March 2nd 2014
Cemetery of San Francisco, Quito, Historical Center.
No logic in Death !!
Cemeteries are fascinating places, warehouses of history, with memorials displaying architecture for the After Life in memory of those buried within their walls. Highgate Cemetery in London “accommodates” the remains of Karl Marx the Communist, George Eliot the novelist (who was actually a woman), Sir Ralph Richardson the actor and Henry Moore the artist and sculptor plus, plus, plus…….. many more notables among the 170,000 people in 53,000 graves . The Recoleta of Buenos Aires, is one of the top tourist attractions located in an upscale neighborhood and is the most expensive Real Estate in the City. This is where one finds the final resting place of its most famous and wealthy citizens including the Tomb of Eva Peron, the adored First Lady of Argentina and her Family. It is a beautiful cemetery and has outstanding memorials to the dead. Pere Lachaise Cemetery and Park is high on the list of “things to do” in Paris. It is huge, has the largest number of famous graves, including Isadora Duncan, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Moliere. Marcel Marceau, Proust, Balzac, Gertrude Stein, Chopin, Maria Callas, Georges Bizet and the most popular of all, the American poet, songwriter and Rock singer Jim Morrison from the Rock Group “The Doors”. His grave with a simple headstone is the most visited site in the entire cemetery. Imagine if they could all come back to life and have a party, what an interesting evening that would be !! Maria Callas performing in Georges Bizet’s Carmen, Edith Piaf and the Rocker Jim Morrison singing a duet and Isadora Duncan respectfully dancing around (but not on) the tombstones. Who knows, they may even meet as Spirits at night and party till dawn.
South America does not disappoint in this realm with the remains of many noteworthy politicians, civic leaders, writers and famous people buried with big funerals in over embellished resting places.
While in Quito, I visited the Cementerio de San Diego. It is in the Old Town, on Plaza San Diego
and lies in the shadow of the Penicello Hill with the ever present statue of the Penicello Virgin looking down.
In keeping with the Historic buildings in Quito, it includes examples of memorable architecture. Planned like a mini city of the Dead, it has wider avenues for the main streets crisscrossed by secondary roads and it is filled with tombs and vaults showing several architectural styles.
There were ornate Greco Roman mausoleums, Neo Classical Temples, Roman Cenotaphs, elaborately vaulted tombs, and walls with individual burial niches six “bodies” high.
Some of the “buildings” were large or very tall, an indication either that the deceased was more socially relevant or very wealthy, or both while alive – as if to perpetuate this distinction in Death. There were a lot of people buried here, many stacked separately one above the other, (as these burial places are less expensive) making it well planned to house as many as possible without occupying too much land. Sustainable Cemeteries !!
The day I was there, it was serene and peaceful as I walked around and read the epitaphs. Dating from 1872, some were Civic Leaders, politicians, lawyers, doctors and professors with the majority being regular citizens of Quito. Sadly there was a disproportionate number of Children. The larger mausoleums and tombs were segregated into families and it appeared some were still “current” being well maintained, with fresh flowers. Others that were older had moss growing on the walls and were in disrepair, as if the family had all died, moved away or could no longer afford the fees.
Beautiful, historic and tranquil. This was a time to gain perspective, wondering as I walked who these people really were and did they have meaningful lives, that their memories have been perpetuated in Death. It was a time also for reflection, what is it that we will leave behind and are we relevant to those around us and to the larger society and world in which we live ? Are these ancient rituals still applicable to the present day – very deep and personal thoughts. Once we have “passed” we can no longer rule from the grave. No matter that some of the graves represented people of high social standing or great wealth, they could not take this with them nor could they guarantee to be the most popular in Death. The graves of Eva Peron and Jim Morrison, one a First Lady who was a powerful political force who died at fifty two and the other a twenty seven year old Rock Legend, beat out all the others for popularity. There is no logic in Death !!