The apartment we’re renting in Paris this week is, in a word, perfect. No, it’s not big. Two people have trouble fitting in the kitchen at the same time. It’s not new. The furniture is just adequate. It’s on the third floor (that would be the fourth floor for Americans) and there’s no elevator. But I’m writing this looking out over the French National Archives. It’s one of those historic buildings where you could imagine Napoleon walking out of in full uniform and mounting his horse. At the bottom of our building is a café owned by a Portuguese guy named Bastion. As you enter our building during the day, the smell of butter and garlic permeates your senses. On our first day, Bastion welcomed us to the neighborhood and invited us to eat and drink in his café, which we learned quickly was one of the liveliest in the city. Best of all, we are in the Marais area of the city, only a few blocks from the Pompidou Center. We walk its medieval streets and gaze into the wonderful collection of designer shops, boulangerie, boucherie, fromagerie and cafes. Lots and lots of cafes. And there’s joy in finding that many stereotypes hold true. Parisians and tourists sit side by side in the cafes sipping their coffee in the mornings or their wine in the afternoon. There’s hearty laughter and a sense that no one is in a hurry. Lovers hold hands and kiss unashamedly. Public displays of affection are the norm and have a sweetness about them.
With all of the joy for life that Paris brings, we spent day two in Paris surrounded by death. Let me explain. After a quick journey to Montmartre to sit the stunningly beautiful Sacre Coeur basilica, we spent most of the afternoon at Père Lachaise cemetery. In case you think we’ve lost our minds, you should understand that Père Lachaise is (the eternal) home of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Frederick Chopin and countless other notables. The cemetery is massive, holding the remains of more than one million people. It’s also the stuff of nightmares. The small individual mausoleums were designed to allow mourners to open their doors, kneel down and offer a prayer. Originally ornate, now – through the passing of time – they now look like they belong on the set of a horror film. Many have their doors askew. My adolescent imagination fills with visions of ghouls and ghosts trying to climb out of them. There are weeping angels - as terrifying as any on Dr. Who - standing guard over many of the tombs. And faces. So many faces carved into the sides of the crypts – clearly the inspiration for those Disney Haunted Mansion characters.
But there are no ghosts here. At least not in the daylight of a lovely May afternoon. The graveyard, instead, is filled with curious tourists paying homage to the many late artists who have touched their lives. With our day of visiting the dead over, we follow our oldest son Pierce to his university – ESCP – where he just finished up his masters program. We have a drink in a neighborhood bar and move on to dinner where we offer a toast – To Life.