Friday, December 16, 2011

A Day For Quiet Contemplation . . .

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My job has been keeping me more than busy of late, and I regret not being out and about in the blogosphere more than I have been, but one must at times sleep, and at times relax. This past weekend I went for a walk in a local cemetery that I hadn't looked at closely in the past, simply to get out and breathe some fresh air and clear the head of cobwebs.
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In such places I find peace and quiet, and ample matter for consideration and reflection on the vicissitudes of life. One can learn about acceptance in cemeteries, acceptance of what is cruel and hard in the world, acceptance that we do not last forever, that there are some things that we can do absolutely nothing to change, and in accepting certain realities, one can perhaps better appreciate what we do have, and then make the most of it. And I love what graveyards reveal about history, about those who have gone before, who would otherwise lie forgotten, were it not for words carved on a stone, for a simple work of art created in memory of a departed soul. Even stones do not last forever, and as stones return to sand and dust, so do bones, so do bones.
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In this first, the sky and cross reflected on the surface of a glass globe serve to remind that James' Weekend Reflections is in progress.
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Daniel Camus passed on in 1920 at the age 7 years 7 months. After surviving the hardships of the war years, then the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1919 (which killed more people than the Great War did), his tombstone does not say what he died of. Angels Laid Him Away
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I couldn't help but think of Antoine de St Exupery who disappeared in 1944 over the Mediterranean off the south coast of France when I saw this sculpture on the tomb of Jean Pater, who died in 1940 at the age of 29. The graceful stone aircraft carving here reminded me of engravings of airplanes on several French postage stamps from the 1940s and '50s, images of which can be found, like most things these days, on the internet. A St Exupery memorial stamp was issued in 1948.
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A soldier from WWI...
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1927 to 1986...
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Marius Dufremelle died in the Argonne in July 1918. Just the name "Argonne" brought to mind immediately Robert William Service's poem The Man From Athabaska, which was beautifully set to music by Country Joe McDonald on his 1971 anti-war record. The stone here is slowly disintegrating, returning to sand. The verse in question says :
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"For I joined the Foreign Legion, and they put me for a starter
In the trenches of the Argonne with the Boche a step away;
And the partner on my right hand was an apache from Montmartre;
On my left there was a millionaire from Pittsburg, U. S. A.
(Poor fellow! They collected him in bits the other day.)"
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Paul Plessier, 29 years old, killed at Douaumont on 28 April, 1916 (a fort which was the scene of fearsome fighting at Verdun)
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So young, so young to be killed for his country...
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Stained glass in disrepair...
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31 comments:

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle... said...

Beautiful post, my friend Owen, and so touching. Like you, I enjoy reading inscriptions in cemeteries and empathize with the people whose stories are told in just a few faded words, engraved in stone or concrete. I am glad there are photographers like yourself who take the time to visit and tell the stories of these forgotten children, soldiers, men and women. Well done. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle) - PS: Thank you for stopping by this week to help me celebrate Le Blog's first anniversary. ;-)

Steve said...

Cemeteries are humbling places. The world would be a better place if we all took to wandering in them more often and paying our respects to those who have gone before us.

Alistair said...

Another beautiful set of photo's Owen. Reflections seem commonplace in graveyards. Most of them self reflections.

I too was struck by the image of the aircraft - very much of a time - and wondered about the significance of the mountains in the carving too.

these temporal rooms said...

Owen,

you have written so beautifully here about your need for time with yourself where you went and how you reflected and recorded these people. as Alistair has noted, 'self reflections'.

i love to come here. you are such a gift to us all.

thank you.

~robert

these temporal rooms said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Springman said...

The most affecting photograph for me is the one of the fading woman in repose. That says it doesn't it? Day by day, memory after memory, one grain at a time, the honed edge of our existence loses it's sharpness to the passing years.
Nature is impatient, the next generation is already here and anxious to draw the clear, bold lines of it's arrival. They shall have their day as we have had ours. Seven billion now! From the two an one half when I was born...haven't we been busy? How many more tombstones will there be for the coming generations of Owens to ponder?
Good news: Plenty of work for stone carvers!

Pastelle said...

Ce n'est pas mon lieu de promenade préféré, mais tu découvres des merveilles. Je trouve la plaque avec l'avion et la montagne vraiment très belle. Et jamais vu auparavant.

Stickup Artist said...

I love the bas relief of the woman, hands on heart, who is barely visible anymore. And the little boy with the long hair holding the cane brought tears to my eyes. It all seems so strange, life itself, and stranger still, how we end up living it. I think it is even more strange when you can read all the inscriptions of lives lost in horrible wars. You'd think we would learn, change, evolve. I think you put it best when you reflect upon acceptance, appreciation, and making the most of what you have. Like my brother always says, "Don't worry about what you don't have, and appreciate what you do have." I think it is quite a lot if you can even say that...

barbara l. hale said...

This left me with a lot to think about...the fleeting quality of life. Wonderful photos.

mythopolis said...

Well, my sentiments are so well said by Stickup-Artist already. I looked at that photo of little Daniel Camus and it sorta tore me up. And here there are these gravesites that dot the landscape with white crosses to mark the passing of young men and women who died in war. And every Sunday morning here there is a news show that always concludes with an 'in memoriam' list of the past week's fallen soldiers. And they all died young, and we will never know what potential went unrealized. Too sad for words.

James said...

