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Death on the Seine

Today is November 1st or 11-1 or 1-11 depending on how you read or write your calendar. Millions of people all around the world arbitrarily see these numbers, particularly 11:11, on their clocks, on their speedometers, on restaurant receipts, license plates, and phone numbers, jumping out from all sorts of sources.

My daughter is one of them. At first I thought she was joking until she pointed it out when we were together and then I noticed that I was party to it — when our hotel room was number 111, or her plane seat was number 11 or what she had purchased totaled $11.11.

It is thought to be a message of synchronicity, an act of Divine Intervention, telling you that it is time to take a good look around you and see what is real and what is illusory. In numerology, the number 11 is often considered the number of the “spiritual messenger,” a number of spiritual illumination signifying a channel for the information between the “higher” and “lower,” a connection between conscious and unconscious, heaven and earth, yin and yang, male and female, two “ones” joined, that make the pillars to the heavenly gate…a perfect symbol of the twin soul.

Do an Internet search on 11:11 and see what I am saying is true.

So, I don’t think it’s “par hazard” (by chance) that today should be All Saints day, a day when common commemorations by several churches of the death of martyrs began to be celebrated in the 4th-century. It’s both a national and religious holiday here in France and most all businesses are closed.

While I am not one to have been blessed by Divine Intervention, each year on this date I make an effort, in the “spirit” of 11-1, to visit a cemetery and lay flowers on someone’s grave…not necessarily anyone of importance to me or the world, but just some peacefully resting body (whose soul is likely long gone to another unsuspecting body!). Cemeteries in Paris are widely visited, not only by those who grieve, but by those who find them as fascinating as I do. In a recent blog about Paris, someone wrote, “For me, no trip is complete without a visit to the local cemetery.”

Today, after lunch in Montmartre with a friend, we plan on visiting the Saint-Vincent Cemetery (“Cimetière Saint-Vincent”) at 6, rue Lucien-Gaulard opened on January 5, 1831. It was Montmartre’s second cemetery, built after the Cimetière du Calvaire had been filled. A small cemetery with just over 900 graves, a few of its best known residents are writers, actors, musicians and artists we would all recognize.

For a more extensive tour, we may mosey downhill to the Montmartre Cemetery (“Cimetière de Montmartre”), a famous cemetery located at 37, avenue Samson. At one time, cemeteries had been banned from Paris ever since the closing of the “Cimetière des Innocents” in 1786, as at that time they presented health hazards. Later, several new cemeteries replaced all the Parisian ones, outside the then precincts of the capital in the early 19th-century — Montmartre being one of them (in the north), Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in the east, Passy Cemetery in the west and Montparnasse Cemetery in the south.

If you really want a more bare-boned visit on such a spiritual occasion, head for the Catacombs (1, Place Denfert-Rochereau, 14th, phone +33 1 43 22 47 63). For the sake of hygiene and town planning, in the late 1700s, the Catacombs were built to compensate for cemeteries overflowing with bones. Once the “quarries of Paris,” the catacomb tunnels extend for 1.7 kilometers located 20 meters below the city and house the bones of

five to six million people. Believe it or not, they remain at a steady temperature of 11° Celsius year round. Yes, you read right — 11°.

While the “Cimetière du Père Lachaise” is the world’s most visited cemetery, having opened in 1805 with more than one million people to have been buried there, including such famous figures as Chopin, Seurat, Molière, Oscar Wilde, Delacroix, Proust, Balzac, Apollinaire and of course, rock star Jim Morrison, it is not the only deadly spot on the map to pay your respects. In fact, the “Cimetière du Montparnasse” (3, boulevard Edgar Quinet, 14th) is the third largest cemetery in Paris covering 1800 acres. Established in 1824, it is the resting place of numerous artists, politicians and dignitaries…along with one 19-year old high-school friend of my daughter’s who sadly took her own life in January of 2004.

It is for her and all those dear I have lost, but whose spirits are with us on this 1-11, for whom I will lay flowers on some special day.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Test out our new site and check out James Navé’s upcoming workshop, WRITING FROM THE IMAGINATIVE STORM, a 3-hour creative writing workshop that crackles with passion, fun, and spontaneity. Sponsored by Parler Paris, facilitated by poet, James Navé, on December 2, 2006, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. See you there! Visit /frenchproperty/conference/ for more information.


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