In summer, sometimes life gets a bit antsy. Those days, I load my Ipod with George Benson and Dean Martin, Carole King and Connie Francis and I slap some Nutella on a couple of toasts and bike to the Belvedere in St.Anne or the Lakeview Memorial Gardens in Baie d’Urfé or even the Last Post Field of Honor, in Pointe Claire. And if I am feeling really frisky, I drive up to the Sainte Madeleine in Rigaud. Winter, spring or fall don’t stop me either.
Oh, I forgot to tell you – these are cemeteries close to where I live and I love wandering around them. (Last Post is a military cemetery). All these cemeteries are bordered at least on two sides, by woods. Scrub trees and brush grow on some of the graves and of course, cemeteries are always a riot of wild flowers. Here and there, in order to read the inscription on a grave one has to pull aside a tangle of vines.
The older gravestones are made of slate, brownstone and marble and the carvings on them are invariably beautiful – crosses, grand arches, death’s heads, angels, hourglasses, lilies, hands pointing upward, recumbent lambs, anchors, roses, weeping willows and such like. The names on the gravestones are invariably French – Girard, Seguin, Vachon, Fortin, LaFrenniere, Faubert, Charrette, Dupuis, Chevrier, Vallee and on and on they go.
You do see some English names too. You might find a Harwood or a Macdonald sharing a stone with a Tremblay or a Lamoureaux and that’s when you know that an Irishman must have fallen for a French chickadee and started a cross cultural home.
The Robert Fleming headstone is 1812 and he shares it with Liette Seguin (1824), so he must have married in the mid to late 1700s. Under Liette Seguin, there are a dozen Flemings dating from the mid-19th century, right up until 1964.
I wonder how they must have met – an Englishman and a Frenchwoman. I imagine Fleming fought in the Plains of Abraham and chanced upon Liette, a young war widow whose folks England had just defeated. Not having had Irish fanny for a while, the young stud from Derry or Cork or Belfast or something must have been over eager and one thing must have led to another.
Later, they must have loaded a buggy with their pots and pans and ridden down from Quebec City to Montreal and settled there. Then, since Liette always had her way (as women usually do), the children were raised French and in time, the only English thing left in them was their last name – Fleming. I found a few other similar English-French households – Drake/Fortin, Cole/Lamoureax….
At Sainte Madeleine, the cemetery doubles as a wild apple orchard and in autumn, the rolling greens are sprinkled all over with small, wormy apples. At the Lakeview Memorial Gardens, I found wild strawberry hedges. I tried a strawberry once – it was tangy and I thought I heard a grumble from under the hedge. I quickly spat it out and stepped on something hard underneath the hedge. It was a headstone – a very old one, must have been 1750s, the letters barely visible – S.Lt. Maurice Chevril(1765) and Mme.Simone Coté(1804) evidently do not appreciate strawberry poachers. 1765 and 1804 – boy, this guy must have been a cradle snatcher. I hurried away. I hate spirits, other than those that have two parts of carbon, five parts of hydrogen and a lone hydroxyl ion and together drive me to make an ass of myself after I have had quite a few parts per million.
I spend the maximum time at the Sainte Madeleine, don’t know why. I amble along the rows and the aisles, not looking for anything in particular, not really knowing why I am there at all. As I walk, squirrels and rabbits skitter away and then, when they are a safe distance, they turn, stand stock-still and stare back at me, like they are saying ta each other, ‘Who the f—k is this ass—le now, dude?’
Below are some pics of headstones you might like if you are a cemetery freak like me. Three of them are in fact pairs, showing the same stones in two different seasons, summer and winter. The flowers on some of them are artificial ones, stuck on with tie-wraps.
There is a sensation I have invariably had whenever I have been in a cemetery and this might surprise you – cemeteries cheer me up. I am not kidding. Every time I am in a cemetery, my spirits soar. A feeling of wellbeing courses through me and the sense that I am being watched sends a tingle down my spine.
Don’t get me wrong, there are no ghosts or any such thing. Canadians are happy people. Canadian dead therefore are happy dead and happy dead don’t come back as ghosts. If you can get someone to tell you a joke just before you die, I promise you, you’ll never haunt anybody.
You’d think that a cemetery with all those dead dudes would make me blue, thinking of my own demise which, given my advanced age and habits, shouldn’t be very far in the future. But no, dead dudes cheer me up, I swear. I am literally alive when I am in a cemetery.
Recently I found myself on a webpage on that website that also ends in ‘pedia’ like mine does. The only diff is that it keeps badgering you for donations. What’s the name now, I can’t seem ta remembah, Wiki something.
Anyways, I found something on this Wiki place, about a cemetery in Săpânţa, an unassuming little village in Romania where it seems like nothing has changed for the past 100 years. Farmers still go about their work in horse-drawn carts, and old women still wear patterned scarves on their heads.
But Săpânţa has a very unique claim to fame — it is home to Cimitirul Vesel (Merry Cemetery). This cemetery is unlike any other in the world. Instead of the usual boring stone grave markers and marble mausoleums that populate just about every other graveyard in the world, each plot is adorned with a colorfully-painted wooden cross, with a poem for a epitaph, sometimes even a funny limerick.
The unusual feature of this cemetery is that it diverges from the prevalent view that death is something indelibly solemn. I understand that the local Dacian culture views death as a moment filled with joy and anticipation for a better life.
The cemetery was founded by a guy named Stan Ion Pătraş, a local artist who sculpted the first tombstone crosses. Pătraș carved his own epitaph and it reads….
Since I was a little boy
I was known as Stan Ion Pătraş
Listen to me, fellows
There are no lies in what I am going to say
All along my life
I meant no harm to anyone
But did good as much as I could
To anyone who asked
Oh, my poor World
Because it was hard living in it
Merry Cemetery has lots of funny inscriptions. There’s one that expresses relief over the death of someone’s mother-in-law….
Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother in-law
Three more days should she have lived
I would lie, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
Cause’ if she comes back home
She’ll criticise me more.
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from grave.
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!
To be able to satirize and laugh at death is perhaps the ultimate strength that only a few are bestowed with.
Promise me, you’ll have a hearty chuckle when you hear I’m gone……….
Merry Cemetery Pics (Courtesy Wikipedia)