Monday, November 22, 2010

What Goes Up . . .

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The small white plastic box with blinking green lights on it which ensures the translation of packets of binary data coming over the phone lines to and from our house into intelligible internet pages gave up the ghost some time on Sunday morning, stranding us in the stratosphere with no oxygen, as it were, leaving us with no connectivity to the world wide web for over 24 hours. A pitiable state to be in when one is wanting to blog and one cannot. Such is life, and the death of small plastic boxes. The box has a name, it is called a "Livebox". But this one became a "Deadbox". So today I had to get it changed. In order to get back on line, to get my fix, as it were. In some cases, it is not so easy to recover.
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One never knows upon what one is going to happen when one sets out to simply wander and look. The other day, James and I set out to wander in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. We happened upon a story I'd never heard before. There are a multitude of stories to be found in Père Lachaise, from the famous, Like Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, or Oscar Wilde, to the obscure; but the story of Theodore Sivel and Joseph Crocé-Spinelli was not one I'd ever heard of before. I'll be curious to know if you have perhaps.
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From a distance, their tomb, for they are buried together, looks like this :
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When one draws closer, one realizes that the sculpture on the tomb is of two men, holding hands.
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Someone had placed some synthetic flowers there.
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The two men appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
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It wasn't until I read the inscription carved in the stone pedestal that I had any inkling of the tragic tale memorialized here at their grave. On April 15th, 1875, three men took off in a balloon named the Zenith from near Paris. Only one of them, Gaston Tissandier, lived to recount what transpired. The inscription says in French : "Catastrophe du Ballon le Zenith 15 Avril 1875, Croce-Spinelli et Sivel, Morts à 8600 Metres de Hauteur". Dead at 8600 meters up in a balloon named the Zenith. That is just over 28200 feet. They had set out that day to break all previous high altitude records. They succeeded, but at great cost. No one had ever gone that high before. They did not know that there was not enough oxygen to sustain life at such lofty heights.
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For the advancement of science, so that we can enjoy travelling on jet planes and have an internet that works, some early pioneers paid the ultimate price for knowledge : Morts. Dead.
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One thumb has been worn shiny with being touched by thousands of passers by in a mute token of respect. I touched it too.
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Autumn leaves were falling already that October day, rain had filled the folds of sculpted cloth with pooled water from the skies above.
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Hands clasped forever.
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If you would like to read more about what happened to Croce-Spinelli and Sivel, there is an interesting article from the April 16th, 1875 New York Times on line here.
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Il y a un article en français sur le sujet du catastrophe du Zenith ici.
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50 comments:

Gary said...

Great shots, as always.

mythopolis said...

Really great post! I had seen a photo of that monument before somewhere, but did not know the story behind it. I wonder if they were clinging to one another in the moment of their death.

The photos are terrific!

Joanna said...

What a sweet, sad story. And what incredible photographs. Your blog is a treasure.

Stickup Artist said...

I have to say this are the most unique cemetery images i've ever seen. Not just because of the subject matter, which is fascinating indeed. But the way you shot it. The water pooling in the sculpture, the bright warm toned autumn leaves against the cool toned patina. I love these images. Your photos are a caress.

English Rider said...

Those, amongst many, upon whose shoulders we stand today. A sensitive bronze tribute.

Jilly said...

What a fascinating and tragic story. And what stunning photographs. I love, in particular, the hand with the patina exposed, but truly all are beautiful.

Adam said...

I didn't know this story at all, or about the sculpture in Père Lachaise. What an interesting tale and how sweet that they should be forever united in this way. Perhaps both men were buried elsewhere though and this is just a memorial?

Peter said...

I read the article and it seems that they were really buried there. Fascinating,, wonderfully illustrated by text and photos!

I just try to imagine, the number of fascinating stories you could tell, if you really start investigating on each tomb.

Elisa said...

Hi Owen, it sure was a tragic. But your photos are incredible beautiful and these leaves and flowers make this so amazing. I love the photo of hand in hand..

clo said...

un très bel hommage Owen..et tes photos sont magnifiques,pleines de sensibilité et d’émotion..
les couleurs des feuilles et ces mains jointes patinées de vert bleu c'est vraiment spécial... très beau...
C'est étrange par ailleurs ,mon fils me racontait cette histoire il y a deux ou trois jours a peine...
c'est une belle coïncidence..
bises cher Owen ,bonne fin de début de semaine..

