ighlights of a walking tour set us firmly on Paris ground, courtesy of historian, teacher and modern-day wit, Chris Friendly. Chris has developed a series of walks in Paris and when the pandemic is over, we will seek him out to lead us on interesting and surprising tours of the beautiful city he knows so well. These offerings which follow are cribbed from the second of his walks, featuring women in Paris.
Let’s start with his Jardin du Luxembourg, designed by the Queen of France after tiring of the Louvre, where she lived (poor dear). She missed her beloved Florence where she was born. Ah, Florence (another day). Pictures and an interactive map are to be had at this link.
Now, here’s Chris!
Jardin du Luxembourg
“Strolling through this elegant garden, it is not hard to picture the generations of visitors who have done the same throughout its 400 years.
In 1620, Queen Marie de Medici (d.1620) had the palace built to match her haughty pomposity, though Josephine Bonaparte only visited the palace as a prisoner when she was simply named Rose and briefly locked up here before the French Revolution. The Nazi Luftwaffe had its headquarters in the palace during WWII, but today it houses the French Senate.
“There are statues to 20 queens of France surrounding the center of the Jardin as well as countless tributes to worthy locals such as the writer George Sand (d.1876), and not too far away, one of her many lovers, the composer Frederick Chopin. Sand shook 19th century establishment values by dressing as a man on occasion, smoking in public and writing fairly socialist essays, but she also said, ‘There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.’
“Saint Balthild of Ascania (d. 680), also gets a statue in the garden, as she was one of the first Christian queens of France and the mother of three kings. She had quite the life after being born into pagan aristocracy in 7th century England. She was captured by invading Franks and sold into slavery in what is now Paris. Her owner served Clovis II who fell in love with the slave girl and made her queen. After he died and her sons went on to rule, Balthild spent the later years of her life trying to end the practice of slavery.
“Not too far from the statue of Balthild is another homage to freedom, a replica of the replica of the Statue of Liberty. (The original replica is now at the Musée D’Orsay so this one was put in place in 2002.) It is a good place to honor the ideas of liberty, some of which remain visible only by historical torchlight.
“This includes The Declaration of the Rights of Woman written not far from here in 1791 by Olympe de Gouges. Daughter of a butcher and revolutionary gadfly, de Gouges died a martyr to women’s rights as the male radicals of the French Revolution decreed the rights of man but left it at that. She was guillotined as an enemy of the state in 1793 for writing words such as:
‘Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his force and needs yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust toward his companion. Oh women! Women, when will you cease to be blind? …Whatever the barriers set up against you, it is in your power to overcome them; you only have to want it.’
“For generations her words fell on deaf ears in France as Napoleon instituted a law code that made women second-class citizens to the extent that they didn’t get the right to vote in France until 1945!”
We take a breath here to appreciate the breadth of knowledge that we have just enjoyed. And now on to Gertrude Stein, a modernist writer herself, and patron of American writers galore.
Back to Chris:
27 Rue de Fleurus
Gertrude Stein (d. 1946), and Alice Toklas (d. 1967): Authors, hostesses, lovers.
“The most famous salon of the early 20th century took place here each Saturday evening as feminist icon, author and hostess Gertrude Stein held court for luminaries such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce and other artistic and literary heavies.
Her lover Alice Toklas, of magic brownie fame, was relegated to a side room along with wives and girlfriends who were not allowed to disturb Gertrude and her men. Though she called her most famous book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein was the dominant force in their shared lives until her death in 1946. Stein’s family removed all the art left to Toklas while she was away on vacation, thus forcing her into financial difficulties made a bit better after she published a cookbook with instructions for making hash brownies among other treats. Toklas died poor, aged 89 in 1967 and is buried together with Stein in Père Lachaise Cemetery, though her name is on the back of Stein’s headstone.
