Pilgrimage to Père Lachaise
There's a cemetery in Paris's 20th arrondissement called Père Lachaise. It's famous for being the first in the world of its kind - the first garden burial site. And It’s the final resting place of many revered inhabitants, including Oscar Wilde, Édith Piaf, Georges Méliès, Balzac, Chopin, Proust and Jim Morrison. It's an idillic, sprawling setting of rock, flora and shade - a nice place to spend half a day.
Sasha wanted to go to the cemetery, partly because she used to be goth and just likes cemeteries (lol) but more specifically to visit the grave of slain journalist Victor Noir, whose tomb has developed a cult following, one could say. So we spent a Parisian Saturday in May on a pilgrimage of sorts, to this revered place.
Victor Noir was shot dead by the cousin of then-ruling emperor Napoleon III in a spat over pride, originating in political grievances. The year was 1869. The man was celebrated as a hero of the French Republicans, but is known today instead as a symbol of fertility and sex. To quote Wikipedia:
"The sculpture has a very noticeable protuberance in Noir's trousers. This has made it one of the most popular memorials for women to visit in the famous cemetery. Myth says that placing a flower in the upturned top hat after kissing the statue on the lips and rubbing its genital area will enhance fertility, bring a blissful sex life, or, in some versions, a husband within the year. As a result of the legend, those particular components of the otherwise verdigris (grey-green oxidized bronze) statue are rather well-worn and shiny.”
There was something sweet and innocent in Sasha’s performance. She was giddy, coy, bashful among crowds that gathered nearby. She waited for her moment. She basked in it, revering something spiritual about the lying statue. It was indeed religious. She went through the ritual: set her flowers for him, gave him an endearing kiss, then rubbed his penis.
And I wondered what it really meant. Victor Noir’s grave is a bit of a new god of fertility, of sex. I certainly felt romantic, witness to her prayer. It was disarming, vulnerable and yet also salacious.
I also made sure to visit the tomb of Oscar Wilde, since he has always represented to me free expression at its most jubilant, especially in the face of an unjust society. (He was convicted of indecency for his homosexuality, which led to a dark turn in his work.)
This grave is also marked by loving lips.
Père Lachaise is a quintessentially Parisian place. It’s imbued with delight, tranquility and romance, and even something staid. It’s easy to forget the more morbid aspects - surrounded by death, a sense of decay… The grotesque parts of life are replaced by growth, renewal, red-blooded feelings. Somehow, we find in the annals of history and so much death, something rejuvenating.