Thursday, November 01, 2007

La Toussaint; Chrysanthemums; Cemeteries

November 1 is la Toussaint -- All Saints' Day -- a holiday for remembering the dead in France. I guess you could say it's the counterpart to Memorial Day in the US. Like Memorial Day, it is not only a day for the dearly departed but also a day for the happily departing: the two-week school vacation began last Friday, and those who didn't leave then are making a long weekend of it now. Finally the frenzy of September-through-October Paris buzz takes its first break of the season...

The florists have all variety of chrysanthemums on display. In France, chrysanthemums are for remembering the souls of the dead. Unlike the US in the fall, here you will find no "cheerful" pots of mums adorning doorsteps. (And thus in France you would also never bring mums to a dinner hostess!) They're strictly an autumn flower for cemeteries or memorial plaques.

To illustrate: a mum is such an understood symbol for commemorating the dead that this week's Le Canard Enchainé had the following headline

figuratively meaning that the CNE (the controversial employment policy), is dead in the water.

Back to real mums. I loved the rows of chrysanthemums in Montparnasse Cemetery.

There are other flowers, to be sure. Some exquisitely decorated tombs.

The Cimitière de Montparnasse in the 14e arrondissement is perhaps not as famous as Père Lachaise, but it's a peaceful place to stroll.

There are plenty of celebrities' tombs to visit here, but I mostly poke around and always find eyecatching angles or eloquent, poignant vignettes.

Some folks are spooked by cemeteries; I've never been on that wavelength, either in the US or in France. Solemn, yes, but not at all creepy.

Mostly they are serene, poetic places, full of architectural, historic and social significance.

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