A Threefold Visit, Père Lachaise III

A very, very, special day ; 4th September.

I keep observing that when you are open to the world, the world(s) get at you. So I might be a crazy bitch who sees signs everywehre… but it makes sense. So, I went to the Père Lachaise on Sunday to go see Jim and Richard Wright again, having a very special tour, it was pure spontaneity. But on Monday, Ryan tells me that it’s Richard’s birthday coming on the 4th ! It was too huge a sign for me, and I guess there is no “too frequent” service to the Dead. So I planed to go again ! I’m beginning to take hold of my new playground, and I may actually go there daily if I can. It would be part of my need to walk daily, and it would fit so perfectly to a daily honoring of the Dead and Spirits ! I guess I wasn’t moving so close for nothing…. anyway.

I planed an actually symbolic Tour. I use no map. I check on a very little and undetailled map I have before I go, but there are only the bigger alleys and lines. For once, my Tour didn’t either begin or include Jim’s grave aha, you’ve had your lot, now we need to pay attention to many more. So, I wanted to go to Richard’s for his birthday, but that was at the center of the cemetery and so to be last. It occurred to me I had this very significant comment to Ryan again about Sarah Bernhardt “I didn’t find her…. but I’ll go soon enough” and I was to be heard ! So that was a visit and two landmarks, and I thought that three is a good number. It was quickly obvious that I needed to complete the tour of the famous ones by an anonymous grave. I took my water, my candles (red!) and my matches and off we go.

The treasure of the place is that you always discover new things. It’s a place of wonder, plus it’s a real maze. I never understood why I made this choice of going about without a map, without having a structured tour…. but I kept to it. I never have a map inside the cemetery. The very small map is in my head, and the images I gather from my visits build both a virtual and practical map. But you need to be open to what comes and passes before your eyes….

The first step was to go up the cemetery via central alley. From the start, there was a strange mood. During the week, at certain hours, there are not so many people. I chose the wrong hour by the way, misreading my info I believed the cemetery was closing at 18:30/19:00, while it closes at 17:30/18:00. It made sense then, this sentiment of space and calmness…. the descending light of the hour was also particular. Golden and warm, but descending. I wondered at the fact that I never went up this way because it’s usually so filled with tourists. It’s beautiful ! You have the great structure in front of you, and the two small rows of tombs…. with little stairs on the side. Before I went up, my path was stopped for the first time. First wonder :

I thought that such a blank and untouched stone could not be the one of our great Antonin Artaud…. and yet, there was spirit around the tomb that draws me closer. I don’t why and if it’s true, but I felt his spirit down there. Quotes I meditated upon months ago popped to my mind suddenly, I had names of his works, I felt… energy. I thought about my dissertation this year, which will definitely talk about the origins of theater and Dionysos…. and today that I was planing to post, I learnt thanks to Ryan that yesterday the 4th was also the birthday of Antonin Artaud…. coincidence right ? So funny I stopped at this grave and felt so much… And I resumed my walk, climbing the very cute stairs on the side which pass under a beautiful tree (pine tree? yew ?). The colors were so great… Ahhh. For those who have the eyes, you enter another world truly.

The second step was following the path and going round to catch the other alley that goes up to the center. I was stopped on two points. Again, some ruins called to me by their grace and… energy. It’s always the meeting of something internal and something that resonates on the other plane. And as you receive it, you hang between the worlds. When it happens, be it even for 3 minutes, I stop and commune with it. So here, I had to stop and look at the marvel, let my feelings express themselves, and immortalize the grace and moment with my camera.

It’s also funny to look at people’s attitude when you do anything.Tourists that walk by looking ahead without caring, people that are curious and look discreetly, people that directly but softly come near to look at what you’ve seen and what you do. Why does she stand there in front of that broken tomb ? Did she find somebody famous ? what does she care taking picture of ? What touched me is sometimes, people can feel the reverence in you I guess. That time at least, I was doing nothing particular but standing and then taking shots, but I guess I didn’t look like a tourist or photographer. So sometimes people really wonder and try to see what you have seen. I wonder if we can transmit grace, or reflect its presence in our attitude.

