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Among the Living at Harry’s Bar to the Dead at the Pre Lachaise

ARD TV, the Alliance of the Public Broadcasters of Germany, invited the American community to gather at Harry’s Bar (“Sank Roo Doe Noe®” — 5 rue Daunou, http://www.harrysbar.fr) last Wednesday night to participate in the “Straw Vote.” The first Straw Vote took place in 1924 just so that Americans in Paris could vote. The only time it didn’t take place was during World War II and according to Harry’s Bar’s Web site, the outcome of the Straw Vote was only wrong twice: the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter and the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush.

A formidable number of Paris’ most illustrious American residents did gather at Harry’s that night, taste the newest Obama and McCain Harry’s Bar-invented cocktails and cast their votes while the TV cameras rolled. Coincidentally two women were wearing the same black T-shirts with “Obama” in big silver letters plastered across their chests. Obama buttons were pinned to many of the lapels. The waiter couldn’t make the drinks or hand out ballots fast enough (only with a passport or proof of being an American).

As of today, according to the Web site, but not the window on which the count is noted regularly, the vote at Harry’s Bar is 152 for McCain/Palin and 230 for Obama/Biden.

ARD TV runs the story on their Web site (in German, of course, except for the interviews of us Expats in English) at http://mediathek.daserste.de

Halloween crept up on us. Other than the long line to buy wigs and costumes at a party shop on rue du Temple, there was little sign of the holiday that evening. The streets of Le Marais were virtually deserted and the restaurants were sparse with diners…compared with most Friday nights. It was surprising to say the least, all the while, my daughter took photos on the subway in New York with half the passengers in costume on route to parties all over the city.

I remember when Halloween became very popular in Paris about 10 years ago, but it has waned in the last few years. I have no explanation for it and would welcome anyone’s insight…why, don’t the French like disguising themselves?

Every year I try to visit a cemetery on November 1st, “Toussaint” (All Saints Day). That may sound like a pretty weird thing to do, but cemeteries in Paris are not just ordinary graveyards.

In New Orleans, because the city is below sea level, most of the cemeteries “bury” the dead above ground in tombs. Visits to these unusual cemeteries are not uncommon for tourists in New Orleans as they are in Paris (remember the film “Easy Rider?”).

The first cemetery in New Orleans with above ground burial was the Saint-Louis #1 which opened in 1789 and is thought to have
been designed after the Père Lachaise. But, I doubt that, since the Père Lachaise wasn’t a cemetery until 1804!

It makes for a good story, though, except there is another big difference — the bodies at the Père Lachaise are actually buried in vaults below the tombs, whereas in New Orleans, the bodies are placed inside the walls of the tombs above ground.

You’re going to love this little tidbit of information…because of the hot climate, the tomb effectively becomes an oven, and the heat causes the body to decompose rapidly, almost like a slow cremation. Within about a year, only bones are left. The Jewish cemeteries in New Orleans bury the dead below ground for the same reason — so that the body will decompose as quickly as possible and the soul (“neshama”) will make its way to an “Eternal World” — a form of reincarnation. Remember the old English burial saying, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust?”

When I visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s devastating floods, I stopped by my father’s grave to see if it had floated away, and amazingly, it was quite undisturbed.

This year I had full intention of accompanying a friend to the Père Lachaise for a stroll among the tombs to see those of its most illustrious “denizens.” Then the rain came pouring down, service at lunch was particularly slow and so the time get frittered away with chores instead of what would have been a more enlightening adventure among the dead.

Then a friend wrote me making me quite jealous: “Today, I went to Père Lachaise cemetery for All Saints day just to browse around and take a few photos. There are lots of famous grave sites, but I skipped them on this visit to focus on the cemetery as a place of last remains rather than as a tourist site. I didn’t consult a map and I didn’t follow the crowds, I just wandered. I tried to capture the silence and reverence away from the celebrity sites.”

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
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P.S. Join us tomorrow first at Parler Paris Après Midi from 3 to 5 p.m. when we readers of Parler Paris gather to get to know one another and celebrate the U.S. Election! See /parlerparis/ for more information. Then later in the evening, meet up with us at the Mairie of the 3rd arrondissement for all night events to celebrate and watch the election results! Visit http://www.mairie3.paris.fr for more information (in French).

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