Père-Lachaise (1)

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris is the most famous cemetery in the world. It was named after King Louis XIV’s confessor, François d'Aix de La Chaise (1624-1709), aka le Père La Chaise. It was built in 1804, in an effort to stop the habit of random unhealthful burials throughout Paris. Nowadays over 70.000 human beings are buried on 47 hectares (105 acres). The picture shows the present days main entrance.

This ‘Monument Aux Morts’ is a moving work of art by the painter and sculptor Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928). It was inaugurated on the 1st of November 1899 after twelve years of work. It measures 8 meters in height and is 14,10 meters wide.

Héloïse (family name unknown) (ca 1100-1164) & Pierre Abélard aka Pierre Abailard aka Pierre Abeilard (Le Pallet 1079 - Chalon-sur-Saône 1142). The story about these two lovers is a long and gripping one. She was from the lower classes but due to her phenomenal intellect given over to her uncle Fulbert in Paris who was a Canon in the mighty Catholic church. Canons were powerful and wealthy in those days so her uncle spared no expense to ensure that she received the finest education. She studied under Pierre Abélard, over 20 years her senior. Uncle Fulbert wished for Héloïse to enter a convent once her education was complete. In the meantime teacher and pupil had entered into one of the most steamy flirtations imaginable. Abélard’s writings of his seduction of the nubile Héloïse still survive. Soon they became lovers and Héloïse was pregnant. Héloïse bore Abélard a son named Astrolabe. For obvious reasons they tried to keep the powerful uncle in the dark. Tragically Fulbert did find out and his horrific anger against Héloïse caused friends to rush her to a safe place. Abélard secreted her away to the convent of Argenteuil where Fulbert could not reach her. Fulbert’s fury was overwhelming. He gathered a small group of church-fearing men and took them to Abélard’s quarters where the latter was overpowered and savagely castrated. Abélard barely survived but swore his family to secrecy about his faith. Héloïse wrote him letters with plans for a life together far away from Paris as husband and wife with their baby-boy. Everyday she waited for him but Abélard couldn’t bring himself to tell her what Fulbert had done to him. His letters show that he tried to make her reject him. He even wrote that in fact he had persuaded Fulbert to accept money for her and give her to him as a toy for nothing more than his physical release. She saw through this attempt to break her heart – but did never know why he was saying these things. Abélard became a monk and never told Héloïse how much he feared that if she left the convent, her uncle would have her mutilated as well. Later in their lives their letters moved from sensual to theological as they both played the game of pretending not longing for each other. Their correspondence continued until both of their deaths. Héloïse never left the convent because Abélard never came to get her. She was prioress in her later years, thanks to her brilliant mind. After their deaths they were both entombed together. Some declare that Héloïse is not in the tomb because Fulbert made sure that her remains were dumped elsewhere. Whatever the truth these are the original Romeo and Julia who loved each other throughout their lives, but were never able to be together.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (Belley 1755 - Paris 1826). Initially a lawyer and politician, Brillat-Savarin’s passion for food led him to found the genre of the gastronomic essay. His perfectly scientific cook book Physiologie du Goût (The Phisiology of Taste, full title Physiologie du Goût ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savants) was published in December 1825, two months before his death. Brillat-Savarin told the world why food preparations work the way they do. His name on the tombstone is misspelled: the 'de' should not be there.

Karel Hendrik Ver-Huell aka Verhuell (Charles Henri Ver Huell) (Doetinchem 1764 – Paris 1845). A Dutch later French naval commander, admiral and politician. He originated from a Dutch patrician family and obtained his French count-title from Louis Napoleon, king of the Netherlands and from Napoleon I – see last week’s blog. His father was Q.M. Ver Huell, mayor of Doetinchem among other occupations. His mother was Mrs J.E.A. Ver Huell-Baroness van Rouwenoort. Some members of the Ver Huell family were elevated into the ranks of the Dutch nobility by King William I receiving the designation esquire. The ennobled branche of the family became extinct in 1931.

