Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Among the Dead

I know what you're thinking, but no--the reason for the temporary demise of my blog is not because I have been among the dead. Actually, some very exciting things have happened in the past few months which, frankly, I ought to have been writing about. BUT...when life gets exciting, isn't it better to just live it and then write about it later? At least, that's what I keep telling myself... Anyway, the recap on exciting events will wait for next time, because today, I just feel like giving you all an interesting snippet of French culture. And what better way to revive a blog, after all, than by talking about a cemetery! :)

It may seem strange to most people, but I have a confession--I have long had a mild fascination for cemeteries. There was a time when this fascination was connected with ghost stories and the supernatural, but for a much longer time, it's been more a question of interesting history. It all started when I was a little girl and my parents would bring flowers to their grandparents' graves on Memorial Day. My siblings and I would spend that time running around looking for the oldest headstones in the cemetery--and being from Utah, they didn't usually date much farther back than 1850.

This cemetery in Nice is much better-kept than the one I encountered
as a missionary in Metz--no cracked tombstones here!
When I first came to France as a missionary several years ago, I expected cemeteries to be absolutely fantastic--packed with ancient graves and looking just as green, tree-lined, and generally lovely as the average American cemetery. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered for the first time why some people consider cemeteries to be creepy: in addition to the gravel walkways (no grass in sight) and the imposing monuments, some of the cement coverings on the tombs were so cracked and broken that I honestly wondered if I'd see bodies poking out of some of them. I was also very disappointed to learn that in France, a burial plot is sold to a family for a specified period of time--usually not more than 100 years--after which time the family has the option to renew their contract. However, if they choose not to renew, then the body is exhumed, the bones are either put in an ossuary or cremated, and the plot is sold to someone else. Alas...the rules that accompany overcrowding... And thus died my dreams of seeing graves from the 14th Century. In fact, it's rare to see graves dating back past, well, around 1850... HA! The irony!

Fortunately, I finally came across a rather lovely cemetery yesterday during a stroll through Nice, and I'm happy to report that my faith in French cemeteries has been partially renewed! No, there still wasn't any grass or trees or park benches, BUT--I discovered that some monuments can be really beautiful instead of frightening and certain cemeteries are actually well-kept and free of broken tombs. Not to mention the fact that this hilltop burial ground afforded a spectacular view of the sea. Perhaps I'll have to take up my old habit of evening strolls among the dead...

Anyway, that's all for today, friends. But stay tuned for next time in which I'll tell you all the details of this century's greatest love story!! Well, at least most of the details... :)


  1. This is really interesting. I had no idea that's what cemetery's are like in France. I remember watching a history show about... something can't remember the details... but I remember they showed an ossuary. I didn't know that's what it was called but it makes much more sense now.

    1. Kinda crazy, huh? When I first heard about it, I'll admit that I was a little shocked--it just seemed so strange. But when you think about it, it's not like there is unlimited space to bury millions of people all the time. I wonder if the US will ever adopt a similar system. I actually spent some time reading about burial law, and it's fascinating stuff--in the US, we're really strict about not disturbing graves, but as many people used to bury family members on their own land, that's not always possible.