Make It Personal!

The Tomb of Heloise & Abelard

The tomb of Heloise & Abelard at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

I’ve been blazing around Paris soaking in a schizophrenic mix of historically significant writerly inspiration and modern-day Parisian glitz: it’s quite a paradoxical melange! Even the eye candy cuts its own broad swath, from beautifully dressed men and women to a luscious piece of iconic architecture at every turn (I will admit to being a sucker for the Neoclassical French style–the ubiquitous mansard roofs alone are enough to make me swoon)!

I generally shy away from overtly touristy experiences when I travel but I’ve put them in the mix during this pilgrimage to the City of Light. They’ve been important points of inspiration sprinkled amongst the hours spent journaling in the cafes that once drew some of the most dedicated writers of all time. What I’ve done with each exploit is to dig deeper; to make each overtly obvious tourist escapade my own in some way.

Oscar Wilde's Tomb at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

Oscar Wilde’s tomb at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

At the Pere Lachaise cemetery, seeing the tomb of Heloise & Abelard was as exciting as I thought it would be. I’ve been inspired by their story for ages. But seeing Oscar Wilde’s tomb was a surprise, as it taught me something important as an avid reader. Words in a book, regardless how well crafted they are, do not always do the thing they are describing justice if there is significant emotionality attached.

I’d read in a number of books, including one of my favorites that I recommend to anyone before they travel to Paris, Metrostop Paris, that Wilde’s grave was one of the most popular in the massive cemetery, and that it had to be cleaned regularly because fans of his literature could not help but write on or kiss the slabs surrounding the writer’s remains. It was a sight to behold and one of the most moving outpourings of emotion I’ve ever seen–in as many different languages as you can imagine.

Kisses gone Wilde on Oscar Wilde's tomb at Pere Lachaise.

Kisses gone Wilde!

This limitation of description was brought home to me again as I stood in the study of La Maison de Balzac, the museum dedicated to the famous French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac. His petite writing table and roomy upholstered chair were placed in the center of the intimately-scaled room where the writer spent hours creating his novels and plays, nearly 100 of which make up La Comedie Humaine.

He retreated to the tiny home that was an outbuilding of a larger residence, or a folly, to escape creditors during a low point in his life. He lived in the one-story dwelling nestled into a lush garden between 1840 to 1847. “Working means getting up at midnight every evening, writing until eight o’clock, having lunch in a quarter of an hour, working till five o’clock, having dinner, going to bed, and starting all over again the next day,” Balzac wrote.

The writing table, which remains exactly where he had placed it, is where he proofread the entire La Comedie. He said that the desk was “the witness of my worries, my miseries, my distress, my joys, everything. My arm has almost worn it out with rubbing as I write.”

As I stood trying to imagine the mammoth creative energy that must have been unleashed in that room (before I had read this quote, mind you), the thing that struck me was how the table top had been worn down to the point that it had a significant indention in it where the writer had repeatedly run his arms over the wood as he drew wildly flailing lines to the margins of the pages he edited then scribbled in the updated text he wanted to include in the pages he had written.

He had done so time and time again as the exhaustive display of edited pages proved. I stood in awe of this tiny table with sturdy turned legs, which had acted as the foundation of such great literary works. It is a memory I will treasure forever.

The door to Honore de Balzac's study in Passy, a suburb of Paris.

The door to Honore de Balzac’s study in Passy, a suburb of Paris.

Forgive me if I seem overly sentimental in this post: I really do dig this type of exploration so much! It’s like manna from heaven for this writer, who has been making a living as a journalist and author for the past 15 years, to let some of the chaos go and drop down into a deeper place. I hope that if you are roaming somewhere soon, you’ll be sure to find a way to make your experiences heartfelt. There’s nothing like it no matter where you are in the world! And, it just so happens to be #TravelTuesday so we should all be roaming where we want to!

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  • Rufus Dogg

    New quest for legacy: To be so inspirational that people write all over my headstone for generations. I think I’ll go with slate instead of marble, with an endless supply of colored chalk.

  • Rich Holschuh

    The sharing of your personal responses (sentimental, visceral, fleeting, or otherwise) is the foil that delivers relevance to your writing; no other person in the world has seen what you see in the same light. The Human Comedy is a play cast by each of us, playing our parts conscripted as we are by birth into this realm of shadows and light, and taking cues from the stage whispers of writers such as Balzac, Rimbaud, and yourself. This is the stuff of realness.Your words are our eyes on a moment only you can see; the periphery widens.

  • Saxon Henry

    Well I guess mine went the way of having my headstone kissed!!! And you’re right: slate instead of marble would be more befitting of you, Rufus! I think I’ll go with limestone: it will absorb the lipstick better!

  • Saxon Henry

    Thanks for that, Rich. Coming from a writer the calibre that you are makes it all the more complementary. I now want to go back and read Balzac again. Another one of the things that traveling does to me (and thus why my stack of reading remains so out of control!). Rimbaud is a true favorite of mine, too; I haven’t paid him much homage this time; guess that means another trip to Paris will be in the making, even before I’ve managed to be back stateside again! You must make it to Paris someday. I think you’d fall in love with the city, which I’ve come to adore like no other…

  • Michele C. Hollow

    Saxon, What beautiful photos and equally beautiful text to match.

  • Saxon Henry

    Thanks, Michele: I had (on my way home as we speak) such an amazing time this trip. Look forward to seeing you at the ASJA conference if not before!