Last resting place in Paris Susan...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

May 13, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

Last resting place in Paris

Susan Sachs Fleishman

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If it weren't for Mathilda, I would not have included the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in my Paris itinerary. The February sky was appropriately gray as we headed east, beyond the more popular tourist areas. We were quite a caravan: five friends direct from Baltimore; Lauren, a Baltimore ex-pat who has lived in Germany for six years; a priest from Connecticut on his way to the Vatican; and, of course, Mathilda.

Pere Lachaise, who died in 1709, was Louis XIV's confessor. The cemetery was opened in 1804, one of several established to alleviate the horrendous burial conditions of early Paris. It quickly became the most prestigious cemetery when Moliere, La Fontaine and those star-crossed 12th-century lovers, Abelard and Heloise, were reburied there. Pere Lachaise now has more than 70,000 plots and receives 2 million visitors annually. With more than 100 acres and 5,300 trees, it is also the largest park in Paris.

Inside the gates, on either side of winding cobblestone lanes, spread a mad jumble of graves, above-ground vaults and tall, narrow mausoleums.

Many graves were topped by statues of the dead, chubby cherubim or lovely angels, some so sorrowful that tears of sympathy rose behind my eyes. Following our map, we visited Sarah Bernhardt and Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Maria Callas and Frederic Chopin. Irish playwright Oscar Wilde died dissolute in Paris in 1900. An imposing (male) angel adorns his massive tomb, its marble pedestal dotted with the fresh lipstick imprints of mourners' kisses. Rene Lalique's grave features an exquisitely sculptured glass pendant.

Ultimately, our meandering had a goal. We, too, had come to lay a friend to rest. Mathilda was a vintage department store mannequin. Those of us who had visited Lauren in Dusseldorf were well acquainted with her tall, shapely -- if somewhat stiff -- housemate.

Unfortunately, Mathilda had fallen and never recovered. I don't know who decided her final resting place should be Jim Morrison's grave, but there we were. Lauren had arrived from Germany with Mathilda in a large garbage bag, and thus we transported her across Paris.

We weren't the only ones who came to leave something. Flowers, notes and trinkets dotted sites throughout the cemetery. We found Morrison's grave and performed our solemn task. Mathilda was gently set in front of the headstone amid recently deposited bouquets. Our priest friend shared a few words about endings, beginnings and friendship, and we each said our silent goodbyes.

Moving closer for one last photo, I saw we had been observed by two young men, one of whom commented, in a London accent, "I know there is a story here, but I'm not sure I want to know it."

Susan Sachs Fleishman lives in Baltimore.

MY BEST SHOT

Coastal image

By Barbara Miller, Bel Air

While traveling in Nova Scotia, we visited the Peggys Cove Lighthouse. I walked out over the granite boulders beyond the lighthouse looking for a good angle to shoot from. As I picked my way through the small tidal pools, I noticed this perfect reflection.

READERS RECOMMEND

Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Shirley Bigley LaMotte, Baltimore

"While visiting the Transylvanian and Moldavian regions in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, we stayed at Villa Lulu, a rustic pension surrounded by mountains. Our warm welcome included fresh trout from a nearby pond and a Tuscan feast of focaccia and fresh pasta with locally grown mushrooms. Folk singing and dancing and ample quantities of the local plum brandy, Palinka, were our dessert."

St. Petersburg, Russia

Helen Hawkins, Forest Hill

"This statue is of Peter the Great, the founder of St. Petersburg. Brides and grooms come daily to leave flowers at the base to pay homage to the great leader. I was most impressed with St. Petersburg and its rich cultural heritage."

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