Describing a tomb as sexy is not something I ever thought I’d hear myself saying, and certainly not words I would hear someone say to me. But that ‘someone’ was Colin, a retiree with a talent for storytelling and a penchant for cigarettes. Colin goes to the cemetery most days to exercise and I was lucky enough to bump into him…
I went to the world’s most famous cemetery in Paris alone one cold November morning. After fumbling around and getting lost amongst the graves of millions of people supposedly buried there, I found two vivacious Italian girls who were also looking for many of the same heroes I had initially set out on my quest to find. Three heads were certainly better than one.
It was after we had found Oscar Wilde that Colin serendipitously appeared from nowhere like a shining angel sent to save a pack of damsels in distress. After a couple of minutes talking to him, we realised that he seriously knew his stuff – he was a Père-Lachaise Cemetery aficionado to the highest degree. Seizing the opportunity, we took it in turns to ask him the whereabouts of various members of the deceased. Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, Balzac – he knew the whereabouts of them all with astonishing ease.
Then, instead of describing, he said he’d show us, joking that communicating to three living beings was a welcome change to his usual deceased companions. Colin knew the cemetery like the back of his hand, showing us the graves of the people we had so eagerly searched for in vain, as well as a handful of some of his favourite effigies. After spending well over an hour unsuccessfully looking for Proust and Jimmy, I now had my very own tour guide and two new companions – it’s funny how luck can change so suddenly!
After showing us more headstones and sharing more stories than I could ever have imagined, Colin said it was time to show us the sexiest tomb in the cemetery. We all laughed having no idea what he could be referring to, but the twinkle in Colin’s eye caused enough intrigue…
We followed as he weaved between paths, graves and bramble, then we came to a halt.
“Say hello to the sexiest tomb in Père-Lachaise” said Colin whilst standing over him with his hands on his hips.
“Whhhhhat!” I gasped. “This is scandalous!”
We were looking down at a life-sized effigy of Victor Noir, a French journalist who was shot dead by Prince Pierre Bonaparte. He was the nephew of Napoleon III, and was shot after getting caught in the middle of an altercation between Bonaparte and Paschal Grousset, the editor of the newspaper Noir was working for at the time (the popular saying ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ comes to mind, eh?).
Twenty years after his death, and after the collapse of the Second French Empire, a tomb of Noir was commissioned to sculptor Jules Dalou who opted for a strikingly realistic portrayal. From the individual hairs on his head to the creases in his shoes, no detail was spared… with one standing out above the rest… a prominent bulge in his trousers – he had a clear case of death erection.
Colin told us Noir’s effigy has now become a symbol of fertility and sexual happiness. Rumour has it that if you rub his penis and drop a flower in his hat it will bring enhanced fertility, and a blissful sex life. I can’t say I’m the superstitious type and I don’t believe it myself, but if it gives women hope or even just something to giggle about then that’s good enough for me. We shouldn’t underestimate the potent effect that a good luck charm can have on the psyche! Viva Victor!
Rather amusingly all this heavy-handed behaviour has led to some very clear discolouration in the groin area. So much so that in 2004 a fence was placed around the statue with a warning sign, “Any damage caused by graffiti or indecent rubbing will be prosecuted” (you can’t make this stuff up can you?). However, this prohibition was met by a mob of women protesting for their right to love and enhanced fertility, enough so for the barrier to be taken down. If you search the internet you’ll find lots of photos of women joyriding or kissing the tomb, including burlesque kitten Dita Von Teese.
Today, women who have fallen pregnant after visiting return to the cemetery in gratitude. If you take a look inside the hat resting at the side of Noir you may find photos of children who were supposedly conceived after their mothers’ visit. I didn’t see any photos but I took Colin’s word for it.
Before leaving neither myself or the Italian girls could resist tempting our fate with a quick touch of the family jewels.
I’ll be sure to let you know if there’s any truth in the matter 😉