By Rebecca Smith
In September of 2020 various French dignitaries, including artists, politicians and intellectuals, petitioned President Macron to move the bodies of the poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, to the Pantheon in Paris, where many prominent French literary names in history, among them, Voltaire, Dumas, Rousseau, Malraux and Hugo, are entombed (similarly, in 2010, President Sarkozy solicited the re-internment of Albert Camus there). Rimbaud and Verlaine had been refused burial there due to their licentious lives, marked by sex, drugs and criminality. But the petition argued, “It would be only right to celebrate their memory today by bringing them together to the Pantheon, alongside other great literary figures.”
With that description, one would expect Molière, clearly one of the most famed writers of France, to be ensconced there, as well. But Molière’s body is found in Père Lachaise Cemetery. How it got there is a story in itself.
Molière died following his final performance in The Imaginary Invalid - too suddenly to receive last rites or to renounce the acting profession, which was required at the time. Armande, his wife, requested that Louis XIV arrange a church burial. Louis, fighting the archbishop of Paris, and reportedly using a loophole applying to infants who died before baptism and possibly relegating the body to a distant corner allowing for suicides, finally succeeded in having him entombed in consecrated but nondescript ground within the cemetery of St. Joseph. It was a night burial, rather discreet and circumspect.
During the French Revolution, 130 years after his death, the revolutionaries saw political value in Molière and tried to claim him as one of their own. He, was, after all, the “common folk” - the son of an upholsterer, never recognized as a member of the upper classes and shabbily treated on his death. In 1791 new theater laws were enacted eliminating all royal control. Any company could produce any play it wanted. Molière’s plays were performed more than ever, although it most often were his lesser “low” pieces that were the most popular. His greater works were revised, removing all royal elements.
In 1792, the revolutionary government wanted to rename a section of town after Molière. His body was to be exhumed but its exact location was unknown. Regardless, a body was dug up, pronounced to be Molière and was moved to a church basement, then to municipal offices and finally to a sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments where it remained until 1817.
It was at that time that Père Lachaise, a grand park and cemetery, was being developed in the 20th arrondissement but, located so far east of the city, it held little appeal to most Parisians burying their dead. Adding a celebrity like Molière to the funeral grounds was a promotional idea to win over the community. Seemingly, it worked; it can be argued that, without Molière, Père Lachaise might not have come to be.
It is, it has been reported, the most visited cemetery in the world and is a major tourist attraction. i.e. a tremendous boon for France itself. It is estimated to hold 300,000 – 1,000,000 bodies and Molière’s plot one of the most visited sites. Alongside him are some of the most popular figures in history; his neighbors include Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Sarah Bernhardt, Honoré de Balzac, Isadora Duncan and, Molière’s friend, Jean de La Fontaine. Jim Morrison of The Doors is a big draw.
Whether the bones are his or not, the presence of Molière lives on illustriously at Père Lachaise, probably to a much greater extent than if he lay in the Pantheon. Location, location, location, after all.
His life was not an easy one, filled with struggle and pain, but he may be enjoying a rosy afterlife.
By Rebecca Smith
On 17 February 1673, Molière, performing in The Imaginary Invalid, bellowed, “Your Molière’s an impertinent fellow … If I were a doctor, I’d have my revenge …when he fell ill, I’d let him die without helping him. I’d say: ‘Go on, drop dead!’”
In this fourth performance of the play, Molière was already very sick with tuberculosis. Collapsing on stage, he was carried off in his chair and taken home. Hemorrhaging badly, he asked for his wife and for a priest, and died within hours.
Do deaths come any more noteworthy, on-the-job, ironic than that?
One that qualifies is, surprisingly, that of Molière’s long-time musical collaborator, Jean-Baptiste Lully.
While rehearsing a performance of “Te Deum” for Louis XIV, Lully flamboyantly brandished his conductor’s cane and accidentally pierced his own foot. He refused surgery, the wound became infected and he died of gangrene on 3 March 1687.
Two real-life, stage-to-demise histories, oddly connected.
In Lully, we are talking about the inventor of the comedie-ballet, the musical genius of French opera, the Superintendent of Music for the King. By the time of his death, Lully, from his lowly birth in 1632 as an Italian and a miller’s son, had risen to enjoy great wealth in money, gold, gems and fame.
And widespread admiration and approval? That is debatable. Lully often left stunned those around him, being of a most unusual character. A 2000 film about him Le Roi Danse, by Gerard Cobiau, explores that.
