Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Sometimes sleep urgently demands an end to night time travels even though in an unfamiliar landscape obscured by darkness. On a spring night early last year I stopped and slept at the foot of a hill crowned by a spot lighted Romanesque church, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In the morning I discovered that in reality I'd had quite a lot of neighbors---of the quiet type. This eleventh century church was surrounded by a small city of the dead.
Many of the oldest graves were sliding over the hillside, cracked open as though ready to spill their mysterious contents into the fresh spring air. Even the more solid and lavish 19th century mausoleums were missing window glass, providing an unusual glimpse of their long undisturbed interiors, small chapels filled with ornate wire and bead wreaths, crumbling flowers and saints' statues buried under a felt-like layer of dust. In an urban setting these vintage beaded wreaths might have already been looted since they are a popular item with some antique collectors of a more savvy Gothic bent. In this out of the way place they rest as they have for years, an evocative testament to ancient griefs coupled with a fascinating view of a traditional French memorial craft now on the verge of extinction.