50 Shades of Graves
The author, who has visited Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, sent Howard Saunders searching for myths and irony. In the hallowed grounds, Howard Saunders stumbles upon LaPelle, aka the shovel. They will become imperfect alter egos as well as soulmates. Paris.
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 in the massacre of the Paris Communards by Prussians as so many believed. Prince Bonaparte had killed him after delivering an invitation to a duel from his editor. It is a long and complicated story, but Victor Noir became a valuable symbol of the 1870 Revolution. Howard Saunders learns from LaPelle 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 Howard Saunders was in exile in Paris, he continued to receive news from the Boss about the state of electoral affairs in America. LaPelle was incredibly attentive and fascinated. When informed of the misadventures of the Republican candidate, Carly Fiorina, he introduced Howard Saunders 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 the least likely candidate was branding everything, why not impress the country of origin?
As the journey continues, Howard Saunders receives instructions from abroad. The Boss, always digging for information, has discovered that Judah Philip Benjamin, third Secretary of State of the Confederacy and 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, which bears 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 Howard Saunders and LaPelle to find him a nice shady spot, within which his ashes and some kind of totem would mark the spot. Howard Saunders 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.
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.
And so, Howard Saunders and LaPelle have served their purpose. They are designing their own crypt, not without some difficulty. Howard Saunders, freed to have a mind of his own, tries to listen to LaPelle, but finds his sense of propriety a bit much. He knows everything about everything, and is prone to wax without waning. Still, they seem to have a number of affinities, and when they wander off the res, Howard Saunders is off on his own Paris discovery. The author now has a more difficult task. Two and a half years to Becoming 80 in the Year 2020. Which correlates with the hoped for demise of the Madness of King Donald. It could not come a minute too soon.