Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris – Taking a walk on the Wilde side

HITACHI HDC-1491E

The inspiration for this blog has once again come from a meeting of the book group which I have belonged to for about four years. We have read all sorts of titles from the obscure to the latest Booker Prize winners. Almost all have been novels, though recently there has been some deviation: October/November brought us George Orwell’s social commentary The Road to Wigan Pier (see my blog about this), and the penultimate 2017 selection was a play by Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan. It’s only short and highly amusing and we considered allocating parts and reading it together – in character – but decided we had too many other things to talk about as well, such as our favourite Christmas tree baubles, cats and the National Health Service.

Wilde 1Wilde 2

Oscar Wilde is one of the great names of Anglo-Irish literature. In the last decade of the 19th century he wrote poetry; several plays – notably comedies – including Lady Windermere’s Fan and his most famous, The Importance of Being Earnest; he also wrote many short stories and is the author of the famous novel, The Picture of Dorien Gray.

In as much as he was famous for his contributions to literature, Wilde was also surrounded by controversy relating to his sexuality. Married, and a father of two sons, Oscar Wilde also had sexual relationships with men, most notably Lord Alfred Douglas. His lover’s influential father accused Wilde, in writing, of being homosexual, and Wilde contested this at a time when to be a gay man was illegal and when the appearance of conventional respectability was everything. Wilde lost the libel trial which backfired horribly, causing his private life to be exposed and landing him in prison charged with gross indecency. After his release the disgraced Oscar Wilde removed himself to Paris where he lived and eventually died on 30th November 1900.

I have twice visited Pere Lachaise, the Paris cemetery where Oscar Wilde is buried. My last visit there was in 2014. I’ll add at this point that I don’t have a particular interest in cemeteries and don’t go out of my way to visit them. I prefer to explore a metropolis, not a necropolis, however, my friend and fellow traveller is a big ‘Doors’ fan and Pere Lachaise also happens to be the final resting place of lead singer, Jim Morrison. She insisted on paying her respects to Jim and thus ensued a most interesting excursion around that architectural gem in the heart of the French capital.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420HITACHI HDC-1491E

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Pere Lachaise is the biggest and most famous cemetery in Paris. If one feels inclined to explore every inch of the grounds it would probably take up half a day. Burials still take place, but spaces are limited and in great demand. The crematorium is also located there and many choose to have their ashes interred in the elegant and artistic columbarium.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The tombs of ordinary Parisians lie alongside those of many notable people and an information leaflet with map has been produced to help visitors navigate the terrain and find the tombs of interest. With 3.5 million visitors per year it is the most visited cemetery in the world. It goes without saying that one of the most visited graves is that of Oscar Wilde.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420HITACHI HDC-1491E

Like the man, the grave is elaborate and flamboyant and at the time of its construction was similarly controversial due to the perceived sexualisation of its design. It has been both vandalised and restored over the years.  It cost £2000 and was designed by sculptor Jacob Epstein who was greatly interested in Indian and Egyptian sensual art; this, along with inspiration from Wilde’s poem The Sphinx is said to have resulted in the most unusual memorial. Interestingly, it was created in London and the stone was from Cheshire. The epitaph on the grave is taken from The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written whilst Wilde was incarcerated there:

And alien tears will fill for him

Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

There is a long-standing tradition of applying some bright lipstick (if you’re not wearing some already!) and planting a kiss on Oscar Wilde’s grave. This was met with disapproval by the cemetery authorities and Oscar Wilde’s descendants and in 2011 a protective barrier was assembled around the monument to prevent further smooching. Many visitors, not all outcasts and not all men, still kiss the Perspex. I did, of course, add to the collection of lip prints! Although it may appear as if the sky is strangely blue in this part of the cemetery alone, the real reason is that the photo below was taken during a spring time visit where the others were taken in grey October.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Pere Lachaise has a lot of stories to tell. More photos and tales of the famous departed will follow soon, so watch this space.

