Letter From Paris: Let the Saints Come Marching In

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Beth Arnold Author & Founder, an Exile Returned From Paris

This week has been unsettling for both the Lone Wolf husband and me. I may be an antennae that picks up the energy of people all around me while he spends more time ignoring them, but we've both been distracted by "interesting" things that have been happening to our daughters in the U.S. (More about that another day.) Lone Wolf and I definitely have telepathy, but in this case of feeling unsettled, disturbed, devitalized--whatever it was that was troubling us--our feelings were transferring back and forth as well.

Though it's not perfect, we both love the new chez nous. The additional space, and charming as all get out, feels luxurious. But it's also true that even with the pleasure of new discoveries, we still don't feel attached to our new neighborhood. We feel disoriented and out of place somehow.

So this morning we set out to meet some of our neighbors--at Pere Lachaise. Being right on top of things as we usually are (hahahahaha), we remembered it was Halloween. Our friend Mario mentioned something about it being a holiday weekend--although we hadn't really paid attention or thought about what that was. But we headed over to the beautiful cemetery with full intentions of saying hey to Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and others. What better companions could we have? If the 20th Arrondissement is good enough for them to reside eternally, then it certainly should work for us.

As soon as we saw the gates, we noticed tons of people were pouring in and out, single or in groups, carrying pots of mums and bouquets of luscious roses. Aha, I told L.W. It's All Saints Day tomorrow. (This occurred to me because I have always wanted to be in Mexico for big Day of the Dead festivities. I think this idea only makes sense, and how wonderful to celebrate the lives of our loved ones where they're planted in the earth by bringing the treats they liked the most.) In my experience in the U.S. of A ., once people are dead, they're d.e.a.d. We avoid this subject with our every breath and determinedly try to ignore this most unpleasant of facts of life. We would never dream of having a celebration in a cemetery.

According to Wikipedia:

The origin of the festival of All Saints as celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs....The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731-741) of an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world", with the day moved to November 1. ...

A November festival of all the saints was already widely celebrated on November 1 in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious, issued "at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops", which confirmed its celebration on November 1. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471--1484). ...

In Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives.

Since I had decided to embark on the occasional "Meet The Neighbors" column for my blog, it was the perfect weekend to begin. As I said, my original thought was to say hello to Oscar Wilde and Misses Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, but that changed for reasons which you will soon understand.


We came upon Édith Piaf's grave. There was a crowd around, of course, and a blonde woman rather thick around the middle (fan or relative?) had laid flowers on top of the marble tomb. She was cutting and arranging them, while Piaf herself was singing from some portable player that I couldn't see. I noticed the flower arranger had put a tray of what looked like ground beef on the ground to the left of the tomb. Was it for the cats who live in the cemetery? For Piaf? Or to attract good spirits to the beloved singer?


It is only fitting that Piaf is buried in the neighborhood where she was born. Interesting facts about Piaf: She discovered and promoted Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour....In 1962, she wed Théo Sarapo (Theophanis Lamboukas), a Greek hairdresser-turned-singer and actor who was 20 years her junior..... The couple sang together in some of her last engagements. Although she was denied a funeral mass by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris because of her lifestyle, her funeral procession drew tens of thousands of mourners onto the streets of Paris and the ceremony at the cemetery was attended by more than 100,000 fans.

And then we came upon this series of monuments that deserve our recognition and honor. Their designs are obviously meant to draw the eye--even more so since the skeletons were fitting for both Halloween and All Saints. They are in memory of the victims of various Nazi death camps and are on the edge of the southeastern corner of the cemetery.

So I will leave you with the images and your thoughts:

For the victims of Buchenwald

For the victims of Dachau

For the victims of Dachau

For the victims of Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen

For the victims of Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen

For the victims of of Auschwitz

For the French who were deported for forced work in Germany and died, were shot, or lost

They are not forgotten. May they rest in peace.

All photos taken by Beth Arnold on her iPhone. Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to