Leonard Cohen once sang, “there is a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.” It was late January, the last day of my first trip to Paris, the City of Light, and I was aching to spend it outside. So, I put on my scarf and gloves and headed to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise cemetery for a quick visit, which I soon found out was impossible, due to the largesse of the cemetery and the ineffectiveness of trying to use GPS to find graves. It was cloudy, but not too cold; and I wandered among the old growth trees and quiet walkways, getting lost on my quest to find Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Frederic Chopin, and other denizens of the Parisian past.

Wilde was first; it was easy to find him because he was on a main thoroughfare, and you basically just had to look for the gay men holding hands. His monument is stylish, grandiose, and different and clearly attracts attention, people, and as I saw upon arriving, selfies. I have to say, I’ve taken pictures of headstones before, but it seems a little disrespectful to take a picture of myself with a headstone. But I bet Wilde would dig social media, and he would probably find this scenario kind of weird and wonderful, undoubtedly writing something witty about it. So, I stood there for a bit, absorbing the comings and goings, thinking these things. A woman in her mid-twenties stood nearby, with what looked like her little brother crowding into the frame as she held her phone in front of them. She wore a heavy coat, collar turned up, long auburn hair, and no hat. I walked up to her, at a respectful social distance, and offered to take their picture because I’m a picture taker who often asks others to do the same.

After I handed her phone back, we chatted a bit. She was from Spain but spoke English, though her little brother did not. They were visiting for a long weekend, with a very full itinerary on tap. She told me where she had been and where they were going and to me, one of the best parts about traveling is the guard that is dropped when you meet someone out in the world, both of you far away from home, randomly plopped into a cemetery, in front of Oscar Wilde. So, feeling more comfortable, I finally asked her to take my picture, as well. After all, this was my first trip to Paris. She politely directed me to move this way and that in front of the large stone monument to get the best angle which I appreciated because as I say, I am a picture-taker. She was diligent, taking fifteen snaps in all, all of them pro, which exceeded my expectations.

However, as she reached out to return my phone, the sun suddenly squeezed through the clouds; poof, and a burst of golden light was cast upon the scene. George Mellies was somewhere in this cemetery, as well, and he would’ve appreciated the alchemy and theatrics involved. I stopped and withdrew my hand, “Could I trouble you to take one more in the light?” I asked. “It’s nice.”

“Of course,” she said, smiling, “That’s what my name means…light.”

Luz. It’s shortened from Our Lady of Light, I would learn later

“That’s a beautiful name,” I said, followed by “Merci,” and then “Gracias.” Her little brother smiled at that. I don’t know much Spanish, but I know even less French. But I know that kids like it when they are included, and most of us are kids, deep down. We bid adieu and I watched as he held onto her coat sleeve, as they made their way down Avenue Carett, walking past Sara Bernhardt and all the other actors of the day. My son used to do the very same thing when he was little and that made me smile, as well. I set out for my other destinations.

Edith Piaf was next, and much more difficult to locate. In fact, I ran across two other sets of people looking for her. We passed each other in circles, so close and yet so far, somehow fitting for the chanteuse. I finally heard a sad Piaf tune coming from somewhere and followed it; sure enough, there was a woman kneeling; she had set her iPhone on the grave, listening, wiping a tear away, paying her respects. Afterwards, I moved down the hill, taking in random, yet interesting tombstones, where I made out inscriptions that indicated lives of painting, music, or civics, lives well-led, I hoped. Chopin was relatively easy, well-placed, sedate and elegant, like his music, with tasteful flowers laid by fans. Although he wasn’t on my A-list, Jim Morrison was nearby, so I followed heavy traffic that led me to his final resting place, strewn with memorabilia, a barricade in front. There were even stickers on the lamppost. Very rock club.

Finally, I followed the cobblestone walk around another turn, where it opened up to a small clearing, park benches around the perimeter. Nearby, a quartet of ravens danced up and down from the top of one particularly tall monolith, never straying far from the gravesite. It was time to go. And, so I stood on the top of the last set of steps and took in the city laid out before me in what was now a shadow with sparkles of light coming on, dotting the landscape, welcoming the encroaching night. Of course, I thought of Luz.


Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer and musician, whose prose, poetry, and non-fiction have appeared in numerous journals; Ten Seconds In-Between, his latest collection of short stories, earned a Royal Dragonfly Award for Best Short Story Collection of 2021 and Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist 2022. www.doughoekstra.net