The Chairfather: Père Lachaise Part I
To find the tomb of Sarah Bernhardt, turn left at Familles Torbier et Ortoli, leaving the tall tree on your right. Just after you see the tomb about waist-high on your right. It looks like a little house with a pitched roof.
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Sarah Bernhardt's motto was "Quand même", a defiant statement that she'll succeed "anyway," despite humble beginnings.
Her Dutch mother was a prostitute who practically abandoned her illegitimate child. Sarah wanted more for her life, to act on the stage, but wasn't above resorting to her mother's business to buy early favor from critics and photographers. Soon she had glowing reviews and flattering press coverage to launch her career. She reputedly had hundreds of subsequent conquests, on her own terms.
Bernhardt was the first superstar. Cocteau coined the term 'monstre sacré' to describe her. She made grand public entrances in a long chinchilla robe dragging several meters behind her. Hers is so often the figure painted on the elongated posters of the Belle Epoque. She invented merchandising, selling the rights to her image on thousands of chotchkies to support her extravagances. She travelled with dozens of servants, eight tons of material and wild animals like boas, crocodiles, monkeys, a cheetah and lion cubs.
Bernhardt played on all five continents, and always in French. Even though audiences didn't understand a word, she was a spectacle that people came to say they saw. Everything was exaggerated on stage, her melodramatic voice, her wide flowing gestures. She was the first drama queen, elongating all the vowels. Oscar Wilde wrote the French play Salomé especially for Bernhardt.
She died on stage thousands of times, and even had a coffin made in which she'd rehearse, and get photographed. She was buried in that same coffin before you now, under the arches of her little stone theatre, her final act.
When you're done, retrace your steps back to the little path and turn left. Don't take the first narrow dirt path on your right but look for the bigger cobblestone one while continuing straight.