I was 14. It was 1978. We were on a student trip to Spain and France. My best friend, a Japanese girl named Chihiro and I were no longer traveling 'together' as it were. I believe she was chasing a boy, and since I had nothing in common with the other suburban American kids on the trip, I was pleased when yet another Japanese girl took a shine to me and invited me on an adventure. He name was Miki Miyagi and she was a Japanese resident of Canada. How she ended up on our student trip, I never knew, but she was about 17 and quite worldly. I suppose I appealed to her since I was comparably serious as an Oriental student with more the appearance of a Canadian than an American. She told me her reason for coming on the trip. She was a great aficionado of Chopin and wished to visit his grave. She was in the process of reading a book of his love letters with some paramour or another. I can't say it was anything I had ever been interested in before, but I did appreciate the company of a much older and worldlier girl. Chihiro seemed not to like her. I suppose she was not of the same class as the elite professorial family which Chihiro hailed from in some Japanese way of measuring such things. I remember visiting Chihiro's family and being so pleased to let them know that I knew of a Japanese person! Yoko Ono, I blurted out. That went over like a lead balloon, as though one's 14 year old dinner guest had just mentioned a porn star. I got the feeling that Miki was a bit 'Yoko Ono' in Chihiro's eyes... But I digress...
Miki spoke fluent French and I was just starting out. I remember taking a metro, then a bus... How the chaperones of the trip ever allowed us to run about on our own in Paris at that age, I'll never know. I remember her asking for directions of the French people and being fully conversant with them which was very impressive.
Before I knew it, we were in a dreadful neighborhood. Of course, by that time, I needed a WC. All that was to be had was a room in the back of a bar that had some sort of hole in the floor. It was something that would not have surprised me in say, the Vietnamese countryside, but that definitely surprised and appalled me to find and have to use in Paris.
We made our way into the cemetery. I remember walking past a sentimentally festooned bust of someone who was a rock musician from the Doors, Miki told me. I'm ashamed to say that I hardly knew who Jim Morrisson was. But there he was.
After some more searching, Miki found Chopin's resting place. She had brought her camera and asked me to take her picture by the headstone. I was pleased to oblige. Just as I brought the camera up to site with the lens, I saw a young man on the other side of the headstone with clothing of another age. "Oh!" I remember exclaiming, not sure what to say nor in what language... Were we in his way? Or... But as I removed the camera from my eye, he was no longer there. I remember that he had a bit of a wry smile. I said nothing at the time and proceeded to continue with the picture for Miki.
Later that evening I told Miki about what I had seen. Immediately she took the book she had been reading and turned to the picture section. "Did he look like this"? To my amazement, there was a painting of the young man I had seen at the headstone in her book about Chopin! Now to me, even to this day, and certainly at that time, if I am to think of a picture with the word "classical composer" I see a wild, white haired old man. And while I've since realized that he was a pianist and not a conductor, I can assure you that my mental picture of him would have been no different. The image of the young man that I saw was not made up by me based upon any expectation I could have had about what Chopin looked like...
So that is the story of my day at Pere Lachaise with Miki Miagi