I often tell people the only place you can go for a bit of quiet and/or solitude in Paris is its numerous, historical cemeteries. Now, that sounds a tad macabre at first, but Père Lachaise, by far the most popular for a relaxing stroll away from the general lunacy accompanied by some dead celebrity worship, isnt the only cemetery in Paris chock full of horizontal superstars. Thus, here I propose a sort of ‘Cemetery Review’ of the immortal “who’s who” along with the ornate, elaborate and frankly occasionally bizarre edifices erected to their immortality.
Now, I would have said “their final resting places” but in Passy Cemetery, there once was a beautiful statue of turn-of-the-century, Polish celebrity hairdresser, Antoine Cierplikowski hovering over his empty grave. It had been lovingly crafted by his friend and sculptor, Xavier Dunikowski who claimed his friend had always wished to be buried in Passy. Upon Cierplikowski’s death, however, his family insisted his body remain in Poland and sent only his right hand, that which had created so many tonsurial wonders during his time in Paris, to be interned in Passy where it remains to this day in the family tombs of Passy’s most recent owners. The statue, however, has been destroyed.
The hand is accompanied by a plethora of international bon vivants, creative geniuses, politicos, captains of industry and royalty not least of whom is Bao Dai, the last of the Nguyen Dynasty and Vietnam’s final Emperor. Bao Dai, known as ‘The Keeper of Greatness,” left behind five wives, a sketchy diplomatic record, a nation in ruins and some contradictory quotes and behaviour such as his refusal to assist in the effective Japanese annexation of his country in an attempt to remain loyal to his people whilst residing in what was at the time the biggest yacht in the harbour at Monaco.
Claude Debussy, musical innovator, man about town, composer, heartbreaker and pre-emptive total rock star in his brief life of only 55 years, was moved from Père Lachaise to Passy one year after his death in order to respect his wish to rest “among the trees and the birds”. Dying of crippling rectal cancer under the German bombardment of WWI, his funeral procession, whilst pared down, marched proudly to his internment despite the continued bombing. His eschewing of compostitional rules and trends inspired musical creatives across a variety of genres through his own era to modern times. He had a string of torrid affairs and espoused and discarded wives even prompting one to shoot herself in the chest on the Place de la Concorde (she survived but the bullet remained lodged in her vertebrae). He even once conceded were it not for the birth of his only daughter, he might have taken his own life. If the rockstar antics of Jim Morrison and the brilliant creativity of Oscar Wilde can attract Père Lachaise’s millions of visitors annually, why not get both for the price of one in Claude Debussy at Passy right next to the Eiffel Tower and the Place de la Trocadéro?
This has been your posthumous celebrity correspondent wishing you continued longevity and glory!