Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Modern Pilgrim: Kiss Me Version

The tomb of Oscar Wilde
          To make up for the fact that I had to visit the tomb of a rock star I don't like and stare at a really disgusting tree while my sister the folklorist did her field-collection thing, I made her walk almost all the way across Père Lachaise* so we could pilgrimate at Oscar Wilde's  tomb.

          It is to be expected that Oscar Wilde's tomb has all the drama and in-your-face fabulousity that Jim Morrison's grave lacks. And that it doesn't have all the disgustingness that distinguishes Morrison's. Wilde, a successful writer and socialite whose bons mots were legendary, always paid attention to the details. He was not going to lie under some rinky-dink headstone with a cheesy Greek inscription on it when he could rest beneath an enormous monument bearing a gorgeous young boy with wings.

          He knew how to leave an impression.

          It's clear that when you up the ante, tomb-wise, you also get a different class of pilgrim. People who visit Wilde's grave leave flowers and lipstick kisses on the tomb. No chewing-gum tree for him.

          The kisses, poignant and lovely as they are**, unfortunately have been an ongoing problem for his heirs, who must pay the upkeep on his monument (lipstick damages the stone, as does cleaning the lipstick off, and the stone has to be restored from time to time—not an inexpensive undertaking.) When my sister and I made our pilgrimage, they had finally realized that begging pilgrims not to leave their kisses on the stone was just a losing battle. No person of feeling can visit this beautiful monument covered with kisses and not leave one of their own behind. The monument is now sensibly circled with clear panels that don't mind being kissed.

Love and kisses for Oscar.

          "Not to be morbid or anything—" I said to my sister as I was putting my lipstick away.

          "Look around you, Nancy," she said. "We're in a cemetery. Live large—be as morbid as you want."

          I gestured to Wilde's tomb. "When I die, that's what I want."

          "A neo-Egyptian angel-boy? It seems a little…extreme for you. I see you more in a nice Deco-style monolith. Sleek and non-representational."

          "No, not the angel-boy," I said. "I want my tombstone to be covered with lipstick kisses. I don't care if it rots the rock."

          "That's going to be a weird interment," she observed.

          "Don't care."

          "Memorable, though. No one's going to forget the headstone-kissing funeral." She swung her imaginary pilgrim's pack on her back and picked up her invisible pilgrim's staff. "There are going to be germ issues for some people."

          "We'll get the antimicrobial headstone," I say, shouldering my own imaginary pack.

*A long walk indeed. It almost seemed like a real pilgrimage.

**In 1895, Wilde was convicted of being gay (the charge was "Sodomy") and sentenced to two years' hard labor—essentially difficult physical labor (the treadmill, the crank, the shot drill, picking oakum) that had no end purpose except to break prisoners' spirits. Wilde's pilgrims come to commune and commiserate with the man who suffered so because of who he loved.

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