Another excellent cemetery post! I find them extremely interesting. I'm reminded of the fun day we spent at Père Lachaise. Did you hear that they cleaned and blocked off Oscar Wilde's tomb from future kisses?

-K- said...

Nicely done, Owen.

Its almost impossible not to get philosophical when looking at gravestones.

Maria O. Russell said...

You don´t see right unless with your heart. The essential is invisible to the eye...

Why did Saint Exupery chose a fox(of all animals)to tell his friend this wonderful truths? I always wanted to know.

Fantastic post,Owen! Thank you.

Gine said...

J'aime bien cette série ! Le reflet est très intéressant, et le vitrail défait, tout un symbole ...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Your opening thoughts about accepting some of life's inevitiblilites struck a chord. This whole post is food for thought and as you often do has provoked lovely thoughtful comments. I too like the woman - her hands especially - dissapearing as you say, into sand and dust. I hope you are able to make that emotional quiet space for yourself as often as you need it, dear Owen.

lgsquirrel said...

Thank you. I so enjoy following you around the cemeteries on your blog. I share your feelings about these places.

louciao said...

Cemeteries are for the living.

Oakland Daily Photo said...

My local cemetery is practically a neighborhood piazza. People visit graves, bird watch, have picnics, walk their dogs, exercise, have parties, and study history there. Oh, and also take pictures now and then. I plan to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the bay. But I'm seriously thinking of having a grave stone placed there. I think it is a way of holding on to life just a little longer, knowing that someone may walk by and note my time on this earth. Too weird?

BTW, yes it is a barge. By the looks of it, one that has been there a while.

Owen said...

I've been so absent, yet another crazy week at work, then sleeping through Sunday to recuperate...

I am always touched deeply by your visits and words here, so much wisdom from all of you... I cannot imagine better blogging company than yours.

As the holidays fall upon us, no doubt one and all will be busy, so just in case, am wishing you now the happiest of holidays ! Party hearty !

The Sagittarian said...

I never thought I would be so envious of your cemetaries!I have kept away from our local ones recently - the police have been searching 2 of my 'usuals' for the body of a young boy murdered here. They found the poor lad in both places.
However, suffice to say that over Xmas I think I'll travel out of town further and see what I can find.

Le Journal de Chrys said...

C'est vrai Owen, j'aurais pu faire la fête des Lumières avec Pastelle car nous nous connaissons mais elle a été beaucoup plus courageuse que moi pour affronter la foule chaque soir!!!!! Car Lyon, le 8 décembre, c'est INCROYABLE tant il y a foule.
Pastelle a fait un compte rendu bien plus détaillé que moi!

J'ai attendu le dimanche, jour le plus approprié pour visiter les Lumières car la majorité des touristes étaient passés avant!!!!

Amanda said...

what poignant images and lyrical words.....

we have a cemetery in our city and it is a breathtakingly beautiful place to visit, on the bluffs overlooking the mississippi river.

i, too, appreciate the history learned at such places. thank you for documenting the antiquity and stunning beauty of these monuments.

Lydia said...

Owen, your posts on graveyards are my most favorite. You have such a tender eye in capturing individual spots with your camera and words. I just love this one to death (no pun intended). It seems that the pictures on the tombstones are in such better shape than in other cemeteries you have shown us...so little fading, chipping, cracking, decay. Do you know why that is?
Young Daniel Camus looks so frail. I wonder if he wasn't a flu survivor whose health was irreparably affected.
The tomb of Jean Peter is probably the most striking I have ever seen. What great shots, and explanation, of the type of plane.
Loved the bit of Service, of course. Are those wilted real flowers or dirty fake flowers on the Argonne grave? If someone is currently caring for such an old grave I find that remarkable.
Oh, this was such a splendid post!

Peter said...

A wonderful post, so typically "Owen"!

Not everybody appreciates cemeteries, but, as you, I appreicate a lot to visit them, especially the older ones with and the history that they reveal!

Clytie said...

Hi Owen, I am thinking of you because a bloggy friend Julie from Australia has started a new meme - "Taphophile Tragics". Since I know you are a taphophile, I thought this would interest you as well! (I just found out today that "A taphophile is one who finds they are attracted to walking around cemeteries, reading the headstones and musing upon the family history contained therein.")

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

Oakland Daily Photo said...

FYI: Julie from Sydney Eye has started a new meme that focuses on cemeteries.

http://taphophiletuesday.blogspot.com/

in case you're interested.

Nathalie said...

Absolument étonnant, ce vitrail qui dégringole. Je n'ai jamais rien vu de tel. Merci pour les autres images très émouvantes de souvenirs qui s'effacent.

Julie said...

A very moving post, Owen. I have tramped Montmatre, Pere Lachaise, Montparnesse, and Passy, thus far. I adore the ceramic flowers, and have found them here in Australia. One of the things French cemeteries have which we do not have here, is the living perennial flowers beside and at the foot of the grave marker. They add joy and celebration to a otherwise possibly morbid location.

I appreciate your contribution to Taphophile Tragics, and welcome your linking to other older posts whenever you feel moved so to do.

Thank you.

tapirgal said...

A magnificent post. Among other things I'm amazed that the photos on the graves remain in such good condition.

Joan Elizabeth said...

What a remarkable series of photos but the saddest of all seems to be the window!

Annie said...

Your series of images really astounds me. The ghost image on the stone of the woman was deeply moving as was the ghost image of the child in the photograph. But most of all, the remains of the broken stained glass window was deeply affecting.