes ago and learned that they are the central characters in a real life love story that had an unhappy ending.

ALMOST a thousand years ago, Abelard, a philosopher, fell in love with his student, Héloïse.  They carried out a very torrid affair. Legend has it that they made love in the kitchens of convents and in the boudoir of the girl's uncle; that they wrote hundreds of love letters and that when the girl bore a child, they were secretly married. At her Abelard's urging, the girl took religious orders and became a nun. He took the habit of a monk. They retreated into separate monasteries and wrote to each other until they were reunited in death.  What a tragic love story!


Some of the burial monuments at Père Lachaise are so old, you can barely make out the inscriptions.






As you might expect, there are some famous people buried here including Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas, Getrude Stein, Yves Montand, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, and Jim Morrison, former frontman of The Doors.  The location of the burial sites of all the famous people are scattered throughout the cemetery but there are plenty of maps, available on the web, that will tell you what division and street there tomb is located.  The first well known tomb that we just happened to stumble upon was that of Chopin's.




A whimsical headstone for Jean-Joseph Marie Carriès, a French sculptor, ceramist, and miniaturist.

Situated high up on a hill is the cemetery's chapel.



Most of the tombstones had very traditional headstones.  There were a few unique ones, like this one for a person who was obviously a pianist.....



....and this one for a one time photographer.  I love the addition of the QR code as there was no birth/death information for the person.  I guess that's all embedded in the code.  How 21st century!

I don't plan on being buried but if I change my mind, I wonder what headstone would best represent me?


Standing tall, in the center of a garden is the monument that marks the burial spot of Jean Paul Pierre Casimir-Perier a French politician, who was the sixth President of the French Third Republic which governed France from governed France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed, to 1940.



Of all the monuments in Père Lachaise, this one of the weeping woman standing over the family tombstone of Paul Moreau-Vauthier, a French sculptor, is the most touching to me. I think she symbolizes how most people feel about the departed.  Yes, we all try to be happy but deep down, there is sadness and for many, unspeakable grief.



I had no interest in seeing the tombstones of all the famous people buried here but there was one that I knew I had to see - Jim Morrison's.  He wasn't born in Paris but he tragically due to a drug overdose on July 3rd, 1971 and for whatever reason, his body was never returned to the US for burial. His resting spot is in Père Lachaise.

Sharon had no clue who he was but I had to drag her along with me.  I searched for a map on my Samsung smartphone and we found our way.

The gravesite, though unmarked until 1973, rapidly became a place of pilgrimage for Morrison’s fans who left flowers, letters and mementos on the grave. They also left an abundance of graffiti – at first on Morrison’s grave but spreading to adjoining graves, trees and cemetery infrastructure due to the sheer volume of visitors over the years.  Today, there is a barrier set up.  Vandals can easily get through but for the most part, people respectfully stand behind it.






The graffiti has been remove but I guess still feel the need to leave something behind.  So, the barrier has become a place on which people bits of string, ribbons, etc. I'm not sure what they are intended to signify.





Nearby Morrison's grave stands a tall tree.  Since his death, his fans have stuck pieces of chewing gum on the trunk of the tree as a tribute to singer. I don't know why chewing gum. Seems a bit disgusting to me.  I guess so much gum was stuck on the tree, over the years, that in order to preserve it, there is now bamboo fencing on the trunk.  You can still see wads of gum on the trunk but now, fans have started to stick gum to the bamboo as well as to write on it.  More graffiti!


I love the person who asked the question, "Did you really love chewing gum, Jim?"

Sharon and I were making our way towards the Gambetta entrance when we finally made contact with the boys.  We eventually met up with them and they took us to the grave sites of two more famous people.

First it was the family tombstone of Édith Piaf who is buried with her father, Louis Gassion and her second husband, Théo Sarapo (Theophanis Lamboukas), a Greek hairdresser-turned-singer and actor who was 20 years her junior and whom she married in 1962.




Then, it was onto the tombstone of Oscar Wilde, another site that is so popular that it stands behind glass.





There's even a posted sign asking visitors to pay respect and not deface Wilde's tomb.


After seeing Oscar Wilde's tombstone, we were all ready to leave.  On the way out, we walked along a stretch of lawn where it looked like impromptu memorials had been set up.



Rose petals were strewn all over one section of the lawn - a tribute that is touching in its simplicity.


Today was my day to dictate the itinerary so the next place I took the kids to was Deyrolle, a 170+ year old establishment located on Rue du Bac, not far from the Musée d'Orsay. We made our way there via Metro from Père Lachaise.

Technically speaking, Deyrolle is a taxidermy shop and when I told this to Sharon, she was really skeptical about going. I can't blame her. It's not every day that someone suggests going to see a bunch of stuffed animals - especially if you're an animal lover as Sharon is. But, I managed to convince her and Martin to come along with Z and I and they did.


To describe Deyrolle as a taxidermy shop hardly does it justice. The ground floor looks like a fairly ordinary small home and garden shop. But walking up the stairs is like passing through a time warp. The second story (which in France is considered the first) appears to have changed little since the store moved to its current location in 1881. It's dusty, chaotic, and crammed with stuffed animals of all sorts - four legged, two legged and no legged.  The animals came in all poses and sizes - there were even taxidermied chicks!

Even the crystal chandelier, that lights up the entry to the main display hall, serves as a display structure for a group of stuffed bats! 

All around the rooms were old wooden cases full of insects, shells, botanical prints and a variety of curiosities.  Everything had a price tag on it.

In the far back room you could buy pre-mounted insects - the butterflies, especially the ones with iridescent wings, were particularly beautiful and the large insects, with horns, very beastly looking.  For varying prices, you could also get a custom mounting of insects i.e,. pick and choose what you want and the store will mount them for you.

Unfortunately, photos were not allowed on the first floor.  But everything was so fascinating that for one moment, I broke my own *Do Not Take Photos when the sign says Do Not Take Photos" credo and snapped a shot of some colorful birds with my Samsung smartphone.  The photo came out very blurry - punishment for breaking my credo!


Despite their initial reluctance to come here, Sharon and Martin were the last of the four of us to leave the shop.

Outside, Z and I decided it was time to say goodbye to Sharon and Martin.  Not only did I want them to have time to enjoy the rest of their day but Z and I were hungry.  I was certain that the wee little bit of pigeon that Z had for lunch had long left his system and he was ready for a good meal.

We said our goodbyes.  I gave Sharon a big hug and told her that I would tell her mom that she was doing well.

Z and I walked about the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés for a while, looking for a place to eat but there was nothing.  Perhaps we were on the wrong streets. After a while, we decided to just head back to our neighborhood.  We settled on La Maison de Verlaine where we had eaten a few days earlier.  That night, Z was battling the cold and his tastebuds were numb to anything he ate.  Feeling much better today, Z decided he wanted to re-do his meal.  I had enjoyed my dinner so I was happy to come back.


Looking forward to his meal. Poor guy was starving!

Enjoying a seafood appetizer.  This is the night that Z discovered the joy of eating taramasalata, one of my favorite spreads!

I had a delectable seafood soup.

On our way back to our apartment, we quickly darted into the L'Essentiel to get a dessert.  The shop was minutes from closing so we were lucky to get there when we did.  It's nice to end the night on a sweet note!

Three types of chocolate mousse on a biscuit base; crunchy rice bits on the top. So yummy!

I had fun today with the kids and Père Lachaise Cemetery is definitely worth a visit.  I can't believe it but tomorrow is our last day in Paris and I've saved something truly royal and magnificent for our last bit of sightseeing.

Good night from Paris!