Michel Ney, 1st Duc d'Elchingen, 1st Prince de la Moskowa (Saarlouis 1769 – Paris 1815). A French soldier and military commander during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original 18 Marshals of France created by Napoleon. He was known as Le Rougeaud ("red faced" or "ruddy") by his men and nicknamed le Brave des Braves ("the bravest of the brave") by Napoleon. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Ney was arrested in Paris and executed by a firing squad four months later in the Jardin du Luxembourg. He refused to get blindfolded and gave the order to shoot himself.

Allan Kardec, pseudonym of Hippolyte Léon Denisart Rivail, (Lyon 1804 – Paris 1869). Kardec was already in his early 50s when he became interested in the wildly popular phenomenon of spirit-tapping. At the time, strange phenomena attributed to the action of spirits were reported in many different places, most notably in the U.S. and France, attracting the attention of high society. The first such phenomena were at best frivolous and entertaining, featuring objects that moved or "tapped" under what was said to be spirit control. In some cases, this was alleged to be a type of communication: the supposed spirits answered questions by controlling the movements of objects so as to pick out letters to form words, or simply indicate "yes" or "no." At the time, Franz Mesmer's theory of animal magnetism was popular in the upper reaches of society. When confronted with the phenomena described, some researchers, including Rivail, pointed out that animal magnetism might explain them. Rivail, however, after personally seeing a demonstration, quickly dismissed the animal-magnetism hypothesis as being insufficient to completely explain all the facts observed.Rivail was determined to understand exactly what was causing the physical effects popularly attributed to spirits. As a teacher with little scientific background (he had never attended a university), Rivail decided to do his own research. Not being a medium himself, he compiled a list of questions and began working with mediums and channelers to put them to spirits. Soon the quality of the communications, allegedly with spirits, appeared to improve. Rivail used the name "Allan Kardec" allegedly after a spirit identified as Zefiro, whom he had been communicating with, told him about a previous incarnation of his as a Druid by that name. Rivail liked the name and decided to use it to keep his Spiritists writings separate from his work, basically books for high school students. On April 18, 1857 Rivail (signing himself "Allan Kardec") published his first book on Spiritism, The Spirits' Book, comprising a series of 1,018 answered questions exploring matters concerning the nature of spirits, the spirit world, and the relations between the spirit world and the material world. This was followed by a series of other books, like The Book on Mediums and The Gospel According to Spiritism, and by a periodical, the Revue Spirite, which Kardec published until his death. Kardec thus produced the books that form the Spiritist Codification. Allan Kardec coined the word "spiritism." (Wikipedia.) According to the number of visitors and the flowers at his memorial this man still has a lot of followers.

Ferdinand Marie, vicomte de Lesseps (Versailles 1805 – La Chênaie 1894). In 1832 de Lesseps was appointed vice-consul at Alexandria. While the vessel de Lesseps sailed to Egypt in was in quarantine at the Alexandrian lazaretto, M. Mimaut, consul-general of France at Alexandria, sent him several books, among which was the memoir written upon the Suez Canal, according to Napoleon Bonaparte's instructions, by the civil engineer Jacques-Marie Le Père, one of the scientific members of the French expedition. This work struck de Lesseps's imagination, and gave him the idea of constructing a canal across the African isthmus. Fortunately for de Lesseps, Mehemet Ali, the viceroy of Egypt, owed his position in part to the recommendations made on his behalf to the French government by Mathieu de Lesseps, who was consul-general in Egypt when Ali was a colonel. Because of this, de Lesseps received a warm welcome from the viceroy and became good friends with his son, Said Pasha. Said Pasha invited de Lesseps to pay him a visit, and on 7 November 1854 he landed at Alexandria; on the 30th of the same month Said Pasha signed the concession authorizing him to build the Suez Canal. A first scheme, initiated by de Lesseps, was immediately drawn out by two French engineers who were in the Egyptian service, Louis Maurice Adolphe Linant de Bellefonds called "Linant Bey" and Mougel Bey. This project, differing from others that were previously presented or that were in opposition to it, provided for a direct link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. After being slightly modified, the plan was adopted in 1856 by the civil engineers constituting the International Commission for the piercing of the isthmus of Suez. Encouraged by the engineers' approval, de Lesseps no longer allowed anything to stop him. He listened to no adverse criticism and receded before no obstacle. Neither the opposition of Lord Palmerston, who considered the projected disturbance as too radical and a danger to the commercial position of Great Britain. De Lesseps was similarly not deterred by the opinions entertained, in France as well as in England, that the sea in front of Port Said was full of mud which would obstruct the entrance to the canal, and that the sands from the desert would fill the trenches — no adverse argument could dishearten Lesseps. De Lesseps succeeded in rousing the patriotism of the French and obtaining by their subscriptions more than half of the capital of two hundred million francs which he needed in order to form a company, but could not attract any substantial capital contribution from the public in England or other foreign countries. The Egyptian government thus subscribed for eighty million francs worth of shares. The Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez was organized at the end of 1858. On 25 April 1859 the first blow of the pickaxe was given by de Lesseps at Port Said. During the following ten years, de Lesseps had to overcome the continuing opposition of the British government preventing the Sultan from approving the construction of the canal and at one stage, he even had to seek the support of his cousin, Empress Eugenie to persuade the Emperor Napoleon III to act as arbitrator in the disputes. Finally, on 17 November 1869, the canal was officially opened by the Khedive, Ismail Pasha. (Wikipedia.)