It was getting higher, so I followed the alley up again, which was drawing me closer to my purpose. But, say that I’m such a child if you want, I had new short epiphanies. At the crossroad I had to turn left before going up again, and as I did, spirits and life made themselves known : two ravens flew in front of me at the same time, and I came across a cute (thin) black cat. Ryan told me the Cemetery used to be filled with cats, but before we met in June I had never seen one and still rare do. But I guess in this undisturbed atmosphere of the closing and end of day it was quiet enough for them to get out and I saw this one. It made me think of the hidden life of the Cemetery, while people see the place like dead matter or history. At the end of the road, there was a statue I had never seen even if I had been in this part before. A winged figure on an obelisk, which was struck by rays of light that fell between the rows of trees. Another moment when you really can feel the energies of the place and those inhabiting the place… Gosh I wish people could see the world through my eyes sometimes.

The third step was the hardest bit. I found easily Allan Kardec’s grave (the most famous French Spiritualist) which was to be my landmark to go to the infernal grave of Sarah Bernardt. Thrice I went there without finding her ! But this time I was determined…  I went the rows up and down, checked, re-checked…. and then I found the huge vault that was supposed to be hiding her – and it did ! You should have seen my “hurrah” face when I finally saw her name, caught in such a tiny path. So just for the fun or the curious ones, follow the guide lol !

Sarah tombs is just behind the vault, straightforward, two tombs, and then on the left.

Noone was there and I was glad to be at peace for my office. Is that a shame that I had to wish to be alone to have some peace ? Damn’, we’re in a cemetery… Our come and go as tourists is really disturbing me. And it occured that maybe… maybe my job is also that. Remembering the dead, honoring them, but also to be seen doing so, in a place where all seems lost. So that people can actually remember and realise that we are in a place of rest, of reverence and devotion… that we come to see the graves and pray, and commune, and not just to curiously see famous names, hollow caves. I was glad then to open my bag to offer water and light to Sarah’s spirit. I chose red because she actually showed me that color when we came with Ryan and tried to find her. She also sent me flavors and fragances, so that my candle was red and smelling of red berries. It is one of the first tomb I find is surrounded by peace and respect. I felt a quiet atmosphere, a resting spirit, and people’s true love and devotion. When I looked inside the sight of roses, candles, stones and prayers delighted me. Some had left a bouquet with a rolled paper and a yellow candle. So I put mine on the other (left) side, and lit it, but I also chose to lit someone else’s prayer. It felt… so good. Communion was there.

She’s finally there.

Traces of past and recent love.

Let the celebration begin. Water, matches and my red candle.

May you be honored on this day.

We remember you.

I had time to take my shots and be left in silence and peace. I didn’t not feel the urgency of her cry when we wandered with Ryan, but maybe it was precisely because she was peaceful I came back finally. I also told her I would be back again, it was my own tribute and I was to give a proper ceremony for her on behalf of Sufenas Virius Lupus. I had the time to pour my water before a guide and two people came up. I was told that candles were forbidden because of fire risks, and so I did put them out – but I have to check that because what the fuck ? You’re in a cemetery and you can’t honor your dead with a candle ? The guide explained a few things, and the two people were looking at me with weird (but not mean) eyes. What was she doing ? Yes I was smiling, I was silent before the tomb, bent almost on my knees, and I had brought a candle that I lit. I guess it speaks for itself right ? Maybe there were not conscious of what was happening, of what their brain was trying to analyse, but the look was there. It was unexpected to see someone mourn / revere the dead (damn’!).  But I felt that something I emitted something that touched them. Oh I wish I could be better at that, be not such a newby… but I guess the sacred can be shown and conveyed. And that would really touched my heart if people could feel that a cemetery that is famous is nevertheless a sacred place, and that technically we are supposed to come to do sacred acts.

They quickly left, and the guide told me the cemetery was closing. I had to be quick.

