Maybe nothing says more about a place than who wants to be buried there, or at least, who ended up with it as their final resting place. In Paris, the crème de la crème eventually come to rest beneath the stately trees that cover the hills of Père Lachaise. From Héloïse and Abelard, the forbidden medieval lovers, to Jim Morrison of the Doors, to Chopin, Picasso, and a whole barrage of lesser-known artists. Solemn markers commemorate the victims of Ravensbruck, Dachau, and the massacres of La semaine sanglante (the bloody week) in 1871. Yet despite the fact that Père Lachaise is a sight devoted to death, nothing could be further from the impression you have when you walk through its winding paths. Flowers grow amongst the graves and blossoming trees remind you of the new life that comes with every spring. It is a place of peace and calm, poignantly marked by the constant reminder of death.
There is one deceased who enjoys a much less tranquil rest than his neighbors, and that is the author Oscar Wilde. After dying in Paris while in exile, Wilde came to rest under an art nouveau statue of an angel in flight. I don’t really know why it has become tradition, but many pilgrims leave a kiss on his grave, preferably in a shade of red not often seen in nature. My friend Bethany is visiting this week, and as a devoted Wilde fan, she brought a tube of bright coral lipstick just for this purpose. We thought there would be some sort of barrier protecting Oscar, and were fully prepared to trespass for the privilege of putting our lips where thousands of others have been, but Père Lachaise has very few restrictions or signs letting you know its occupants are anything beyond ordinary. It had been a windy week, and as we were walking to find Oscar, we came across a bouquet that had blown from somewhere unknown, thus armed with lipstick and flowers, we went to pay our respects.