Lulu Sorcière said...

Owen, non seulement ton post est magnifique, ces photos et ces gros plans si émouvants, mais ton reportage est passionnant ! Merci.
J'ai tout lu en anglais ;-))
Bises.

Nick said...

I might just become a fan and especialy if it is about flying. How could they have known that one could not breathe at that sort of hight.
and indeed the pictures are great.

Tom Bejgrowicz said...

What a beautiful series, Owen. The colors and textures are gorgeous, of course. Love it.

Catherine said...

Tu m'apprends cette incroyable histoire qui présente autant d'intérêt que quelques autres au Père Lachaise mais qui est moins connue néanmoins. Je ne manquerai pas lors d'une visite de rechercher ces 2 hommes liés pour l'éternité.
Tes photos sont remarquables, sans lire le texte, j'y aurai imaginer une toute autre belle histoire.

...louciao... said...

I find I want to linger the longest over the picture of the inscription. There is something about the softness of the pastel- toned colours and how they blend together; as well as the differing textures of the stone and moss, shot through with those deep cracks of time. The story is interesting, but what I really like is how you've taken the time to point out what to look for, what struck you as a photographer, in each shot.

ρομπερτ said...

Your hands writing words, taking pictures reach amazingly hight. Thank you for sharing this story, I've never heard of before.

An entry I'm glad to have read at a quarter to three in the morning. Please have a wonderful Wednesday you all.

daily athens

Deborah said...

What an exquisitely sad story, Owen. Oh my, it fair makes my heart turn over to imagine those men succumbing to the wild blue yonder. And I'd also like to know the story of who decided on the sculptures, and why. They are beautiful and heart-rending.

So glad that we have the internet to follow you around with - so very intriguing and interesting are your voyages, great and small.

babbler said...

You have asked that I not "hold back," so I shant. For a pair of simple slugs such as we, to be thought of, and missed, by such a terrific and talented individual, is a moving thought indeed. Today I slid through town taking pictures of freshly fallen snow. I took photos of old buildings which brought to mind your ancient streets and farmhouses and barns and old cars, the way you see things through your lens and deliver them with such beauty.... The walking adventure with my camera made me think of our good friend Owen, a friend whom I have never met but have had many cups of tea with. I poured myself a cuppa this evening at Slug's Rest and here I am, shedding a tear for two men who died when they were halfway to heaven already. Thank you for bringing the balloon safely to the ground so I could hop on it and fly above the clouds, careful not to venture too high, for I wish to visit Mr. Toad again and again. Therefore - You shall find your slugs, safely ensconsed at the house, tails wagging, at Slug's Rest, ready to serve you your herbed and heated water, lightly sweetened, in a bone china cup so thin that you can see the sunlight through it.

the watercats said...

ahhh.. it's been an utter pleasure catching up with your world again.. so many beautiful images, ponderings, sentiments, sounds.... I'm quite envious that you got to see Suzanne vega.. she was one of my earliest childhood loves, along with Kate Bush and her songs are just stunningly crafted.
This post is very beautiful too, in it's tragic way. There are so many forgotten stories out there!

lgsquirrel said...

This is the sort of stories that make wandering in a cemetery interesting. Thanks for sharing. Despite the story, it does seem unusual that the men are depicted holding hands like that.

Margaret Pangert said...

Les feuilles mortes...des hommes morts. c'est le moment d'y reflechir... Je me demande s'il y en a de plus dans les vies de ces deux hommes? elegiac, wistful...well done, Owen.

Owen said...

Hey Gary, many thanks...

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Hi Mythop, I read through a few different accounts of what happened that day, but don't recall if they were hanging on to each other when they expired up above 28000 feet. They had passed out, and bled profusely from the nose and mouth apparently. When the balloon came back down to the ground it seems the landing was quite rough in a strong wind, casting them out of the basket.

I just can't get over their courage to go up and up and up like that. True adventurers.

Owen said...

Hello Joanna,
Many thanks for dropping in here, always happy to see new visitors dropping in from out of the blue depths of cyberspace... welcome...

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Stickup,
I don't know what to say... you know how much I love cemetery poetry, cemetery art, and am striving to render homage which is respectful and perhaps inspires some level of further, deeper reflection on the poignancy of it all... if for you this has succeeded in even a small way, then I am, well... floored.
Thank you...

Owen said...

