Episode 317 – Think of Me

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.

There is something quite beautiful about cemeteries, not least related to the fact they are usually shady and quiet.

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.

The inscription on this Jewish memorial, not within the Jewish section, reads: “Those who live in the memory of their loved ones are not dead, they are just far away. He is dead who is forgotten.”

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 this monument, we could see the transition from the German surname “von Pöltl” to the Italianized “de Poltieri”, and at least two vice-admirals in the family.
Top: entrance to the ex-military section. Bottom: The marker for the family of pilot Colonello Vincenzo Dequal has a propellor imbedded in it.
This gravesite featured something we’ve never seen before: wreaths of what look like human hair, but might be beadwork. Given the era, hair is the more likely medium for funerary wreaths.
There was a striking Yugoslavian war memorial/gravesite as well. The inscription on the largest stele reads: “A Yugoslav fighter. I fell for the freedom of my proud homeland the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia”.
The cemetery is filled with flowers, both real and silk, in urns and wall sconces. There are flower stalls at the main entrances; it seems business is good.
The Jewish section, at the north end of the cemetery, looks sadly uncared for by comparison to the rest of the cemetery. That’s not surprising, since the Jewish population of Trieste today is only around 600, the same level it was at in the late 1700s (it had reached around 6000 by the time WWII began).
Separated from any entrance we could find was a small well-tended British area. Ted climbed over the waist-height stone wall, determined to get a few photos, and came back to find me later, still in the military cemetery (nope, not risking bones or torn seat of pants going over walls any more).
We were (fairly) politely but firmly discouraged from going into the Serbian portion of the cemetery by the caretaker at its gate, who basically pointed at Ted’s camera and said a pretty clear “NO”. It left us puzzled, since photos are as much a remembrance as monuments, but perhaps it is considered disrespectful by the Serbs.
We also passed by a small Turkish section of the cemetery, which is fairly recent, with its small visible mosque erected in the 1990’s. This section of the cemetery was locked.

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”.

A few of the most impressive family tombs were located under two very long colonnades (each shown from both ends) with Roman-style columns supporting their protective roofs.
The outdoor monuments span not only decades, but centuries, and their varying styles reflect changing customs and tastes. Having so many styles in such close proximity is fascinating.
For a moment, we seemed to be in a modern music theme: Stairway to Heaven beside Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. I’d love to know what the families actually had in mind with these two images.

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 take hope in meeting again in heaven.

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.

Just a sampling of the stunning family tombs.
Most of the new “cabinets” reminded us of telephone booths; this one looked to us like a subway station entrance door.

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 )

I thought these two obelisks, one shrouded and one not, standing among obelisk-shaped Italian cypress trees, were striking.

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!

Crispy fried sardines and cold local Prosecco. It’s good to be alive and in Italy!

18 comments

  1. Are you two OK? I have missed your posts since the 21st. If you need me to call someone I certainly will. I live in Ottawa.

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    • Thank you very much for checking in!! We’ve slowed down our activities this week and I’m aggregating them into just a couple of final Trieste posts before we continue on to England.

      I’d never thought about it before, but it’s good to know that our blog gives us one more way to reach put should we ever need help.

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  2. Quick question. We have a week between cruises next summer. Between Berlin and Vienna, which one would you choose? I am leaning to Vienna. Thanks.

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    • Much as I loved Berlin, if you’ve never done either, I’d definitely choose Vienna. And then, be absolutely sure to prioritize Schönbrunn – you could easily spend 2 days, especially if you include its zoo, but plan on one very full day so that you don’t have to shortchange yourself on all the other activities. We didn’t repeat it this visit, but the Hofburg is also magnificent, and try to catch a concert or two!

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    • I should add that the 2 cities are very different experiences. Vienna is architecture, imperial castles, churches, culture, music, food. Berlin adds an layer of 20th century politics to all of that. If you want an insight into what makes present-day German politics and government what they are, then choose Berlin.

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      • Thank you so much. Your pictures and commentary sold me on Vienna. The pictures of the pastry’s were especially influential. 

        Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the ramble through the cemetery with you! Such beautiful tributes to loved ones. Sadly, the gravesites that go back to my great grandparents in Germany, have been repurposed. The plots must be paid for yearly, and no one is left in that little town. Some are now displayed on a plaque on a memorial wall.

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    • My cousin just renewed our grandparents’ graves for another 30 years, but the rest of the family aren’t interested the work involved in maintaining them. Our GREAT grandparents are buried in what is now Poland – those graves are decrepit, but have not (yet) been repurposed, since there is no shortage of cemetery land there. I have mixed feeling.I personally won’t be taking up land space, but I sure do love those historic graveyards!

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  4. When I was 12 we toured the cemetery in Genoa. I can still remember the statue of a poor woman who saved money to have Michelangelo create it. The detail … Ahhh the food! Mystery books are producing cookbooks. Donna Leon is. Rose is ????? Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cemeteries are interesting to walk around and check the names visit and history of people. My personal preference is to be cremated and have a bench along a hiking trail with a private view overlooking a lake or valley. So people can enjoy a comfortable rest while admiring the vista.

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  6. Lovely post and sentiments. My favorite cemeteries are Pere Lachaise in Paris and the Monumental in Milan. They even provide a map for the Pere Lachaise (Jim Morrison among France’s most notable people is buried there).

    Liked by 1 person

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