Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Visual Feast IX


For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it. 
 – Ivan Panin 

An argument with my son about the aesthetics of cemeteries has me thinking of beauty.

A brief but hysterical phone call berating me for posting so many photographs of cemeteries, of graves and headstones, everlasting ceramic floral arrangements nicked and chipped, monuments to the often-forgotten dead. On instagram. Morbid. Horrific. Bad taste.

You are a food blogger, he reminded me. You should be posting pictures of food! They – always the enigmatic, elusive they, they don't like photos of cemeteries and want to see photos of food. Long streams of cemetery pictures; it's inappropriate.

Slightly taken aback, slightly amused, I tried to calm him down and explain, refusing to stoop to defending myself. Loathing the need to account for my actions, my choices. I actually find cemeteries beautiful. Mysterious. Hauntingly mysterious and beautiful. I love the stories they tell. I love the calm, the silence, the peace one finds in a cemetery. And I always have. This is what I attempt to capture in my photos.

Cemeteries. I listen for ghosts (maybe my own), I watch the leaves flutter through the trees, the clouds glide quietly across the sky. I stare up at monuments, well-known names forever etched over elegantly carved, forlornly shattered and rusted mausoleum doors. Soldiers, soldiers everywhere Mort pour la France.

Whether chairs, headstones, graffiti, monuments or buildings, I am fascinated by the stories that surround me everyday. Unexpected art, unlooked for tales, unpredictable beauty. There is a quiet elegance in a cemetery. Violence has melted away into time, sadness faded into gentle melancholy, whispered dreams, weeping sculptures.

I flick through my instagram feed and see enough food photos to feed a planet. I find myself pausing at more curious, unusual, thoughtful images. Images that tell a story. That lead me elsewhere other than yet another kitchen, another restaurant, another meal.

Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. - Plato

So, excuse me, my son, and unfollow me if you must. I can neither write nor shoot for another's guidelines or expectations. When I write and when I take a photograph, it must have meaning for me, significance to me. It must move me emotionally, make me think and contemplate other lives, other places, other stories.

The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place. 
― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais


Elaine Klingbeil said...

I was chastised by my daughter for posting so many "ghoulish" cemetery pictures. But I, too, like the cemetery, especially on a quiet, snowy, winter day. When walks from the busy street into a quiet cemetery where you can hear the snow fall and can hear the distant whispers, one can just relax so much! I don't live near that cemetery anymore but the pictures are so calming to look at and remember the feel of being there.

Jamie said...

@Elaine: thank you for sharing your own story... and I find it curious that our kids get so upset. I would love to see and spend time in a cemetery in the snow.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Cemeteries are marvelous places and this one is no exception. I've always loved them and I enjoy photographing them.

It is strange (and interesting) to see that young people get upset when they learn about our passion for such places...

Lovely pictures!



Mindy Trotta said...

Beautiful, as usual. My mom would alway say that she never understood why people were afraid of ghosts--they were just people who had lived and now were dead. I guess the same could be said about cemeteries.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I can definitely see beauty in cemeteries. One of the highlights during my trip to Buenos Aires is Recoleta Cemetery. It's was fascinating!

Jenni said...

Youth! I think they can be beautiful and contemplative places, although I've been in some kind of creepy ones too.

Cemeteries are still. As life streams by, a cemetery is still. Sometimes that can be soothing and other times uncomfortable.

Rambling Tart said...

I adore cemeteries too, Jamie, and wander through them whenever I can. When I was a nanny in Portugal, my charges LOVED wandering through the cemetery looking at all the headstones and getting to the end where I could watch a train rumble past. :-)

Jill Colonna said...

Oh, oh. That's you in the dog house with son after this post full of pics. I admire your positive spirit, Jamie. Admittedly, I'm fascinated by the photos on the stones in France and, as you say, how it tells a story. It's a person, not just another stone.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

I spent ages in the big cemetery in Prague one summer. You can learn a lot wandering around a cemetery. Lovely photos.

June Jacobs said...

Perhaps your son is uncomfortable with his own thoughts of death?

I never thought of myself as loving cemeteries, but as a child I loved to go over to the churchyard where my mother's parents were buried and walk around. Was last there a few years ago as I live far from there now, but I would classify those visits as comforting. We don't know much about "death." It may just be life at another level, and so that's why some of us experience what most folks would call "ghosts." I'd rather say "spirits."

kellypea said...

I enjoyed this so much and wonder how I would react to such a call. My middle son has only suggested that I stop using improper "Internet" spellings when I post because it's embarrassing to him. Goodness! I agree that cemeteries are lovely places and enjoy that you've shared your images.

Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things said...

Death and cemeteries are part of life… and these old cemeteries are such beautiful and interesting places. Thank you Jamie for sharing!

jacquie astemborski said...

i find cemeteries to be peaceful places and full of beauty. they are a tonic for a restless spirit at times. for a being to flourish does he not need food for both the physical body and the soul?

Elizabeth said...

I'm with you. Cemeteries are indeed peaceful places. They are wonderful reminders to reflect on the lives of the people commemorated there.

I am reminded of Mary Elizabeth Frye's lovely poem:

    Do not stand at my grave and weep,
    I am not there; I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow,
    I am the diamond glints on the snow,
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
    I am the gentle autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning's hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry,
    I am not there; I did not die.

Barb | Creative Culinary said...

I've heard from a daughter occasionally who has issues with what I post. I find it humorous to say the least; she would be beyond perturbed if I let her know that I was unhappy about what she does in her life, after all, SHE is an adult!!

I don't think, at least from my perspective, that the issue is about cemeteries. For me it's about my (and your) right to have a life beyond them; to even do something they might not like and have them accept that as surely as we accepted things they have done over the years. I STILL hate her pierced nose and what I call her diamond bugger.

Maybe this generation has come to assume we are in our dotage much sooner than we know we are? I know this...I behave a bit more like a teenager than she would like. If she fusses too much I'm probably inclined to do it more often. :)

Nuts about food said...

Well said! I have a feeling that the anger is more about facing fears... death, losing people we love, not being eternal... young adults do not like thinking about it

Susan Champlin said...

What a wonderful post, and spectacular photographs. Strangely, I see both food and cemeteries as being about life, so I'm on your side! I'm fortunate not to have been berated by my mostly-adult child for my cemetery obsession—just a little eye-rolling forbearance.

Katherine C. James said...

I'm with Susan Champlin on this: Cemeteries are about life. I'm grateful to you and Susan for writing about this part of life. When we ignore death, we deny a part of us and those around us that leaves us incomplete and cut off. I'm grateful to my dad for choosing to be buried in a cemetery near the home in the Sierra Foothills he designed and built when he retired, and where he, my mom, and my family shared many happy days. My mom will join him there when she dies. There is a famous speech by Chief Seattle to the European settlers about death. He says that his people must retain the land where their dead ancestors remain a part of the lives of the living. In the last line of the best academic translation of his speech that I know of he said, "Dead—did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds." I find cemeteries to be full of people I can speak to from my world tobreeze

Sally - My Custard Pie said...

My daughter was fascinated by cemeteries and grave yards when she was little so I'm surprised at your son's response. These pictures are beautiful. I can remember the cemeteries in Portugal where each grave had a little crypt with a window. Inside there was a collection of the person's favourite belongings and a picture. In Poland the graveyards are ablaze of colour - plastic flowers...kept clean each weekend.


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