Ghosts and Ghouls

Paris Travel Blog

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The problem with France is I don't seem to realize that it isn't an extended vacation or, what I prefer to call "An Adventure of Incalculable Magnitude", it is actually "School With Benefits" meaning I should really be doing my homework right now, but alas, I am not. And since I have class at 9am in the Latin quarter, which means I have to get my 17eme arrondisement butt out of bed at 6:30am, I am really going to regret writing this in the morning.

In addition to not doing my homework (some worksheet on the plus-que-parfait and a bawdy excerpt of Rabelais, if you're interested), I'm also not going to go back and tell you about all the amazing and not-so-amazing-but-still-french things I have done in the past few weeks. Not tonight anyway. Tonight I am going to tell you about how I am currently being haunted by the ghost of Oscar Wilde.

Monday I went to the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery with some peeps. It was way cooler than I anticipated, too. The trees were appropriately bare, but the wind was warm--and the light, well, I've never seen such light. The kind of light that makes you go, ohhh, I see it now.

So we went to the grave of Abelard and Heloise first. Those two were pimps. Abelard, in the very beginning of the 12th century--early, as far as these things were concerned--was such a snarky bastard he outwitted the best minds at the U of P, turned the tables with his theories against universals, and even got the girl... until her uncle found out, sent her to a convent, and cut his balls off. True story.

But even without his manly bits, he was still the only one who could make St. Bernard nervous in a battle of wits--which I love. Gotta keep an old monk on his toes.

Heloise, by the way, was a master in the classics as well as Hebrew, equally badass, and became the abbess the convent before long. I'm summarizing of course, but it's a fabulous story, and completely tragic. Also tragic was the amount of scaffolding hanging on the monument, but what can you do?

So we walked, and I lagged behind (like you do), and we saw Chopin, who has the statue of a serious babe perched atop his grave, which doesn't surprise me. We also saw Moliere and Balzac and some other French people I don't know because the 15th-17th centuries are kind of a void for me. Then at last, way up on the top of the hill, we came to the tomb of Oscar Wilde. It's a strange concoction... modern in a certain Howard Roarkian sort of way, and not what I expected it to look like. Still, sure enough, it was covered in the multi-colored lipsick stains of many an admirerer, which was precious (I have to hope that at least some of them were left by men, as he would have preferred) . So, I took out my digital camera, sighed again at its incompitence, and started clicking away.

And then I heard it. The voice.

I can't describe what it said to me per se because in no way could I do such vapourous wit true justice, but it was crisp and melodious with the hint of an Irish trill, though it appeared to be coming at me from a great distance. Summarized with equal potence in the words of the great Chris Schubert, it seemed to say, Bitch, whatever. You don't know me.

I paused, scratched my earlobe, and listened again, thinking I had imagined it. It seemed I had, so I walked around to the other side of the ediface to get a better shot.

But as soon as I crouched back down to improve the angle, I heard it again, and again it seemed to say Rachael, come one, you have no right to take pictures of the grave of a man about whom you know absolutely nothing save his reputation for wit and strapping young boys.

The voice never left me, and with time with it appeared a form. A tall, lean figure of man with a peculiar nose and a penchant for making faces at the obnoxious people in the street who can't see him. What I'm trying to confess to you is this--ever since that day, that moment, I have been haunted by the ghost of Oscar Wilde. He's a snarky SOB, but we've grown rather close. He strolls with me through the streets of Paris, pausing between sentences to brush the dark hair out of his eyes with long, ghostly fingers and, occasionally, to point discretely at the sidewalk to prevent me from stepping in something nasty.

What is more, my friend Oscar keeps me from taking this city too seriously. He shrugs patiently from beyond the gate (ghosts ride the metro for free) when my pass doesn't work the first time and the people behind me stand about rolling their eyes. He tells me to wear the purple sweater instead of the black one and to hell with 'em for it. He even leads me to the best patisseries and points out the best pastries with the most callories--a true gesture as he can no longer digest--and he doesn't even mind when I eat my sandwiches in the street because there are no parks nearby and I'm too hungry to wait.

In return, today, before class and for a mere 3,80 euro, I bought his book The Picture of Dorian Gray at the bookstore under the Louvre. And this evening, during the 15 minutes between the stops reaumur-sebastopol and pereire, and with Oscar beside me giving commentary all the while (his ghostly fingers articulating in the air though no one else could see), I became one of those people on the metro who almost miss their stop because they're too busy reading a good book to remember where they are. I stopped thinking about whether I was wearing enough black to look like a native, whether I was going to fall over and land on some dozing grand-mere, whether I was leaning too hard against the door handle of the opposite side of the car and was inevitably going to open it accidentally and fall backwards to my death. Instead, I laughed--outloud, too, which is absolutely unheard of--and when I got off, well hell, I definitely did not mind the gap.

I carried the book ahead of me as Oscar and I headed home from the station, occasionally reading a sentence or two as I walked, and not really paying attention to him or to anything else. But, when I got to the gate and went to type in the code, I turned around to ask him some trifling question, and I discovered he wasn't there. I wasn't surprised, not at all, I knew he had other forelorn and lame-ass americans to aid, so I didn't look for him, didn't call out or do something uncouth. I just tucked my book into my bag, typed in the gate code, crossed the courtyard to the elevator, turned the key in the lock and took a deep breath, ready to face the Madame.

If you're out there Oscar, many thanks. I took your advice, and said to hell with it. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: you are a hero, and a ghost among men.
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photo by: Sweetski