Think of me, think of me fondly
When we’ve said goodbye.
Remember me, once in a while
Please, promise me you’ll try.
“Think of Me”, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, from The Phantom of the Opera
Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.
- George Eliot
When there's no one left in the living world who remembers you, you disappear from this world. We call it the Final Death.
- Hector, in the 2017 movie COCO
I am fascinated by cemeteries where the monuments seem to tell a story, either of the person who died or those who mourned them. Part of what makes it so interesting to me is that they’re monuments of and to people I didn’t ever meet when they were alive; if I had, I wouldn’t need a monument to tell me about them.
I don’t visit my own parents’ graves, or that of the only grandmother and great-grandmother that I knew, because I don’t need to. Their essence is not there. It’s in the tastes and smells of foods that remind me of the delicious meals they created and shared with me. It’s in the sounds of music that we loved listening to together, and hearing someone sing the familiar words of songs that they sang. It’s the smells of Chanel No. 5, and Hungarian-style sausage being smoked. It’s in seeing a colour, a flower, a dress or hat (or plaid pants – thanks a lot, Dad!) that remind me of them. And here, in Europe, it’s in the places they talked about: the ones they lived in, the ones they escaped from and to, the ones they always hoped I’d someday see.
And yet I walk through cemeteries with monuments to strangers.
We’ve walked through and taken photos in fabulous cemeteries in North America (Richmond Virginia’s Hollywood is one of my favourites), in Germany, Austria (Salzburg’s are magnificent), England, Scotland, and Jerusalem, but today was our first foray into an Italian Cemetery: the sprawling Cimitero di Sant’Anna, with its Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Serbian, British, Jewish, and Ex-military sections.
We spent a full three hours, and saw only a fraction of the cemetery, but enough to understand how its “inhabitants” reflect the last 2 centuries of Trieste’s history.
In the ex-military cemetery (open to veterans and their families), there are a mix of Italian and German names, often on the same grave, reflecting the intermarriage of Italian and Austrian families. There are graves, for instance, that show Italian Vice Admirals married to Austrian Baronesses. There are lots of graves where a German first name goes with an Italian last name, and vice versa.
On to the pièce de résistance: the Catholic cemetery, where virtually every Trieste citizen who died since 1825 is buried. The history and the sculptures here make it one of Europe’s designated “significant cemeteries”.
Poor Ted. I just kept finding more and more beautiful and evocative memorials for him to photograph. Warning: I’ve included a LOT of pictures of sculptures that spoke to me (not literally, but, you know…)
I had to include, so I’ll remember it later, one of the “modern” (1980s and 1990s mostly) glass-front mausoleums that were dotted throughout the cemetery, juxtaposed with the glorious architecture of carved and mosaic-decorated tombs.
Apparently obelisks became popular gravestone motifs in the 19th-century , along with an interest in all things Egyptian. To ancient Egyptians, obelisks were petrified rays of sunlight where the sun god Ra lived; in graveyards they symbolise ancient godliness and greatness. Shrouds, whether on obelisks, urns, over the faces of angels, or on caskets, are meant to symbolize the thin veil between life and death, and also protection. (There’s a really great website called Europeans.eu that has lots more info about stuff like this European Graveyard Symbols )
How do you end a long day of looking at memorials to those who are gone? By enjoying some of the things that only the living can do: food and drink!