Hi ER, indeed we do stand upon many shoulders, some particularly broad and strong and courageous... the bravery of these men defies my comprehension. They really were setting off into the unknown. With the sort of confidence and faith that we could use more of today.

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Jilly,
Mille fois merci, as they say here, many thanks for dropping in, a pleasure...

Owen said...

Hi Adam,
I think Peter is right, I read a few accounts of the tale, which seem to confirm that they are indeed buried here. It was difficult to get approval at the time apparently.

Particularly enjoyed your piece about Richard Wright, also in Père Lachaise. I was a few meters away from his memorial, without knowing it was there. Will look next time.

Owen said...

Peter,
Indeed, cemeteries are dangerous places, if one is curious; for in a place as large as Père Lachaise, in just a single afternoon one can turn up lifetimes worth of research to do about an incredible number of subjects. History is extremely dense there... Good for people like you and I who like to have our curiosities awakened...

Owen said...

Hei Elisa, thoroughly tragic, they just had no idea that they would run out of air up there. Thank you so much, for sure, the two hands are beautiful, and innocent, no modern connotations at all there I think, two hands simply united in strength and courage and friendship and unity of purpose... I think the sculpteur who carried out this work reached almost as high an altitude as his subjects did.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

As a fan of cemeteries, you've provided one more example of what they can provide the living: our history.

Owen said...

Howdy Clo,
En effet, cela fait vraiment une coincidence énorme... mais où est-ce qu'il avait trouvé cette histoire, qu'il te raconte ça il y a quelques jours ??? Ca c'est vraiment étrange et fabuleux... Bon, maintenant tu as une petite idée à quoi ressemble leur tombeau. J'étais sidéré par la beauté de la sculpture, le mélange cuivré, qui est passé au vert avec plus de 100 ans de temps... il y avait quelque chose de très fort dans l'air autour, preque palpable. Et puis ces mots qui faisaient froid dans le dos, sérieusement froid, "morts à 8600 metres"... C'était avec le plus grand respect et reverence que je me suis permis de me pencher sur leur tombe pour faire ces images.
Merci Clo, merci...

Owen said...

Lulu,
Je suis plus que content si cela t'a plu, et si cela t'encourage à travailler un peu la pratique de la lanque de Shakespeare. Je me demande d'ailleurs, ce que Shakespeare aurait écrit à propos de cette histoire...

Scene One : Usine à gaz de la Villette, three passionate men and a balloon...

Owen said...

Hi Nick !
It would be the greatest pleasure and an honor to have you as a fan here, I assure you...
:-)
It is not always about flying, although I always attempt to fly to new heights of whatever it is that I'm doing here, which is not always clear even to me...

But in any case, WELCOME, and stop back in here any time, the kettle is always on...

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NOTE TO MAGIC LANTERN READERS !
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If you would like to see some photographs of a voyage to Botswana, where not alot of people voyage... do click through on Nick's name here to his blog about a trip to Botswana this past August. Unbelievable wildlife abound there... birds of magnificent colors !

Owen said...

Tom, I am deeply touched by your praise here, as I know you do not say such things lightly... thank you good sir, may you never sink in these strange times...
:-)

Owen said...

Bonjour Catherine,
Cela fait très plaisir de te voir de nouveau... et oui, effectivement, je ne pouvais m'empecher de penser certaines choses quand je me suis approché et compris qu'il s'agissait de deux hommes qui se tenaient par la main... mais en faisant le tour de la sculpture, et enfin en comprenant le message gravé dans la pierre, j'ai fini par comprendre que c'était toute autre chose, et une belle et tragique histoire. Si tu y vas, ils ne sont pas loin de l'entrée nord-ouest, près du metro Père Lachaise, sur le chemin que mène de cette entrée vers le crématorium.
Bisoux, merci encore...

Owen said...

Lynne, I'm with you, I loved the colors of the stained stones, and was somewhat mesmerized by the fissures in the stone, wondering if the whole thing was likely to collapse if I leaned on it too hard, so I was very careful not to provoque any further catastrophe. That green of copper oxydizing gets me every time... don't know why. But I'm not sure where the reddish tinge was coming from. Blood will out, as they say ?

Owen said...

Tag Robert,
I am very happy to have been able to cast a little light into your three o'clock at night... although no account or photos could go as high as these men's spirits did...

James said...

Excellent post Owen! I love the way you put it all together. This was a truly amazing grave and an incredible story. Aonther great memory!

