Père Lachaise: 50 Shades of Graves

  • The author, who has paid numerous visits to Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, sent AxeMan in search of myths and irony. In the hallowed grounds, AxeMan stumbles upon LaPelle, aka the shovel. They will become imperfect alter egos as well as soul mates.


He first visited the sarcophagus of Victor Noir in the mid 1980s. He had only heard that Noir was a fertility symbol for women who would lay upon the statue and rub. The crotch, lips and boot toes were burnished bright.  His introduction to the tomb was itself strange. He and a friend from Berkeley were wandering around the cemetery on a beautiful early September day. They noticed that a man seemed to be following them which seemed highly unlikely. However, wherever they went, he seemed to be within sight. They ducked behind a tomb and watched as he passed by. A short while later, they came upon Noir’s tomb. The man, with flowers in his hand, was laying atop the prone statue. They told the story frequently. Noir, born Jewish, had converted to Catholicism, his mother’s faith.
Only after beginning 50 Shades did he discover that Victor Noir, a French journalist, was a myth. He did not die at the massacre of the Paris Communards by Prussians as so many believed. He had been killed by Prince Bonaparte after delivering an invitation to a duel from his editor. A long and complicated story, but Victor Noir became a useful symbol of the 1870 Revolution. AxeMan learns from LaPelle informs him that the supposed monument to the French Revolution is not that at all. Instead, it is a monument to all those who died in the service of France.

While AxeMan was in exile in Paris, he continued to receive news from the boss about the state of electoral affairs in America. LaPelle was especially attentive and fascinated. When informed of the misadventures of the Republican candidate, Carly Fiorina, he introduced AxeMan to the crypt of Heloise and Abelard. Therein, he said, lay a tale of deceit, obfuscation and castration. The author, had begun to think of his home as Lyin’ America. Since everything was being branded by the least likely candidate, why not brand the country of origin?

As the journey continues, AxeMan receives instructions from abroad. The Boss, always digging for information, has discovered that Judah Philip Benjamin, third Secretary of State of the Confederacy, second Secretary of War in the CSA is buried in Pere Lachaise. He even has the plot number. And, of great interest, he is Jewish. How and why does the boss know this? Much had been made of JPB in his confirmation class in an Atlanta synagogue in 1957. He is buried in plain sight but hidden in his wife’s family tomb bearing her name at Pere Lachaise. JPB, like Victor Noir, had converted to Catholicism.

Back in Lyin’ America, the Boss is becoming increasingly anxious about the dangerous political climate. Plus, he had celebrated his 75th birthday in Paris, and mortality was looking a bit grim. He might never return, not in his current form. He deputized AxeMan and LaPelle to find him a nice shady spot, within which his ashes and some kind of marker would mark the spot. AxeMan was not ready to return, but he felt an allegiance to comply. Send the marker, he told the Boss, we’ll find a nice shady spot.

Every day the Boss felt defeated with the meteoric rise of the Monster who Would be King. How could it happen? The need for the grave marker seemed strangely urgent, but nothing came to mind. Then, while attending a social event, he met a woman. It was just before the Jewish New Year, an occasion he did not really celebrate, though it was a token part of his family history. How it came into the conversation he was not certain. But she asked him if he was Jewish. He said, Yes, but with an asterisk. Why an asterisk, she asked? I’m a Jewish atheist, he said. Was you mother Jewish, she asked? Yeah, he replied. Then you’re Jewish, she said. You don’t have a choice. Of course I do, he said. No, she said sharply. It’s not your choice to make. The hell it isn’t, he snapped. Shaking her head she replied, That’s what you think. And there it was. The marker, the urn, had to be an asterisk. He asked a sculptor friend to make it in copper. And when it was finished, he shipped it to a Parisienne friend to give to AxeMan who apparently was leaving him home alone to deal with the next phase.

As he prepares to leave his alter ego in Paris and deal with the craziness on his own, he receives a gift of sorts. One of his favorite artists, a French woman named Sophie Calle, has emigrated to create a version of 50 Shades of Graves in Lyin’ America in nearby Brooklyn. Perhaps they will cross paths.