Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Final Resting Place

 Overcrowding at Père Lachaise, Paris

Cemeteries. I love them. Some may think it morbid, but to me they’re like parks with historical treasures around every corner. History and Mystery! I’ve done family headstone rubbings in Québec, wandered Père Lachaise in Paris where I saw Héloïse and Abélard’s memorial, felt sympathy for the poor Colonial woman who lost all of her six children one right after the other in Rumford, stumbled upon William Blake’s gravestone while being lost in London.
I’m drawn to the bits of human story I can glean from what’s written on the stones. I applaud the individualism expressed in choices of design and image. I adore the giant gaudy mausoleums, the weeping angels, the winged death-heads, the maudlin little lambs.

Héloïse and Abélard~ Père Lachaise

 Detail of Monument~ Père Lachaise, Paris

Gravestone of William Blake~ London, UK

The earliest conscious memory I have of being fascinated with gravestones was at Mr. Conti’s. Mr. Conti was an art teacher I had as a child. (I was probably in college before I realized Conté Crayons weren’t named for him!) We went to his studio for classes, which was the bottom floor of his house. The house was built into a hill, and to get to the studio door we had to walk down a kind of narrow passage way with a gradually rising retaining wall on one side, and the house on the other. The passage floor and the retaining walls were paved with shards of Colonial slate headstones!* It was magic! I always wished Mom wouldn’t be on time to pick us up because I wanted longer to pore over the fragments of these lives so long gone.  
Further reinforcement of graveyard love was provided by my best friend, Mary Ellen’s father. On weekend afternoons, he would pile as many kids as would fit into his station wagon, and take us to the Old North Burial Ground. He had offered a silver dollar to the kid who found the first interred. We had a blast running around the place, scrutinizing stones,  jumping out and scaring each other from behind massive monuments, and over grassy tombs.  (Meanwhile, Mr. Maguire was probably enjoying a quiet read in the car, and was the hero of the neighborhood parents for giving them break from us.) Eventually, one of us found the primary planting, and some other diversion for the pack of us had to be invented.

*Before the historic preservation movement, one of the oldest cemeteries in the state was bulldozed to make room for a highway. Mr. Conti told me he went to the building site and collected as much as he could.  He also had a monkey that had the run of the studio! Clearly, he was deserving of the awe in which I held him.

Old Burying Point~ Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Witch Trials Memorial~ Rebecca Nurse

Hope Cemetery in Kennebunk is another favorite. In the back of the historic section, there was a lovely memorial circle, sunken a few steps, with stone benches and surrounded by cedars. And then there’s the monument to a young Victorian woman who died of “exhaustion” while climbing Mount Washington. (With all those corsets, can you doubt it?!) My dog and I spent many happy hours haunting the graves there - until four-legged visitors were banished, and so I felt I'd been banished, too.

Lizzie Bourne's Memorial on Mount Washington
(I don't have a picture of her monument in Kennebunk)

In an abstract way, I’ve thought about what to do with my body after the light is snuffed out - so to speak. Frankly, I’m more concerned with what happens while the light’s still burning, but it does come up in conversation. (At least, with the people I tend to hang out with.) I had a vague idea of being cremated - in the cheapest way possible – and then scattered in the natural setting of my heirs’ choosing. However, a message left on our answering machine this week turned the vague into the concrete, literally.

Out of the blue, Bill’s cousin Stanley called to offer us places in the family plot in the Arundel Cemetery in Kennebunkport. Discussions ensued. We accepted. I honestly didn’t think it mattered to me what happened to my remains, even though I’m such a fan of picking over the remnants of other peoples’ stories. But, I am astonished by how settled this decision makes me feel. I guess I’m not as immune to wanting some part of my existence to be remembered after I go to the fossil farm as I thought I was.
Now, to figure out what to put on the stone for maximum mystery and puzzlement….

