Alasdair Duncan:In Loving Memory
A visit to Oscar Wilde’s tomb has Alasdair Duncan contemplating life, epitaphs and statues with bulging crotches.
A month or so ago, on a cloudy afternoon, my boyfriend and I were wondering around Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It might make me weird, but I’ve always loved walking around cemeteries – there’s a sense of calm and quiet there amongst the tombstones and the dear departed. There’s something romantic about seeing couples who spent their whole lives together, to be buried side by side, just as there is something creepy about peering into a darkened mausoleum, on the off chance you spy something moving around in there. I always glance at the dates on the headstones, doing the mental calculations to figure out how old the person was at the time of their death. Inevitably, if the grave belongs to a guy who died in his 20s, I stop to wonder if he was hot. I mean, come on, it’s only natural to be curious about cute guys cut down in their prime, right?
As my boyfriend and I walked, we paused at a just such a headstone. It looked reasonably new, and commemorated a man with a very French name – Pierre or something – who, according to the quick subtraction I did in my head, passed at 27. ‘He will be greatly missed’, said the engraving, and next to it, there was a picture of a boat, its sails aloft, skimming across some stylised waves.
‘Aww, I bet sailing was his passion,’ I said sadly. ‘I wonder if he died at sea?’
‘Hello, sailor!’ my boyfriend said with an eyebrow arched. ‘What a slut this guy was. You can tell he was a great big slut just by looking at the headstone.’
I shushed him. ‘Have a little respect for the dead!’ I said. ‘Look at where we are!’
‘He will be greatly missed,’ my boyfriend continued. ‘Yeah, I bet he will, by all the dudes he used to have sex with. I bet they paid for the headstone. I bet he’ll reeeeally be missed by them.’
We stood silently, contemplating Pierre or Jacques or whoever’s grave for a little while longer. Poor Pierre. I’m sure he must have been hot in his prime.
After walking a little longer, we arrived at the grave of Victor Noir. A young journalist killed in a duel in 1870, his grave bears a bronze statue of him, notable for its dashing good looks and the unfeasibly massive bulge in its crotchal region. Either Victor was a big boy, or the sculptor had a bit of a crush. Perhaps both. Rumour has it that Victor’s statue is good luck, and if women rub its bulge, they will fall pregnant. Whether or not that’s true, a century’s worth of curious fingers have buffed the bulge to a high polish. Victor may be the most frequently-groped man in all of Paris, and that’s saying something.
‘Oh my god, you have to give it a go!’ my boyfriend said. I reached down gave the bronze penis a gentle stroke, and while it was a little cold, it felt strangely lifelike. If you’re ever in Paris, I’d actually recommend giving it a go.
‘If you die, I’m getting a statue of you for your grave,’ said my boyfriend, ‘and I’m making them do the dick part just like that.’
I imagined the trail of cute guys in years to come, fondling my metal phallus, and perhaps wondering if I was that amply endowed in real life. ‘That sounds nice,’ I said.
We walked on, past Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison, and eventually made it to Oscar Wilde. Oscar has a lot of loving fans, even in death, and thousands of them come every year to kiss the walls of his tomb. It’s become such a problem that cemetery authorities have encased him in plexiglass, and the resulting effect is surreal – a constellation of lipstick kisses that appears to float in midair, around the sandstone tomb. As historical hotties go, Oscar Wilde was indeed pretty fine, so the enthusiasm is pretty understandable.
‘Are you going to kiss it, then?’ my boyfriend asked.
‘No,’ I said, and kissed him instead. As we stood there, surrounded by acres and acres of silent monuments, it felt good to be alive.
Alasdair Duncan is the author of Sushi Central and Metro. Go to www.alasdairduncanwriter.com. Follow him on Twitter: @alasdairduncan