It was starting to snow as I entered Pere Lachaise cemetery. The few that had ventured in, were streaming out, as daylight faded, fast giving way to twilight, on this 1st of February night. I had 30 minutes of daylight left, to take the shots that I’d planned for all year.
I knew where I was going, having visited the cemetery in the summer, to scout locations for this moment. I walked up l’Avenue Principale towards Le Monument aux Morts and took the first right on l’Avenue des Puits. My pace quickened, not wanting to waste a single second, of the dying light.
I crossed path with the the last stragglers, most likely having paid homage to Chopin or Morrison. I was entering the oldest and most forested area of the cemetery. It sent a chill up my spine, not because of the cold February air, but because of the surreality of what was in front of me, a cobble stone path, lined with old trees, surrounded by an ocean of tombs, fading into the white and gray of a snowy afternoon.
I arrived at my location, the tomb of Heloise and Abelard. I set down my tripod and camera bag. I stopped to take it in. It was eerily beautiful, the snow slowly falling, lightly covering the tomb, the flowers, the love letters, laying around the plinth.
I was surprised at the number of single roses and love letters that were strewn in the yard, between the wrought iron fence, and the tomb. Even during the dead of winter, young women pilgrimaged to the tomb, leaving letters and prayers, hoping their love will last forever, in life and in death. Sadness overwhelmed me, as I felt the longing and pain of their and my, unrequited loves.
I pulled out my camera, turned it on, double checking the battery indicator and exposure. I put the viewfinder to my eye, slowly pressed the shutter till I heard a beep, as the auto focus sharpened the view and my world became crystal clear. I zoomed in and out, composing my shot. I was too close for my lens. I picked up my tripod, turned around, and surveyed my work area.
I moved up the path, three tombs over, next to an old wide trunked chestnut tree, set my tripod and bag down, and recomposed my shot. The snowfall had intensified, to a heavy flurry. The snowflakes were thicker, fluffier, slowly drifting down like dandelion seeds. I was swimming in an ocean of white magical specks. Everything around me was dusted in ******, pure white powder.
I unfolded my tripod, mounted the camera to the head, and verified it was securely attached. I zoomed in and out till I composed my shot, stepping down the aperture and up the speed, till I achieved the dark, moody, feel I wanted. I pressed the shutter and captured the shot.
I was looking through the viewfinder when a woman stepped into my shot. For a split second, I was angry, then confused, then intrigued. I looked up, stepped back from my camera, to see and understand what was unfolding before me.
She was wearing a full-length white Lynx fur coat and cap, black leather gloves and boots. She was stunning, breathtaking. Was I hallucinating? Was she real? She hadn’t seen me, as I was behind her, catty corner, partially hidden by the chestnut tree.
She was holding something. I couldn’t quite see. I looked through the viewfinder, zoomed in on her. She held a single long stemmed blue rose in her left hand. Instinctively, I pressed the shutter, captured the shot, the photo, the image, of this unworldly scene.
It was late, almost dark. What was she doing here? Was she praying, why, to whom, Heloise, Abelard, or both? She moved up to and placed her right hand on the protective wrought iron fence. I took a shot, then another. Then with her left hand, she gently threw the blue rose, time slowed, I pressed the shutter, never letting go, as the flower arched in the air and landed perfectly, on the plinth, at Heloise's side.
I released the shutter, still looking through the viewfinder. She placed her left hand on the wrought iron fence, bowed her head, just stood there, in the darkness, in the snowfall.
She pulled her right hand away from the wrought iron fence and wiped her eyes. Was she crying?
She slowly turned around. I pressed the shutter, held it down, for a continuous shot. I saw her face, her raven black hair, her incandescent blue eyes. Like a cannonball hitting me in the chest, I realized and recognized who she was. It was her, the woman from the metro.
She looked up, turned her head, and looked directly at me. I zoomed in, framed her face, continuously pressing the shutter. Her face expressionless, her eyes aglow. Had she seen me? I don’t know. She took a step, turned her head, and walked back up the cobble stone path, and faded into the night, into the falling snow.