There is mystery about Lully. Somehow, in his humble Italian environment, he met and convinced the Duc de Guise to take him to France to teach Italian to his nephew. Somehow, in his new home, he transitioned to from tutor to dancer and violinist. Then as a dancer at the Court, he made the acquaintance of another dancer, the future King Louis XIV.
He wrote ballets for his new associate’s paramour, Marie Mancini, and, as Louis ascended to the throne, he manipulatively matched his endeavors to Louis’s moods: romantic, clownish, or classically tragic. Once established and fully backed by royal power, Lully rapaciously bought up librettos, (many by Pierre Perrin which had been produced with Molière) thus reaping the royalties. With rights in hand, he became “the” composer of opera and contracted performers with exclusivity.
Starting in 1664, in his solid Court position, he joined with Molière and together they produced nine comedie-ballets, a new stage form incorporating song and dance into the presentations. He then introduced the “lyric tragedy”, the first being Cadmus et Hermione in 1673. He composed one per year till his death.
He was deplored by many (La Fontaine reportedly called him “The Scoundrel”) for his power grabbing, demanding personality and his sexual exploits at court, which may have included homosexual, termed “Italian mores”, activity. He was safely married to Madeleine Lambert, whose father was the composer Michel Lambert, with whom he had six children, but his attentions to the king’s favored Madame de Maintenon and later to a young page finally threatened his royal status.
In the period of the French Revolution, Lully’s connections to the monarchy rendered him unpopular but eventually composers Handel, Gluck, Campra, Rameau, Purcell and Vivaldi found their way back to him and included his stylings in their compositions. Even Bach credited him in the Ouverture in the French Style.
However inglorious his death, Lully’s name is forever enveloped in glory and esteem. He exemplifies the words of the 18th century English man of letters, Samuel Johnson, “The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.”
By Chantal Roberts
When you think of coffee and France, you undoubtedly think about the sidewalk cafés. The café lifestyle in France is one to be envied. Its relaxed pace allows the French to solve the world’s problems with a cup of coffee, a pastry, and friends.
The term “coffee” comes from the Turkish word “kahve.” No doubt you’ve seen countless coffee memes on Facebook, but one of them happens to be true.
A man would pick his wife by the way she brewed coffee, but if he failed to bring her his daily allotment of the beverage, she could, by rights, divorce him.
As the Ottoman Empire spread, so, too, did coffee. The coffee houses of Europe began to become popular in the 17th century as it was a place for intellectuals and the working class to come together. Indeed, Lloyd’s of London was started at the Lloyd’s Coffee House in London in 1688.
In the 1900s, Parisian cafes were cultural Meccas for intellectuals and artists such as Jean Cocteau, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But today in the United States, we get our coffee through a drive-thru on the way to work (or at least we did pre-COVID).
We should mimic our ancestors and slow down to enjoy the hot beverage. There is no shortage of places to go for the café lifestyle in the Kansas City metroplex area.
Kansans in Leavenworth can experience French pastry, West African cuisine, and coffee at Timbuktu (www.timbuktuus.com). But if West African flavors don’t tickle your fancy, you can always go to Tous les Jours in Overland Park, Kansas. They specialize in French-Asian baked goods.
What goes better with an after-dinner café but some chocolate? André’s Confiserie Suisse is a family-owned, Swiss-trained confectionary shop located in Kansas City, Missouri since 1955. Their original shop is in Kansas City, Missouri, but daughter, Brigitte Gravino, opened a store in Overland Park, Kansas.
The French are well-known dog lovers. They take their dogs to bars, shops, the metro, and in cafés. Dop Donuts, located in Overland Park, Kansas, is Kansas City’s first dog- and kid-friendly coffee and donut shop according to their website, https://dopdonuts.com/. So, imitate the French and slow down to discuss the state of the world while watching your pup.
One of the newcomers to Kansas City who has been getting a lot of press for her take on the café life is Jackie Nguyen, a former actress, and current owner of Café Cà Phe (https://www.cafecaphe.com/). Café Cà Phe gives a Vietnamese coffee experience with Vietnamese-grown beans, but they also partner with local Kansas City roaster, Messenger Coffee. Regardless, when the weather is nice, Nguyen takes her coffee truck on the road to different cities in the metroplex. Right now, she’s located in the Bottoms serving up coffee, or as the Vietnamese call it, cà phe, which sounds exactly like the French café.
While we may not be able to sit for hours at a coffee shop with our friends due to COVID restrictions, we can still imitate that lifestyle by having a long, leisurely sip of the warm beverage while trying to solve the world’s problems and eating a pastry.
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