Travelling to Deadlines!

From: Four Cemeteries and other Grave Tales by Graham Bathgate

My interest in cemeteries, headstones and epitaphs the world over began as a gravedigger in Scottish graveyards - mostly cutting the grass and the occasional burial. On one headstone in a Perthshire cemetery was the chiselled inscription:  “Jock, the fiddler, now playing for the angels”. This kind of poetic tribute  fuelled my passion for travel, to see how other places wrote for their dead.

In the South of France every village has a carefully tended graveyard. Pouzolles, a village of nine hundred in the Languedoc, boasts a 17th-century chateau with towers like wizard’s hats, and a graveyard surrounded by death-black cypresses. I climbed the hill to find a sign:

< Cimetiere – Ouvert de 8.30 a 18.00 >. Beyond the green wrought-iron gate lay two hundred graves dating from the early 1800s. As I walked admiring the graves, a startled cicada whirred off my shoulder on to pine needles in a pool of shade - noisy life in the silence of the graveyard.

Many a local wine-maker slept beneath. Open books made of china ornamented the marble slabs, and on their pages in gold copperplate lettering:  < Regrets > or < Ici repose ….. >, the usual expressions. I noticed a tiny china bird at the corner of one book’s inscription:

“Fauvette, if you fly around
This tomb, sing to her your
Most beautiful song.”

Happy to find this poetical epitaph, I imagined Fauvette, the departed wife, uniting with Jock as a heavenly musical duo. Later I learned “fauvette” meant warbler.

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