Georges-Eugène baron Haussmann (Paris 1809 – Paris 1891). Commissioned by Napoleon III to instigate a program of planning reforms in Paris, Haussmann laid out the Bois de Boulogne, and made extensive improvements in the smaller parks. The gardens of the Luxembourg Palace (Luxembourg Garden) were cut down to allow the formation of new streets, and the Boulevard de Sebastopol, the southern half of which is now the Boulevard St Michel, was driven through a populous district. Additional, sweeping changes made wide "boulevards" of hitherto narrow streets. A new water supply, a gigantic system of sewers, new bridges, the opera house, and other public buildings, the inclusion of outlying districts – these were among Haussmann's achievements, accomplished by the aid of a bold handling of the public funds which called forth Jules Ferry's indictment, Les Comptes fantastiques de Haussmann, in 1867 (a play on words between contes, stories or tales – as in Les contes d'Hoffmann or Tales of Hoffmann, and comptes, accounts.) A loan of 250 million francs was sanctioned for the city of Paris in 1865, and another of 260 million in 1869. These sums represented only part of his financial schemes, which led to his dismissal by the government of Émile Ollivier. After the fall of the Empire he spent about a year abroad, but he re-entered public life in 1877, when he became Bonapartist deputy for Ajaccio. His work destroyed much of the medieval city. It is estimated that he transformed 60% of Paris's buildings. Notably, he redesigned the Place de l'Étoile, and created long avenues giving perspectives on monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Opera Garnier. For his work, Haussmann received many honours, he was however never formally ennobled. In later life, he nonetheless became known as Baron Haussmann. According to his memoirs, Haussmann's use of the title baron was based on his elevation to the Senate and to an 1857 decree of the emperor's that gave Senate members the title of baron; his memoirs further stated that he joked that he might consider the title aqueduc, (a pun on the French words for 'duke' and 'aqueduct') but that no such title existed. However, the Dictionary of the Second Empire states that Haussmann used the title of baron casually, out of pride as the only male descendant of his maternal grandfather, Georges Frédéric, Baron Dentzel, a general under the first Napoleon. This use of baron, however, was not official, and he remained, legally, merely Monsieur Haussmann. (Wikipedia.)