Owen said...

Dear Deborah,
Thank you deeply... you are quite right, it is a heart rending tale of bravery. I can only hope they went peacefully. From what I gathered from reading some of the accounts, they knew they were in difficulty up around 8000 meters, and yet they consciously chose to try to go higher, and cut away more ballast bags. Shortly after which all three of them lost consciousness, and only one regained it. An incredible story. I stand in awe.

Owen said...

Dear Mrs Slug,
Your kindness and your hospitality simply overwhelm me; how could I not miss the most wonderful slugs in the world ?

Your sentence here, "shedding a tear for two men who died when they were halfway to heaven already" brought tears to my eyes also.

And then through the emotion, a fragment of reason returned, and I wondered, if they died halfway to heaven, does that mean that heaven begins at roughly 17200 meters up, or just over 56000 feet ? I wonder how high their balloon could have gone if they had been equipped with breathing gear and warm enough clothing, for it gets mighty darn cold up there too...

In any case, I suspect we are rather better off drinking tea in the kitchen at Slug's Rest, and I would very happily drop in to do so if I could. Hopefully one of these days.... a very large pleasure to see you out and about, I was beginning to wonder where you'd slid off to...
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Vicky !
Thanks a million for dropping in here for some catching up, I know you've been busy with all sorts of stuff... but I'm really happy to see you back out here in the sphere... loved your Pirate song.

Suzanne Vega was indeed a vast pleasure to see the other night, a very warm, bright memory there, she is so intense on stage... oh yes, and those dimples !
:-)

Owen said...

Hi LGS, for this toad, wandering in cemeteries is always fascinating, I'm almost never disappointed when stepping into a graveyard, walking softly...

Owen said...

Margaret !
Wherever on earth have you been ? I hope all is ok, it is very good to see you out once again, thanks so much for dropping by. There are quite a few articles about the Zenith and Sivel and Croce-Spinelli, some of which give a little more insight into their lives...

Owen said...

Hi Oakland, you are right on the mark... and that is exactly what draws me back, and back again. The history, though of dead people, is very much alive for the living who walk through and ponder, ponder what was once...

Owen said...

Hi James, indeed, indeed, the day was rich beyond my wildest dreams. One subject after another just seemed to take on vibrant life in rapid succession. It is good to be out in new company, new places and just experience life and the stages on which it is played. Paris, of course, is a particularly intense stage, so perhaps not surprising that things come so vividly to life.
Take care...

Alberto Oliver said...

Hi Owen,,oh sorry, i am hurried, but it would be unforgiven not to pass and wish you a happy and wonderful Thanksgiving Day !!
May the season about to begin be one of joy, peace and health for you and yours.
Greetings, a big hug and "see" you later =)

Roxana said...

ah, the dead leaves, so lovingly enfolded in these robes, in these hands - and yet i know that it is "i" who puts "lovingly" in there, since the stone is cold and silent, the leaves beyond any human realm of emotions. and yet, and yet...

one day i will perhaps fight my natural dislike for graveyards and i will let you show my around in the Pere Lachaise...

Anonymous said...

Who is 'A. Dumilatre' who sculpted this bronze in 1878? Do your Parisian archives shed any light on this individual and his other works?
What a great story and extraordinary pictures!!!

Gladly, the cross-eyed bear

Le Journal de Chrys said...

J'ai beaucoup aimé ce billet (et même compris quelques passages)!!! D'une part je ne suis jamais allée au cimetière Lachaise car je suis très rarement venue à Paris et j'y ai fait d'autres choses. Et d'autre part, tes photos sont terriblement réussies.

Et merci pour le lien "musical": un groupe que je ne connaissais pas du tout.

Je te souhaite une belle semaine!

Owen said...

Hi Alberto, you are so welcome any time, even if hurried, always a big pleasure to see you, my northern friend...

Owen said...

Roxana,
It would be the greatest pleasure to be your guide to take a walk in Père Lachaise one day, of course, your wish is my command... Some graveyards are beautiful places, and this is one that shines with the stars...

You would love the lipstick kisses on Oscar Wilde's tomb, and Edith Piaf... and so many others...

Owen said...

Cross-Eyed Bear,
Alphonse Dumilatre, 1844-1923 is about all I know, it would probably take a trip to the national library to find more, the net doesn't seem to have much. Thanks for stopping in here...