Paris. It is a word that ignites many different reactions in people. Love, dream, travel, romance, home. Paris is one of those destinations on many, many people’s bucket lists of travel and as resident, I can see why. The only thing that has ever irked me about the tourist aspect is that most visitors appear to forget people actually live here. People have lives, husbands, girlfriends, ex-wives, children, grandparents, jobs, mortgages to negotiate and rent to pay. As a visitor to Paris, you can visit and ‘ooh’ and ‘aww’ at all the sights, but you will never understand the weirdness that is wrapped up in living somewhere that never experiences a downtime in tourist visits. While taking a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower you have waited your entire life to have, you may notice the people jogging around the park. Most of those people live here. We run past you and you huff that we ruined your tripod/timer photo but have you thought about how we internally huff that we don’t want to stop a training run so you can take a picture? You see, Paris is a tourist trap 365 days a year and the locals, well, somedays we are good at not noticing and smiling at you as you enjoy your short time here, yet other days we are aggravated by it.
Never was this aggravation clearer to me than the one and only time I visited Cimitère du Père-Lachaise. Père-Lachaise has become a major tourist spot in Paris synonymous with the ‘greats’ who are buried there. Jim Morrison, Molière, Chopin…just to name a few. What people tend to forget is that Père-Lachaise is still a functioning cemetery. Back to the story, though, it was summer 2010 and my boss, we’ll call him Mr TV, passed away. I received the call from his wife and she promised to forward funeral details as soon as they were finalised. I was in the middle of adjusting to a newborn and I promise you, death was the furthest thing from my mind.
So, a couple days later the email arrived. The funeral was in the afternoon and the location was to be Père-Lachaise, the closest cemetery from their long-time residence in Paris. I re-read it several times. Père-Lachaise. In summer. In the height of the tourism frenzy.
I was given strict instructions on how and where to go upon arrival and whom to present myself to. I was told the ceremonies at Père-Lachaise were under strict control as many tourists had tried to ‘crash’ these events in the past. I had to bring ID, head to a certain numbered door and ask for the service for Mr TV.
On that particular day, I arrived, followed instructions and began the process of attending an actual funeral at Père-Lachaise. A group of English-speaking teenagers started heckling me, telling me that it may be a cemetery but it was ‘overkill’ of me to dress in all-black. This was one of those moments where the world of tourists who are seeing Paris from the looking glass and those who live here collided for me. Never was I angrier at a bunch of teenagers in my life.
The ceremony was lovely. My heart broke for Mrs TV, her young boys and all of those in the crowd I knew who were shocked by his passing. We left as a group and were heavily photographed by tourists on our way out. I’m not sure what they were thinking but I know what I was and it was something along the lines of ‘show some respect’. This may be your holiday but that doesn’t mean compassion has to escape you.
This isn’t meant to be preachy but as I wind up my time here I wanted to pass this on, to both local Parisians and to tourists. We don’t always have to like each other and routinely, we don’t. However, let’s show some mutual respect. Paris is for everyone to enjoy but please remember it would be nothing without the money tourists bring in and it would be even less without the locals who continue to make it what it is.
I have never returned to Père-Lachaise after that day. I didn’t want to. Losing Mr TV was devastating and changed Paris for me. I know I need to ‘visit him’ before I leave for good and I will. I promise.