On a stroll in Père-Lachaise: black humour, unusual encounters and the graves of stars

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Sunday October 23, a few days before All Saints Day. In this autumn season, it is on a beautiful sunny afternoon that Bertrand Beyern invites a handful of visitors to one of his tourist safaris at Père-Lachaise. As a couple, with family or friends, around thirty curious people from all over France meet in front of the metro exit at 2.30 p.m. to start the visit.

The time for me to find my two friends Marine and Denis who sacrificed their day off for an unusual adventure in the mazes and bays of the cemetery. Not without some preconceived ideas about the reputation of the Parisian necropolis. If the first expected to “enter a place full of stories, deaths and sinister things”, the second thought “that we were bound to visit the most famous graves such as Jim Morrison or Edith Piaf”.

Instead, Bertrand Beyern offers neophytes (like us) and inveterate taphophiles a “necro prank” safari under the sign of black humor. Before starting the getaway, the speaker warns from the outset. It is “impossible to visit Père-Lachaise in a single day”. This is something to reassure us, at the risk of ending the visit at nightfall.

Among the first graves visited on our way, that of the sisters Maria and Rosy Carita. The two star hairdressers and beauticians, who died in 1978 and 1983, are based in the first division. A monument like no other. “They refused to have their dates of birth engraved on their tombstones, coquettishly carrying the secret of their age into eternity,” said Bertrand Beyern, adding. “It is assumed that they were in their sixties.”

Later in the visit, we cross the path of the author Colette where near her grave, our charismatic guide reveals crisp anecdotes about her love life: men, but also women who shared her life like Mathilde de Morny ( called Missy), a pioneer of transgender figures, who also rests at Père-Lachaise. With his anecdotal stories, the voice of Bertrand Beyern holds our attention, but also that of a few curious people who try to join the group. The opportunity for him to reveal to us some of his crazy encounters at Père-Lachaise.

As Bertrand Beyern reminds us with humor during the visit to Père-Lachaise, “death never takes a vacation”. Every moment of the year, there are burials even during visits to the cemetery. As we walk up a large alley where we meet the graves of Ledru Rollin and Félix Faure (between two anecdotes about the mischievous nickname of the president’s mistress), the speaker looks back on encounters that marked her.

“Anonymous and deceased celebrities rub shoulders in the alleys of Père Lachaise”, reminds us of the necrosophist and historian. This sometimes leads to surreal scenes. “Every summer, we see the walkers arriving, very relaxed on vacation, following the funeral processions and taking photos in the middle of the funeral, thinking that it is a star”. One of them even asked him if a star was about to be buried while the speaker was visiting.

Sometimes, it happens to Bertrand Beyern to make discoveries at the foot of the tombs. Like this day in July 2000 when an individual left a tender note on the grave of the author Alfred de Musset. From his pocket, the guide took out the precious paper and read. “Alfred, I will be eternally grateful to you for my 14/20 in the French baccalaureate. Thank you, you are a real friend”. Something to make visitors laugh at this unusual anecdote.

More symbolic, the tomb of the pianist Frédéric Chopin perched at the top of a long, rather narrow path. In front of the crowd present in front of his burial, red and white candles lit up. “It’s magnificent”, exclaims Marine in front of this place of pilgrimage dear to the hearts of Franco-Polish tourists and visitors. An artist particularly appreciated by Pierre Desproges who often visited his tomb during his lifetime, Bertrand Beyern tells us. The virtuoso of black humor, who died in 1988, lies in the same aisle as his idol. Like him, other French stars are very popular in the heart of Père-Lachaise.

Bertrand Beyern’s humorous safari continues in the spans of Père-Lachaise. If the dead sleep peacefully, their rest is sometimes disturbed by malicious individuals. Behind the cemetery guards, grave robbers rage in broad daylight by stealing stelae, sculptures or vault doors. More chilling as a story: the murder of a sexagenarian in 2014.

After yet another touch of sarcasm, Bertrand Beyern guides us among the unusual tombs of the famous Parisian necropolis. My friend Marine retains that of the photographer (still alive) André Chabot who installed a QR Code on the facade of his tomb to allow the curious to consult his website during the visit. As for Denis, it was the pyramid of Jean-Louis Sacchet, pharmacist (also alive) and passionate about Egypt that caught his attention.

For my part, I set my sights on that of Jean-Louis Fournier. This director for Desproges and friend of the guide Bertrand Beyern enjoyed walking in Père-Lachaise with his second wife Sylvie, who died in 2011. Dark humor unites them even on their epitaph. “Finally, we will not regret coming…”, is written on the monument.

To finish our visit, Bertrand Beyern takes us to some famous graves. On our journey, we visited the tomb of Alain Bashung covered with kisses from his fans. Then that of Jacques Higelin, designed by his last companion some time after his death. More surprising, the imposing tomb of the Darty “son” family (this pun is offered by our necrosophist guide). While Marie Trintignant, Alain Corneau, Sophie Daumier and Gilbert Bécaud are neighbors of divisions.

As 6 p.m. marked the closing of Père-Lachaise, the sun was setting and a few drops were pointing on our faces, our group returned to the exit listening to the latest stories of Bertrand Beyern. This unusual safari allowed Marine to be “closer to celebrities for a moment”, admiring the beauty of the place. “I discovered a rather well maintained place, it seems at first glance rich in the true sense of the term and rich in its deceased”. If the young woman hopes to come back for a special celebrity circuit, this guided tour of Père-Lachaise was an opportunity for Denis to enrich his general knowledge for his studies and professional projects.