A Personal Tour of Pere Lachaise

Meet Me at Pere Lachaise: A Guided Tour of Pere Lachaise CemeteryMeet Me at Pere Lachaise: A Guided Tour of Pere Lachaise Cemetery by Anna Eriksson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It amazes me that there isn’t an English-language coffee table book full of beautiful photos of Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Not only is the cemetery historically significant (it was the first nonsectarian metropolitan cemetery), not only is it full of personages from Moliere to Jim Morrison, it is breathtakingly lovely.

Mason Bendewald’s crisp black-and-white photos in this little book are a step toward filling that gap. Pere Lachaise can be tricky to photograph, since it is so full of monuments, but Bendewald gets around that with low angles or tight focus. I hope he’ll go on to produce another, larger book of cemetery photos.

Anna Eriksson’s text breezes through the history of the cemetery in order to focus on its permanent denizens. While I thought that wouldn’t particularly interest me, I actually learned a fair number of new things. I hadn’t realized Marcel Marceau (nee Mangel) lost his father to Auschwitz and learned miming while keeping the orphans quiet as they escaped the Nazis. I didn’t know the name of the sculptor who created the original bust for Morrison’s grave: Croatian Mladen Mikulin. I was curious about the Monument aux Morts and Etienne-Gaspard “Robertson” Robert’s monument with its bat-winged skulls and relief of demons and ghosts menacing an audience.  Eriksson filled me in on those.

Most impressive is Erisson’s insistence on respectful behavior in the cemetery. She comments that Max Factor is footing the bill to remove the lipstick kisses from Oscar Wilde’s monument and laments the graffiti that surrounds Morrison’s grave, while recognizing that people want to connect with their idols. She recommends bringing real flowers rather than plastic ones that will end up as landfill. When she visits Proust, she leaves a pencil. When she visits Brillat-Savarin (author of the first gastronomic essays), she brings a favorite recipe on a recyclable card, hoping that another visitor will take it along and try her recipe at home. She also travels with a sack, so that she can pick up garbage on her visits.

While Meet Me at Pere Lachaise isn’t the book for which I am looking, it has whetted my appetite to return to Pere Lachaise:  exactly the purpose for which it was written.

I bought my copy from Amazon: Meet Me At Père Lachaise: a guided tour of Père Lachaise Cemetery

View all my reviews

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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3 Responses to A Personal Tour of Pere Lachaise

  1. Steve Soper says:

    I always look forward to your observations on cemetery books often overlooked by the rest of us. Your comments always provide insight and bring a smile to my face, occasionally sending me to my local library.

    I must, however, take issue with your review of “Meet me at Pere Lachaise.”

    Upon request the authors generously provided me with a copy of the book as well as mp3s of their iTunes “tours.” I have to say I found both the book (more a pamphlet really) in the same league with say the Culberton/Randall series of guidebooks. And at .99 cents for each “tour”, barely 2 minutes long and just musings about one pereson or another, not a guide per se, were also a disappointment.

    As someone intimately familiar with Pere Lachaise I hunger for anything in English about that most special of Final Resting Places. Unfortunately “Meet Me at Pere Lachaise,” aside from the very nice photography and the sympathetic narrative is poorly researched and sloppily edited (even the map was inaccurate). In fact I thought it more a marketing pamphlet than a cemetry guide and explained my arguments in detail on my Amazon review.

    Since the review was published I notice the price has been lowered significantly — I wonder if the new print-on-demand versions of the book also address some of the inaccuracies. I hope so.

    • lorenrhoads says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Steve. I agree that the text could have used some polish — and it is criminally too short to do justice to a topic of such magnitude.

      In fact, I bought the book hesitantly after I read your review on Amazon. I don’t have any idea how accurate the directions inside the cemetery are (I’ve never managed to keep from getting lost inside it), but if anywhere cries out for GPS coordinates on its map, it’s Pere Lachaise. Still, for what it is, Meet Me at Pere Lachaise really is better than anything else out there. And the pictures are really, really pretty.

      Will you write us the Pere Lachaise guide we so desperately need? Please?

  2. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #10: Père Lachaise Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

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