Any suggestions?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Worthy Women - More Orphan Photographs

"Cordelia & Lydia Understand the Power of a Well Aimed Rake"

I call myself a Feminist. I believe in equal rights and opportunities for women everywhere. I also believe that women and men have different ways of being in the world. I don't know if that is due to biology or culture or a combination of the two. However, for women to be equal we must have our perspectives respected, and seen as valid in the world of work and relationships. We needn't strive to be more like men, but to stand up for the value of being women.

I enjoy how we women relate to each other; talk, talk, talk to figure things out. Play and laugh and relax together in companionship. Feelings running wide and deep, that's us!

These women have been captured on film at a single moment in their lives. I've never met any of them, yet I know them.

"Cinderella, You Ain't"

"Daddy's Always In My Head"

"Daddy's Always In My Head" (detail)

"I'm Just SO Excited!"

"Now Shirley, Is That Nice?"

"What Do You Mean, 'It's Creepy'?" 

"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"

"Never Can Say Goodbye"

"Myrtle & Alice Mae Horse Around As Goldie Looks On"

"I Demand To Be Taken Seriously"

"I Demand To Be Taken Seriously" (detail)

"Don't Ask"

"Don't Tell"

"I'll Just Be a Minute"

"Afternoon Delight"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Quarantine

Monument at Pere LaChaise, Paris

In the last ten days, I've not left the house except to go to the hospital. Bill took me to the ER after witnessing one too many of my violent coughing spells. I received a tentative diagnosis of Whooping Cough, or as it now known, pertussis. Pertussis is apparently extremely contagious, so I've been quarantined until the antibiotics render me noncontagious.

For most of the time I've been sequestered, as I'm pretty weak, I've been occupying myself by sorting and organizing my collections of antique engravings, postcards and vintage "orphan" photographs. I've never really thought of myself as a collector of anything. Yet, somehow, over time, I seem to have amassed groups of things I like, and decided I couldn't live without. Thankfully, the largest of these groups of things are two-dimensional! (That is, if you don't count useful stuff, like furniture.) All of these groups of things (which will be henceforth known as "collections") were started when I was still a child. My brothers and I grew up going to auctions with our parents. For a fraction of our allowance we could buy an ugly, mint-green table, a china-head doll, a (slightly scorched) pair of wooden shoes, or even a box lot of old pictures.

So anyway, I've been immersed in images from, and of the past. Yesterday, as I was staring vaguely out the window at the little birdies pecking at seeds in the snow, coughing into a handkerchief pressed to my lips, I realized I reminded myself of a Victorian consumptive confined to a sanatorium! Here I am, wandering listlessly from room to room, handkerchief clutched in my palm, settling now and then at the table in the library to put my pictures into albums. And I've been quarantined for an illness I thought had been confined to another time. Quarantined! God! That is SO century before last!

Here is a tour of some of my favorite haunts from over the last week. If you would like to join me in my personal Wayback Machine, we'll begin in the rarefied air of plate engravings:


The Dog's Ambition

Madame Pompadour


Chapel of the Virgin, St. Sulpice

Monument of the Bouchee Family, Pere Lachaise

Calais, France (not Maine)

German Engraving from late 1700s

London Stone

In Part II of our tour, we'll visit the odd, amusing and sometimes slightly sinister highlights from my "Orphan Photographs" collection:

Hair Proud (The first in my collection)

Hello? Really Can't Talk Right Now

Little Kid Tries to Capture Shapeshifting Doggie

Little Kid Tries to Capture Shapeshifting Doggie (detail)

FiFi Demands a Solo Portrait

Jed Is Just Like a Son to Us

I Control Dollie With the Sinister Power of My Mind

Zombie Coed

Discovered At Their Evil Games

 Two Old Witches With Their Familiars Are Confronted By Foul Soul-Sucking Entity

 Banished! Begone, You Foul Soul-Sucking Entity!

Shreveport, Louisiana c. 1920s

Mad Killer Dolls Come Alive At Night 

Jump In! The Water's Fine.

Manic Monkey Grabs Self & Lampshade