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