No better time than International Women’s Day to celebrate some of the remarkable women buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery: Listed by those tombs featured in the City of Immortals tours.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (January 28, 1873–August 3, 1954). Colette was one of the leading literary figures in France and the author of dozens of books, such as Chéri, La Naissance du Jour, and Gigi, which was made into a film starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jordan, and Leslie Caron.
Rosa Bonheur (March 16, 1822–May 25, 1899). Bonheur was the most famous woman painter of the 19th century and the first renowned painter of animals; one of her best-known works, The Horse Fair, hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Bonheur lived with a lifelong friend Natalie Micas, and later Anna Klumke, her life partner. The three are buried together in a plot Bonheur purchased in Père Lachaise.
Douglas Keister is an author and photographer I have long admired. We met in person at a book signing recently in Los Angeles (he lives up north in Chico, CA) and he agreed to share an excerpt from one of his many fine books on cemeteries.
“Cemeteries are virtual encyclopedias of symbolism. The symbols on a person’s tomb may help to tell us something about the life of its inhabitant. Dead men may tell no tales, but their tombstones do. Besides informing us of the person’s name and dates of birth and death, a tombstone often tells us a person’s religion, ethnicity, what clubs he was a member of, occupation and what the person’s thoughts were on the afterlife.
Jeanne Hébuterne (April 6, 1898 –January 25,1920) was a French artist, best known as the frequent subject and common-law wife of the artist Amedeo “Modi” Modigliani. Sadly, she took her own life on this day.
Hébuterne’s family had brought their daughter to their home after hearing that Modigliani had died, but the distraught Jeanne threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window, killing herself and her unborn child.
The Buddha said the greatest of all teachings is impermanence. Its final expression is death. Buddhist teacher Judy Lief explains why our awareness of death is the secret of life. It’s the ultimate twist.
Whether we fight it, deny it, or accept it, we all have a relationship with death. Some people have few encounters with death as they are growing up, and it becomes personal for them only as they age and funerals begin to outnumber weddings. Others grow up in violent surroundings where sudden death is common, or see a family member die of a fatal illness. Many of us have never seen a person die, while people who work in hospitals and hospices see the realities of death and dying every day. But whether death is something distant for us or we are in the thick of it, it haunts and challenges us.