Here is an article I wrote for Bonjour Paris
Halloween as we know it in the States, was not really celebrated in France until recently. No one wore costumes, there were no hordes of children ringing doorbells and yelling, "Treat or Treat!" I guess it must be a uniquely American type of celebration. I read that until several years ago when hundreds of pumpkins were piled near the Eiffel Tower that the French didn't do much to commemorate this day. This year I noticed that slowly pumpkins, witches and black cats are appearing in shop windows. I've even seen orange underwear in the windows of lingerie shops. Bars are having parties on Oct 31st giving prizes for the best costume.
And, if you've never tried it, you must have a special candy that Godiva has started offering for the season, a chocolate candy filled with cinnamon tinged pumpkin cream. Their windows look wonderful, too. I know Godiva is Belgian, not French, but it is one of many European retailers who have come to the Halloween party.
When I lived in the Southwestern US, I often went into the Mexican Barrio part of my city to watch the celebrations and parades on November 1st, The Day Of The Dead. It's a day when families went to church to remember loved ones and little skeletons could be found in every shop window. Other cultures have their rituals too. I once saw a ceremony in Madagascar where parties were held and the dead, long rolled up in straw mats were actually brought out of their burial places, taken home, and shown what was new. It was supposed to be a time of celebration but I did see some sad faces.
Last year I bought some Halloween costumes for my husband's French grandchildren. They weren't really sure what Halloween was all about, but they wore the costumes a lot and I often arrived to see a little Peter Pan running about. I don't think they ever went out for candy collection, though. I brought them some little chocolate pumpkins. They are only five, so it may be a while before they understand why American children think Halloween is so wonderful.
If you happen to be in Paris on November 1st, it's a wonderful time to walk around one of the picturesque cemeteries in Paris. As in Mexico, the French use All Saints Day to remember their deceased loved ones. The cemeteries are full of families carrying flowers to lay on graves of friends or relatives now gone. Some even have picnics there. My husband's mother died many years ago, but last year we decided to go and clean up the area around her place of rest and plant some chrysanthemums. We were there among many people. Afterwards, we went to Pére Lachaise to walk around. Yellow chrysanthemums were everywhere, families drifted among the tombs, and many widows came to clean up the tombs of their husbands, plant some new flowers, or water plants already there. Any time you visit a cemetery you will see these ladies keeping their husband's memory alive, at least in their hearts.
When I am at Pére Lachaise I always go to Chopin's grave topped with a weeping woman and surrounded, always, with flowers left by music lovers. Often the faithful also leave votive candles. Right below Chopin, down a short flight of steps is my favorite statue, a Greek-like woman weeping into her hands, her skirts pooling at her feet.
In my opinion, Montmartre Cemetery is the best. It's not the most visited, as is Pére Lachaise, but it is smaller and more intimate, full of over 700 maple trees. I always find the most interesting tomb stones there. Often I will find a cat, one of many who live there, sunning itself on top of a tomb, serene in the sun. They will only let you get so close before they run. I read that there is a lady who comes and feeds them daily. On my last visit I saw about a dozen cats. Being an American, I wondered about birth control but I didn't have enough French to ask the guard there about them.
I wanted to find Degas' burial place on my last visit. I had a map and looked and walked and almost gave up when I finally saw a mausoleum with Famille de Gas on it and realized that the name Degas came from this. There is a flat little plaque with a Degas type drawing on it—not the sculpture of a ballerina I expected. Dalida, a well-known actress and singer in France, has an interesting tomb where the life size figure of Dalida, is walking in a fabulous dress—eternally young. The whole place is full of views that make me take out my camera. I never take more photos than when I am walking around the cemeteries. Weeping goddesses, smiling children, sad angels, prone bodies with heads thrown back and arms falling off the tomb, long cobbled lanes with sunlight pouring through the trees and leaves crunching underfoot—it's all fabulous fodder for my camera. I always leave feeling rested and serene. Then, if it is cool, as it often is in autumn, I will stop for a piece of Godiva chocolate with pumpkin cream and go have a cup of hot chocolate to warm up. It's not Trick or Treat, but it certainly is a great substitute.
A rare sunny day in Palais Royal
Fountain near Palais Royal
Today my friend, Chris, and I made a trip out to the outskirts of Paris to visit the Pet Cemetery. It was, of course, filled with small tomb stones, mainly of cat and dogs and I found it sweet, charming and sad. It was like visiting a graveyard of children as I'm sure all of the owners of these pets felt they were like children. One grave even said, "Although people have hurt me, Gaston never did" or something like that. Some graves had old chew toys or little figurines of animals on them. One had a plastic globe holding old balls the dog had probably once loved. Rin Tin Tin is even buried here for some reason - a dog I used to watch on TV as a child. Three horses were here as well as a chicken called Cocette who lived for 21 years and was said to have been a good companion.
The entrance where it says it is a Cemetery for dogs. It was started in 1900.
Here is a view of the cemetery stretching out beside the Seine.
Barry saved the lives of 40 people before losing his life on the 41st rescue.
I liked this little tomb stone slowly deteriorating.
Lots of cats around, most of them friendly
This family lost two dogs
Mimi has a hallow tomb stone that we saw cats enter
This is cute, but what a strange nose!
Like other Parisian cemeteries, it is a peaceful way to spend an afternoon.
I've been a lot of places around Paris recently trying to get outside when it is sunny and explore new areas to me. As always, I made it to the Marais, my favorite neighborhood.
This was in the window of a Jewish store
I liked the blue of the window and the red objects inside.
I saw this huge boar outside a butchers. I assume someone will buy it.
As in the States, Christmas can start early here. This looks a little Las Vegas to me.
Cute little dog at a brocante on Sunday.
There was a huge deal in Paris today with the body of Alexandre Dumas being moved from his grave in his small village of birth to the Pantheon, the home of many great French writers, such as Victor Hugo. The town, understandably, did not want the body moved as they get tourists there to visit the grave and museum. The body was taken first to the Luxembourg Castle in the garden and the next evening there was a great procession of about 200 actors each in costumes and doing parts from Dumas' many books. They lead the parade and then the casket came out with a black cloth with the words on it saying, All for One and One For All, carried by four men in musketeer outfits and with four men in the same costumes, 2 in front and 2 behind. I watched all of this from the corner window of a Quick Hamburger place as the sidewalks were packed with people. My photos were not very good. I did go to the Pantheon the next day where the admission was free and the body(or ashes, maybe) laid in state. We weren't allowed to get close. The light was very dramatic with two solders in great outfits on either side of the casket and large photos of Dumas or his books.
View as you enter with casket in center