Yvan Salmon, dit Victor Noir (Attigny 1848 - Paris 1870). Son of a Jewish cobbler who had converted to Catholicism, born Yvan Salmon at Attigny, Vosges, he adopted "Victor Noir" as his pen name after his mother's maiden name. He went to Paris and became an apprentice journalist for the newspaper La Marseillaise, owned and operated by Henri Rochefort and edited by Paschal Grousset. In Paris, Victor eagerly served as a journalist, but he was also very popular for his way with the secretaries and women near his apartment as being exceedingly... um .. adept at delivering ‘gentle and yet thunderous femal… arrival’. Not to be discounted was his large ‘endownment’. As a young and hungry journalist, Victor proved equally adept at wrapping his brain around the complex infighting of power, and wrapping his body around the beautiful women of Paris in equal parts. In December 1869, a dispute broke out between two Corsican newspapers, the radical La Revanche, inspired from afar by Grousset and the loyalist L'Avenir de la Corse, edited by an agent of the Ministry of Interior named Della Rocca. The invective of la Revanche concentrated on Napoleon I. On 30 December, l'Avenir published a letter sent to its editor by the young Prince Pierre Bonaparte, great-nephew of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and cousin of the then-ruling Emperor Napoleon III. Prince Bonaparte castigated the staff of la Revanche as cowards and traitors. The letter made its way from Bastia to Paris. Grousset took offense and demanded satisfaction. In the meantime, la Marseillaise lent strong support to the cause of la Revanche. On 9 January 1870, Prince Bonaparte wrote a letter to Rochefort, claiming to uphold the good name of his family: ‘After having outraged each of my relations, you insult me with the pen of one of your menials. My turn had to come. Only I have an advantage over others of my name, of being a private individual, while being a Bonaparte... I therefore ask you whether your inkpot is guaranteed by your breast... I live, not in a palace, but at 59, rue d'Auteuil. I promise to you that if you present yourself, you will not be told that I left.’ On the following day, Grousset sent Victor Noir and Ulrich de Fonvielle as his seconds to fix the terms of a duel with Pierre Bonaparte. Contrary to custom, they presented themselves to Prince Bonaparte instead of contacting his seconds. Each of them carried a revolver in his pocket. Noir and de Fonvieille presented Prince Bonaparte with a letter signed by Grousset. But the prince declined the challenge, asserting his willingness to fight his fellow nobleman Rochefort, but not his "menials" (ses manœuvres). In response, Noir asserted his solidarity with his friends. According to Fonvieille, Prince Bonaparte then slapped his face and shot Noir dead. According to the Prince, it was Noir who took umbrage at the epithet and struck him first, whereupon he drew his revolver and fired at his aggressor. That was the version eventually accepted by the court. A public outcry followed and on 12 January, led by political activist Auguste Blanqui, more than 100,000 people joined Noir's funeral procession to a cemetery in Neuilly. Attendance in this procession was regarded as a civic duty for republicans. When the future president of the republic Sadi Carnot (assassinated in 1894) endorsed electoral candidates, he often identified them as such attendees. ("Il a été au convoi de Victor Noir.") At a time when the Emperor was already unpopular, Pierre's acquittal on the murder charge caused enormous public outrage that erupted into a number of violent demonstrations. However a plebiscite was held over a new more liberal constitution and was approved by a crushing majority. The Republican cause appeared to be lost. Separate events led to the Franco-Prussian War which resulted in the overthrow of the Emperor's regime on 4 September 1870. In 1891, following the establishment of the Third Republic, the body of Victor Noir was moved to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. His monument shows Victor in his finest suit, just as he would have fallen with his hat beside him in the street. The sculptor has paid homage to his virility by unbuttoning his pants. And myth has it that if women want to achieve orgasm they should rub his penis. If they want to find a beautiful lover, they should kiss his beautiful lips, if they want to get pregnant, they should touch his right foot, if they want to have twins, they should touch his left foot. (Partly Wikipedia.)

Laurent Fignon (Paris 1960 – Paris 2010). He was a French professional road bicycle racer. He won the Tour de France in 1983 and in 1984. He missed winning it a third time, in 1989, by 8 seconds, the closest margin ever to decide the tour. During that Tour, he was on bad terms with the journalists. He often refused to smile for photographs, and at one point spat into the lens of a cameraman who asked for an interview. For his efforts the press awarded Fignon the "Prix Citron", a prize the press awarded to whom they thought the least likable rider. The 1989 Tour was often a sore point for Fignon. When given the question "Aren't you the guy who lost the Tour by 8 seconds?" he would answer "No. I am the guy who won it twice." He also won the Giro d'Italia in 1989, after having been the runner-up in 1984, and the classic race Milan – San Remo in 1988 and 1989. He died from cancer on 31 August 2010.