The fourth step was not planed. I wanted to honor anonymous spirits that would call me. And the graves around Sarah’s are actually totally defaced or ruined (except for the two huge vaults), and like with the scattered vault I had seen before, I was called. I felt recognition I guess, the fact that I actually came up but didn’t only look at Sarah’s grave. That I stopped and looked around, and came to see if there were names…. and that I thought about them, stayed even for short minutes. And so I took my dark red candle and put it on one of the several anonymous tombs. I regretted not to be able to lit it even for a minute, but I could stay to check since I still had to go find Richard for which I had to do something special.

The defaced grave with my unlit red candle.

The fifth and last step was easy. I came out of this stuck path and then I had to look for the golden dome of the chapel to get to the Columbarium. Nobody except a wandering man was there. I must have looked to be in a hurry indeed, and he looked at me with wonder as I get to the stairs in front of Richard Wright’s tomb and sat down, opening my bag and putting my stuff on the floor. I got my notebook out and starting writing…. what was proper for this special day ? Christ I was so afraid of being kicked out before having done anything and miss the whole purpose of my coming… I made it simple. Then I taped it to the wall and talked to Richard (Ryan I told him hi for you 😉 ). I put down my light red candle, which evoked me a celebrating mood, and lit it. I tried to calm myself and commune, but I didn’t really manage lol, still freaking out I might get “caught”. I was so pleased to see that in the lapse of two days, stones had been brought to his slab and glued ! A very strong sign of reverence it seemed to me… all the more so since he is not so well known. I took my shots and then remember I wanted to offer him a drink for this day ! I don’t think I said “cheers”, but I apologised for having only water on this day. Yet I felt something like thirst at the moment, so that might be a good sign. I took a sip myself, looked at the candle…. and that was it. I was glad I did it, that his birthday was “proper”, after having been there just two days before. I took off.

The shots are terrible… I had such shaky hands it was crazy.

The small note.

Note and candle, a short moment of communion.

The shot after the libation. I felt the thirst, remembered to pour… and then wind rose so suddenly, the time I took the shot, the candle was put down ! And you know what they say about wind…

On my way out, with a heart satisfied and open, I still saw great things. I went to Proust which I found this time, and just around the corner of the descending alley I saw a marvellous spiral on a grave.
And then I saw the war monuments, and passed through the door.


The tale is not finished for I made an even more intens discovery (personally) as I came back home, but it’s too long already, I’ll do a new post later.

Please go honor the memory of Richard Wright and Antonin Artaud at Ryan’s dedicated article.


5 comments on “A Threefold Visit, Père Lachaise III

  1. Wonderful! Thank you so much for doing this, and for telling us all about it!

    I am so sorry I did not get back to you before now…Let me know the next time you’re going, and I’ll drop everything to make sure I send something to you to say at my ancestress’ grave. Her birthdate is either October 22nd or 23rd (no one is certain which!), so perhaps, if you’re not busy, a visit could be arranged for then…? In any case, we shall be in touch! Thanks for honoring all of these wonderful Sancti, and for honoring Sarah Bernhardt in particular! 🙂

    • I’ll be coming back from NY the 22d of October, so I could be free and go celebrate on the 23th. 🙂 Let me know everything via mail, we have till the end of September to plan before I go abroad for my trip.

  2. […] few Sancti of the Ekklesía Antínoou, including Marcel Proust and my ancestress, Sarah Bernhardt: Valiel’s visit to Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, from which the following photo is […]

  3. Ryan says:

    A wonderful post with great photos! I love that you took a symbolic tour with no map. Thank you so much for leaving Richard Wright a message, and I’m so glad you found Sarah Bernhardt. And of course Artaud! It turns out that I have a photo of my husband Ryan sitting beneath that *exact* Artaud grave! It may not be Antonin’s grave, but we definitely both felt Antonin Artaud’s presence there very strongly . . . it’s like that grave is the place in Paris where he wants to be remembered. Looking forward to reading more about your discoveries and adventures!

  4. […] you’re at Valiel’s Notes In English be sure to read the other posts in that series here here and ah, hell. Just read the whole blog, it’s definitely worth […]

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