Remember that war, plague or famine could carry us to the grave at any instant. So, let’s just try and enjoy ourselves before that.
In this dispatch, visit the former site of Holy Innocents’ Cemetery and the first visual example of a danse macabre. Search high and low for what remains of the cemetery – not least its reputation for depravity. And join me in learning that, whether you want to visit a country’s monuments or assassinate one of its monarchs, it’s best to seize every moment.
Welcome to Père Lachaise – where there’s plenty of room for the living but the dead face stiffer entry requirements.
In this dispatch, join me as I search among more than one million residents for the best company in the afterlife. Meet the great French writers Molière and Jean de La Fontaine. Pay tribute to lovers Abelard and Heloise. And find out how they came to be buried here and how I might hope to, too. Because, while I have plenty left to do, see and lose in this life, one can never be too prepared.
The French town of Saint Denis is named for the bishop who, in 250AD, supposedly walked there from Montmartre – a distance of about seven kilometres – holding his own decapitated head.
Now, when you’re going through something even ever-so-slightly unpleasant, it almost never helps to consider the ways things could be worse. So, say that a thunderstorm has forced you to take refuge in an abandoned violin store. You would no doubt be cold and miserable. And while things could be worse – the violin store could be in business and flooding the world with the sharp and screeching sound of strings – the thought won’t dry your soaked clothes.
So, despite the head still attached to my body, it was with reservations that I took the metro to Saint Denis to see the oldest gothic building for myself.