Père Lachaise. I didn’t know the names of many cemeteries way back when, but I knew about Paris’ most famous cemetery. After I first moved to France in 2006, the first place I visited was Paris, and on a drizzly Sunday when too many things were closed, I decided to visit the cemetery and was so pleasantly overwhelmed by what I found there. It was bigger than I had expected, and at the same time, did not have as many statues as I expected. I spent the morning just following the twisting pathways and wandered over a good part of the cemetery. I was obsessed with statues, especially of grieving women, and really didn’t care much about visiting the graves of the rich and famous. I found it both amusing and annoying when I was photographing one particular statue that a bunch of tourists with their maps wanted to know who it was. “Nobody,” I said. “This isn’t the grave of a famous person. I just like the statue.” They looked at me like I was crazy and went off looking for Jim Morrison.
Since that late October day in 2006 I’ve since visited Père Lachaise more than any other cemetery, about four or five times – it doesn’t sound like much, but I can only see it when I travel to Paris, which doesn’t happen that often. Of course, being here in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic meant that I was really interested in visiting places that wouldn’t have many tourists around (compared to normal), like the Louvre, or Versailles. But the latter is closed on Mondays and I didn’t want to spend the only sunny day of my trip in a museum, so decided to revisit some old favourites. I also think that visiting cemeteries is never really high on anyone’s to-do list, so it made it easy for me to keep my distance from people.
It was nice being back here again. I of course went straight for the kneeling angel that I photographed my first (and every subsequent) time here. Her fingers are still broken, but she looks the same as usual. It’s funny, even though it’s been years since I’ve been here, it was so familiar – I was able to guide myself to some of my favourite statues without getting too lost. At the same time, I was eager to discover new ones, or ones that I hadn’t been able to find on previous visits. That took me longer, but in the end I was successful. On my second visit to the cemetery, I shot everything with infrared film, and my favourite image was that of an angel in the trees. Yet in every visit since then, I’ve never been able to find her. Well, I was on a mission this time – I would not leave the cemetery until I found her, and I did! She was almost right behind Chopin’s tomb. It was a relief to have finally found her – I thought for a while that maybe something had happened to it, since I hadn’t been able to find it on three previous visits.
The sunny day I had been expecting turned out quite differently than promised – most of the morning had been a mix of sun and drizzly rain, but not long after I found the angel by Chopin’s tomb, then it really started raining. As I had no umbrella I thought (like many others it seems) that I would try to get to the metro as fast as I could. I hoped that by the time I got out again the weather would have cleared up. As luck would have it, I was right.
I suppose one of these days I won’t go to Père Lachaise on one of my infrequent visits to Paris, but I feel I have a few more left in me for the time being.