 

Stockholm: fairy tales and other stories

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Once upon a time in a land far away…………….. an opening line recognised by all and fondly remembered by me from the fairy tales of my childhood. As soon as I could read independently I immersed myself in a magical world of make believe: fantastical characters, mysterious places and incredible adventures. I can still remember the illustrations of castles, creatures and supernatural objects that helped bring those stories to life. Of course, I had no awareness at the time of the origins of those stories and their etymologies and rich folk traditions. I was aware though, that the buildings I saw in my books were not only from other times but also from other places, unlike any old buildings I had seen in England. I decided that one day I wanted to visit somewhere like the places in my childhood books.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

In recent years I have been gripped by another kind of Scandinavian story. Like millions of others in the UK and around the world I have become an avid fan of that modern genre of film and book known as Nordic Noir. The Bridge, Wallander, Borgen and, of course, The Killing, (to name a few) have hooked me (despite the need to become a very fast reader of subtitles) in a way that no British TV offerings have come close to. This interest in all things ‘Scandi’ has been another factor in my decision to visit Sweden.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420
The islands of Stockholm are connected by bridges. The Baltic sea is spanned by large and sturdy constructions  like the one above, but some much smaller and ornate.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The city is an archipelago in the Baltic Sea made up of 14 islands connected by bridges. Some of the islands are actually very small and it has to be said that I didn’t often have a sense of island-hopping as I made my way around the Stockholm. This came as a surprise as I had imagined mini versions of the Oresund Bridge carrying me over wider expanses of water with each island distinct from the next; although some of the main islands are quite unique. This beautiful Baltic Sea harbour with its promenade of tall, grand, brightly coloured houses offers tantalising views beyond, and the promise of distant cold northern lands where the Aurora Borealis lights up the night sky. In other words – a fairy tale picture realised.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Langholmen was formerly a prison island, but is now a gorgeous lush island of trees, including some exotic species which have been planted as part of an ecological preservation initiative. Stockholm’s residents flock here at weekends and during the warmer months to enjoy the greenery and picnics on the beaches.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Djurgården is known as the eco-island, home to the theme park, Grunlund, the city zoo and a number of museums including the Biological Science Museum, the Nordik Museum and the Abba Museum, which is popular with tourists. I spent a couple of hours walking through the parks and around the lake, taking in the glorious effects of autumn on the leaves. This region, the centre of fun and leisure activities during the summer months, looked slightly eerie on an October day when people were sparse and the fairground rides stood at a standstill waiting for the spring.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Stockholm is serious about museums; it seems like there is one dedicated to the celebration of most things. On the island of Skeppsholmen at the entrance to the Baltic Sea can be found museums of architecture and modern art and one of the port’s best known features, the sailing ship Af Chapman, now in use as a youth hostel.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Kungsholmen (King’s Island) is in the middle of Lake Malaren and was once home to a mediaeval monastery whose property and lands were confiscated by the crown in the 1500s. It is now one of the most desirable residential areas of the city.

One of the best known and interesting parts of Stockholm is Gamla Stan, The Old Town. It is here that visitors will see some marvellous examples of quaint mediaeval buildings, cobbled streets and crooked houses in an array of colours. Dark winding passage ways lead to who knows where. Some of the shops were in darkness and others looked as if they could be portals to a magical world. The melodic chime of the church bells and old-fashioned lamps casting an ethereal glow over the cobble stones perfectly complete the scene .

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The city boasts an impressive array of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. On its main shopping street, Drottninggatan, about one establishment out of every four offers food and drink. The standard is excellent, though restaurant prices are very high: two courses and one soft drink or beer cost on average between 300 and 450 Swedish Krona per person (approximately £35 to £45).

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420
The upper end of Drottninggatan, Stockholm’s main shopping street

Cafes and brasseries are not as expensive. Some of the best food of my trip was enjoyed at two vegetarian self-serve buffets. Prices were very reasonable (approx. £12 and £13 per person respectively) and the food was tasty, fresh, adventurous and wholesome.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The Hermitage can be found in the mediaeval Gamla Stan (old town) and the excellent Hermann’s is on the island of Sodermalm. Largely residential, Sodermalm has an arty alternative feel and is the main location in Stieg Larson’s ‘Girl….’ trilogy of novels. Tours around the island are available, taking in the fictional hangouts of Lisbeth Salander. I did consider joining the tour but was too-sloth like after feasting at Hermann’s.

Halloween is a big thing in Sweden and preparations for the festivities were apparent everywhere. Pumpkin lanterns and spooky window dressings were everywhere, a welcome contrast to the late afternoon greyness. In the UK we are all familiar with Ikea and the interest in Swedish design. It has been suggested that the use of colour, originality and quirky features are an aspect of expression sparked by the vibrant heart at the centre of the bleak, grey landscape which dominates northern Europe for many months of the year.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420
A window in Gamla Stan

Swedes have style! Walk along any residential street in the city and take a sneaky peek through the window – not easy to avoid when few homes have curtains or blinds of any kind.

The Swedish informal greeting, ‘Hey’, is as much about intonation and pitch – and not to mention facial expression – as the word itself……..and this requires some practice. I think I’d cracked it by the last day when it was time to say goodbye. Needless to say, everybody in Sweden speaks good English in any case.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

 

 

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420