Thursday, November 08, 2007


It may come as no surprise that I am sometimes taken by flights of fancy. Noble, idealistic causes, to be sure. I'll get a sudden brainstorm, a passion for a plan that Ought to Be, and I simply can't let go of it at least until I've made an effort. Just call me Donna Quixote. Madame Quichotte en français. It's bigger than I am, this tilting at windmills. I specialize in dreaming the improbable dream.

One year ago today I proposed my wild idea of a human chain spelling "Merci, Art!" as a tribute to Art Buchwald at Thanksgiving. Sadly, time ran out before it could get organized. Of course, if we tried again this year, Art could look down from his big writing desk in the sky and chuckle.

My latest crazy notion has to do with cemeteries. Parisian cemeteries. The idea first began to germinate 18 months ago when visiting Père Lachaise with my son. Of course we made the requisite trip to pay homage to Jim Morrison's tomb. Much to my surprise, and to my son's dismay, there were two guards keeping eager tourists away from the grave. I wondered if there were, therefore, a full-time salary or two that comes out of the City of Paris coffers just to keep American fans from stealing more chunks of the stone. That didn't seem right.

Then, looking around, I began to think: what if there were a "Friends of Père Lachaise" organization that had an adopt-a-tomb program? Individuals from all over the world could make donations to a specific tomb in order to support its maintenance. Some of the tombs are looking a little shabby, and many have no one to care for them any more and have an uncertain fate.

Okay, she's certifiable, you're thinking. Get the white-coat guys, pronto.

But really, I'm not. It's a wee bit pie-in-the-sky, I admit, but not totally harebrained.

You see, my professional background -- in addition to improbable dreams and witty, entertaining writing -- is actually in fund-raising, especially for American organizations relating to France. You have to have a lot imagination and lot of faith that dreams can be realized if you want to raise money from donors. Somehow I can often sniff out opportunities for the Next Cool Thing that can be done. It's just an intuitive thing. But first you have to galvanize support. Lots of it.

But usually this happens: I'll wax rhapsodic about my lofty scheme. Listeners nod encouragingly, show enthusiasm; then when they think it will have to involve their effort, they begin to glance at their shoes, they start shuffling their papers, and then say "Um... I think I have to get back to my cubicle."

Invariably, three years later, one of them comes up with a brilliant idea at a staff or committee meeting -- MY idea! -- and gets fame and glory and a year-end bonus for being so clever. This is my fate in life.

This time I'm at least publishing my idea first.

Granted, there are a few pesky little speed-bumps to smooth out in the Adopt-a-Tomb program. First, would the City of Paris even want the rest of the world to adopt these tombs financially? I'll have to ask. But imagine the thrill of being able to be part of a team that pays for the maintenance of Sartre's or Piaf's tomb, for example, or any of the many notables buried in Paris cemeteries. (Or if you are Mr. & Mrs. Gottrocks Gigabucks Jr., you could underwrite a whole tomb with a grant from your family foundation. Whee!) You could come to visit "your" tomb when you're in Paris.

There are other political and practical considerations to address, but none are insurmountable. There are other important French cultural institutions that are supported in part by "American Friends of" groups. Why not cemeteries?

So there it is. If I have to get back to my cubicle and can't take on this Paris windmill, I hope that some other Don Quixote will.

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