Speaking of the Père Lachaise Cemetery, which Chris is about to do, it occurs to me to wonder where Samuel Beckett is buried. So help me Google, the answer is that he was buried in Montparnasse. I should think that was a mistake, although Beckett was shy and retiring, so maybe he wouldn’t be at home with the rock stars at Père Lachaise, which literally translates as Father Chair, a fact that I imagine would please the vagabonds since they would at least have the idea of a chair to sit upon as they did not move.
I will interrupt no more! Let’s join Chris at the cemetery. (I mean, don’t you think Beckett should be there? Fancy cemetery? The man said that human existence was a slow death. That’s kind of a statement of fact, but still, I suppose it would seem gloomy if it were carved on a headstone.) Okay! Get the hook. Chris is now taking us to Père Lachaise, where we can enjoy the graves of fancy women and men.
Make a pilgrimage to Père Lachaise Cemetery (Père Lachaise metro lines 2 or 3, 11th Arr.)
“Founded only in 1804, this plot of land is a mix between solemn final resting ground and a Disneyland of the dead. There are arguably more pilgrimage sites here than any other place on earth: mathematicians come to leave algebra equations to Gaspar Monge (father of algebra and nemesis of high school students worldwide), communists leave roses on May Day in honor of the dead Communards from the 1870 revolt, pebbles are left on the many Holocaust memorials and more than one group has been kicked out at midnight while trying to contact Allen Kardec, the founder of spiritualism and séances with the departed. The land is not actually sacred ground but was walled in by real estate developers early in Napoleon’s reign who then bought the bones of celebrities to make their cemetery chic. It worked as over one million people are buried here.
“Pilgrimages to women buried at Père Lachaise can include the following:
If lovelorn: Leave a love letter to your desired one at the tomb of Abelard and Héloïse, star-crossed medieval lovers forcibly separated after one of Paris’ kinkier affairs. If successful in wealth and love: Leave cheap jewelry at the tomb of Colette who wrote: ‘Never wear second-rate jewels. Wait till the really good ones come to you.’
If blonde: Leave a cutting of your hair in honor of Rosalie Duthé, the first ‘dumb blonde,’ who had the last laugh after a full and merry life as a courtesan who taught two future kings, along with many of their aristocratic male relatives, the facts of life.
If impressed by brave women: Leave a hedgehog for Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (code name hedgehog) who successfully led a WWII resistance network in Paris even after taking off all her clothes to squeeze out of a prison window.
If you support legal marijuana: Leave a hash brownie for Alice Toklas whose cookbook publicized the recipe for the space cakes for a mass audience for the first time. Her name can be found on the back of her lover, Gertrude Stein’s tombstone.
If you need money and have a year to spare: Spend 366 nights in the over-the-top tomb of the Baroness Stroganoff. The wife of a Russian aristocratic, the Baroness loved the good life and mysticism. When she died on 8/8/1818, her will left a two million ruble fortune to any man who would spend a full year with her inside her mausoleum. There are air vents, and in 1984 one man lasted six days among the carved bats, sphinxes and wolves and weasels.
If wanting to get pregnant: Rub the well-worn area on the effigy of well-endowed journalist, Victor Noir.
If a Doors fan: Leave a joint for the Lizard King Jim Morrison.
If you like potatoes: Leave one (or French fries) at the tomb of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier who convinced snobby Europeans that potatoes were not just food for savages, but even chic, as he got Marie Antoinette, Benjamin Franklin and others to praise spuds.
If you’re a libertine: Leave a lipstick kiss on the tomb of Oscar Wilde.”
Although we stray somewhat in this video from women, the drollery abounds in this cemetery!
Thank you so much, Mr. Friendly, and we await with impatience Women of Paris II, which has some racy stories, that’s for sure.
And when we do get to Paris, Chris says that he does infrequent tours via Airbnb called Offbeat Paris Then and Now which is a social impact ‘experience’ so 100% goes to the Romanian orphanage/hospital that an international school in Paris supports.