31 October 2006
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS
‘Loss in South Africa: Doubly Robbed!
Not only does the ‘Grim Reaper’ harvest our beloved with his Scythe but we are now also prevented from mourning them at their graves.
I visit the ‘Cemetaire’ of Lourmarin, which is gently cushioned at the top of a hill, sloping down at the back. The elaborate, ancient graves nestle between low walls and ravaged cypresses.
In a peaceful little corner, low-lying branches have been cut away to expose a small forest of vertical, cylindrical stems, the canopy above, gently protecting the grave enfolded in its leafy cave.
Countless seasons have transformed tombstones into bumpy, monochromatic palettes. Various sizes of velvety dots, some flat and others the shape of chocolate truffles, merge and soften the iron and concrete homes of the dead.
White, beige, brown and charcoal-black, green and rust, gently covers the tombs of their beloved’s dust.
I have no fear, walking between Angels made of stone. Eyes cast to heaven and feathery wings, flowing hair and robes, all carved from rock….
Timeless horizontal posies of multi-colored porcelain flowers, bedeck the surfaces, factory fresh, without crack, chip or blemish….
Shoulders hunched, his face darkly stubbled, a widower softly shuffles past on fine gravel, thick lashes wet with tears……
Family mausoleums, grouped together on the terraced slope below, unite the bones of generations of relations.
Not only do we not dare visit the graves of our finally lost friends and families, in life, whom we love, are scattered across the globe.
Once dead, the ritual of remembering with respect, is lost, and eventually, the memory too.
A crisp breeze ruffles the petals of bouquets of fragrant flowers and dusts away the repression of memories, enabling me to recall countless visits together with my parents, to the family grave in the Rebecca Street Cemetery.
Our floral offerings were put in vases, which were positioned on all four corners of the granite tomb.
My task was to rinse the removable ceramic or metal vases, under the tap, which nestled between the graves some distance away. The hem of my dress would offer transparent comfort, as barrier between my toddler’s hand and flaming steel carrying lukewarm water. Sacrifice it was not, as my lips, prepared in pout, would kiss the Angel sentries encountered on my way…..
Our black Desoto desolately stood under the stringy shade of a Peppercorn tree, boot raised and filled with stacks of old newspapers and watering can. After the silent ritual of arranging the flowers, the stalks and leaves that had been trimmed off, would be neatly rolled up in the paper, scattered images proclaiming the Profumo Scandal or Sputniks to the moon. The vibrating air, cocooning the car, would sting your face with a wave of steam, as you respectfully slammed shut, the doors.
Then, the only fear I had was that of sliding into the world of death beneath the soft graveyard-ground.
This ritual with our dead was routinely carried out, as an unquestionable part of life and my parents would be in pensive mood for some time, after these dedicated excursions of remembrance.
The hot sun was kind enough to wait until we turned the corner, before sucking the moisture from the modestly colored flowers and shriveling their tilting heads. We knew this to be true, because this image awaited us on our return.
The red and moist ground-heaps of the fresh graves, were always covered with layers of multicolored bouquets. The sun would even attempt to drink from the glass-covered, plastic wreaths, but did not succeed. This we also knew to be true since the little condensed drops would be hanging by their necks from the inside of the curved glass covers and drop onto the handwritten cards below, streaking and smudging the sad words with tears of plastic flora.
I feel angry and sad since today I have been reminded of what I have forgotten I’ve lost.