When most people think about life in Paris, they imagine glasses of Bordeaux raised to the view of Eiffel Tower and strolling down Champs-Elysees with the latest Louis Vuitton bag hanging from their shoulder. The truth probably is that your average Parisian hasn’t been on Champs-Elysees in the last five years to avoid the horrendous traffic around Arche de Triomphe, not to mention the ridiculous prices only stupid tourists are ready to pay – and hey, he most likely hates the heap of metal that is the Eiffel Tower anyway. He spends 90% of his time at work, at home or in the metro on his way to the nearest hardware store so that he can finally buy the bits necessary to fix his leaking tap in his bathroom. And in the remainder of his time, he tries to find proper hide-outs where he can feel comfortable in this most beautiful of mega urban jungles.
So, as Paris is part-home for me, I will not be writing my adventures, unless you are really interested in where I went to fix my bathroom tap. However, I will every now and then share my own hide-outs. Same goes for Izmir, my other part-home.
This magnificent autumn day started by getting my boiler serviced. After that, I had to meet the French bureaucracy to get my driving licence renewed. After spending oh my god how long, I have been told that out of the 218 documents I had to bring, I brought only 217. They could not process my application at this time. Fighting my urge to strangle somebody or worse, start smoking again, I decided to go somewhere green, somewhere calm, somewhere peaceful. And what better place to find all these than a cemetery?
Now, the cemetery in question, Père Lachaise is not just any cemetery. First started being used in the early 19th century, it spreads over to 44 hectares (110 acres for my non-metric friends). And it is not for just any living soul. It is filled from top to bottom with the rich and famous dead. It is the Monte Carlo or Malibu Beach of the other side. There is Jim Morrison on one corner and Edith Piaf on the other. Chopin, Balzac, Proust, you name it. Perhaps only Kodak Theatre during the Oscar ceremonies get more famous people per square foot. Although it looks completely full, the cemetery still accepts burials – but you really have to be somebody to become nobody here, because as with every fine thing French, there is a long waiting list – I have no idea how that works.
In reflection of my two national identities, I decided to visit two people in particular: Yilmaz Guney, Turkish film director and Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright. Yilmaz was awaiting me with his usual humbleness immediately at the entrance of Père Lachaise. His grave, simple and clean, was full of flowers. He must have had visitors recently. I paid my respects, thinking of the difficult life he lived, ending far away from the land he loved, in exile.
Walking through Père Lachaise, you realise that this is not just a cemetery. If you intend to find your favourite composer, writer, singer or philosopher, it is treasure hunting ground – make sure you obtain a good map and have a compass with you. But if you want to just take your book and sit down, relax, or simply have a gentle stroll around, it is the ultimate Parisian escape. The grounds are old, but well kept, with not so many people on most parts.
As I continued walking, I started getting this minty smell, if you know what I mean. Then I started hearing, on very very low volume, bring on through to the other side. And a few young lads, with wine bottles in their hand. Yeah, say hello to Jim Morrison. And if you think that people are strange, you should have seen the ones reading Balzac books sitting beside his grave. Yeah, people are really strange.
Finally, after crossing the whole cemetery, I arrived at Oscar’s place. Being the dictionary meaning of flamboyant, Wilde of course had to stick out even in the graveyard. His tomb is a modernist piece of art, featuring of course, a fully naked man. The tomb was vandalised so often both by his admirers and by those who found male genitalia too awkward to be showcased in a cemetery, it is now surrounded with a glass barrier. I imagined the nights the residents of this departed-ville must have, Jim Morrison singing on one side, Oscar Wilde being wild on the other. It is well worth the waiting list I suppose, it’s like getting a backstage pass to the biggest show in the other world.
A chestnut suddenly falling from the sky on to my head warned me to stop mocking the dead. The rich and famous, they have a way of getting at you even when they are long gone. Funny though, we built societies so unequal that we are apart even when we’re dead. As for me, Père Lachaise is a great place to escape from the world as long as I am in this world, but when the time comes, I wouldn’t want to end up here. I would much prefer somewhere unknown in the depths of a lush green forest.