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the sad sad story of abélard and héloïse from long long ago

In looks she did not rank lowest while in the extent of her learning she stood supreme. –Abélard

God knows I never sought anything in you except yourself. I wanted simply you, nothing of yours. HéloïseThe Letters of Abélard and Héloïse

I like cemeteries. Not all cemeteries, of course, but I do like the ones with old tombstones of famous people, the ones that have had obituaries written about them in the New York Times or Le Monde, or both, or even better where extraordinary individuals had been recognized during their time, in the manner of their time,  to warrant continued recognition after death.

My favorite cemeteries are in Paris: the cimetière de Montparnasse, Père Lachaise, and the cimetière de Montmartre. They are large and have residences on streets, impasses, and boulevards, like the cities of the living.

I prefer to visit on sunny days. On gray days, the day compliments too much the stone of the markers. The green trees and fresh flowers don’t help to ameliorate the dreariness (and dreaminess) of the place.. The gray days do not offer shadows nor slices of light striking though the branches.

Imagine this story: a teacher falls in love with his student, who is 20 years younger than he, and she falls in love with him. They have an affair. They do it in the kitchen and in the bedroom of her guardian. They send hundreds of love notes to each other via text and email. Then, she gives birth, and they decide to marry, secretly. The guardian finds out, and is furious; he punishes them severely. They do not live happily ever after. They are separated and will never see one another again, but they do write to each other for the rest of their lives. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Cross out the references to modern communication in this story, and you have the basic outline for the story of the French couple, Abélard and Héloïse, who lived in 12 century Paris. Many of the letters between them have miraculously survived.

Abélard and Héloïse are buried together, side-by side, in Père Lachaise, maybe(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Finding their tomb is fairly easy if you enter from the main entrance at the corner of boulevard de Ménilmontant and rue du Repos. After passing through the main entrance, turn right on avenue de Puits to avenue Casimir Perier and arrive at Division 7. They are buried in Division 7.

Alternately, enter Père Lachaise via the rue de Repos entrance. To the right is Division 7.

Walk along the avenue Casimir Perier and look to your right. The tomb is not lit up with lights, nor will it have signs showing, “this way, this way.”

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