• LOCATION 13 | The Chairfather: Père Lachaise Part I

    Edith Piaf

    At the first little opening make a left on the walkway and then an immediate right. Our next host is three down on the left.


    A 'piaf' is a common little brown bird. They are found on city streets and squares, wherever there's a bit of green for shelter, and crumbs for subsistence. Nobody thinks about them, nor wonders how they survive. They just are, ubiquitous and invisible all at once.

    So was fragile little Edith Gassion, abandoned by her Italian mother, and raised by her grandmother in a brothel. Malnourished until blindness, the prostitutes restored her health. Her sight returned, which she attributed to answered prayers to Saint Theresa. Catholic by superstition, she lived freely, doing whatever she needed to get by, including selling her body to pay for her infant daughter's funeral.

    In her teens on the streets of Belleville, not far from here, she would sing for her supper. She was hired, then nicknamed 'Piaf' by a cabaret owner. Edith Piaf projected her voice from her tiny frame all the way to the last row. In the late '30s, she started making decent money singing in clubs and laid down her first recordings.

    She wrote 'La Vie en Rose' in 1945, among 87 of her compositions. She sang not how the world was, but how she wanted it to be; and in her lyrics aspired to the love which for her was so fleeting.

    Ordinary folk were who she preferred to be around, sing about and perform for. Edith never worried about what was legal or proper, or the reputation of the company she kept, which was often dubious. She didn't care, and cherished many lifelong friendships.

    In my mind, Edith Piaf is the French Billie Holiday. Both were born poor in 1915, didn't get the care they needed by parents who were off performing, prostituted themselves for need, became addicted to drugs, and died in their 40s. Both, from their distinctive voices, produced eternal treasures.

    Whatever chance Edith Piaf had, she seized it. Generous, she gave all, even when there was little left. Whatever she did, she did it all the way, with no regrets.

    If you stand with the tomb of Piaf on your left you have another tomb to the right which is all white. This is our next host.


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The Chairfather: Père Lachaise Part I