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Copps Hill Burial Ground      My travel to a new destination is not complete without a journey to a local cemetery.  You may call me bizarre, as others have noted this trait as unusual.  I generally see that the culture of a land and the knowledge of an age long past is before my eyes upon walking past those gates.  A somber reflection, in a dignified manner, into the lives of those departed, opens my eyes to the needs to respect the dead.  The payment of homage and need to glorify the memory of a family member takes on so many differences in the cultures of my travel.  From an early age I found the monuments to the dead intriguing.  The walks through the cemetery take on a peace of their own.  Ancient or modern in design, open wide or grown over set a tone.  The maintainers of the gravesites add to the culture.  My earliest remembrance came from a Victorian era matured cemetery in Connecticut, USA.  Though not in a New England wealthy town, the deceased  retained many beautiful and massive stones over their graves.  Many monuments reflected the touch of the sea with anchors and granite crosses adorned with cherubs and dolphins.  The cedar and cyprus trees were so mature that the shadows fell across most graves in a cloak of sadness.  Pools of fresh water in the hollows on the grounds drew weeping willow branches toward the reflections on the water and tears of leaves  floated down in the breeze. The families of the late 1800’s felt the sadness of loss of the loved ones and those graves clearly let the living feel the grief.

    sabagraveIn the heat of the noonday sun, no cemetery was more striking to explore than the Hassell Cemetery on the 5 square mile  island of Saba in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean Sea.  This island is an upside down ice cream cone with a population of 2,000.  The lilliputian villages are populated by ancient seafaring Scot families and Carib/African descendants. The families had etched a space over several generations to bury the dead.  Volcanic in nature, the land required the above ground vault mausoleums.  These were not like the historic New Orleans, LA style, but more low-rise, in a dense plot of graves.  The island seaman would travel the world and return with glass and ceramic tiles from every culture.  Those tiles were then used to pave every inch of every vault in every color and mixed pattern. The reflection in the sun and the intensity of the blend is a vision of ingenuity.  Most crypts sport an oval photograph of the deceased imbedded on a raised head stone. Like a hotel washroom, the tiles are scrubbed and shined gleaming by the  families.  They were so proud of their graves.

  GreeceChurch On the road to the last vestige of land of the mainland before touching the deep blue Aegean Sea and the islands of Greece, the villages of the Peloponnese area, known as Mani, gives us the color of a proud culture.  These fierce people from ages long past retain the memories of stoic, no, Spartan times in history. This culture retains religious veins of intense respect for the dead.  The honor of the departed parent is most evident here.  The graveyard of Greece is a family place and many times attached to the family’s own individual church. These churches serve as the last resting place.  Black-shawled women tend the grave/vault near the cubic whitewashed structure.  Within a glass-doored wooden tombstone are put vessels of  “holy water” and olive oil, photographs of family, incense, dried flowers, toys, “toma” or the pressed religious icons of silver, painted icons of saints, candles of golden bee’s wax and the list goes on.  The touching sadness of the stuffed toy puppy and the photo of the dark curled haired toddler speaks of this culture.  These are glimpses into a respect for life and the prayers for the departed.  The life of the village revolves around all in the Mani mind-set.

     These and the many chances to walk the paths that the mourners have walked have opened my eyes to a respect for the timeless  museum of granite, marble, slate and the wood.  I place my hand on the chiseled words and feel the warmth of the stone and drink in the sound of the wind through the monuments that draw me to the land of the lost.  The land of the living becomes most real. 

GreeceMani

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