Death

cemetery
Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, San Juan, Puerto Rico

A significant change. A revision of attitude or new perspective. An ending or transition.” Steve Luca via Japaridze Tarot

The following morning they awakened to a table spread of socca, croissants, freshly baked bread, jams, soft cheeses, eggs, fruit, and an assortment of drinks. The Flaubert’s invited them to enjoy the delectable treats before them. After plenty of conversation, food, and drink, Monsieur Flaubert invited them all to his studio. At the end of the hallway, they stood in front of a large belle époque styled door. The wooden door was framed by rose colored marble casting. Beyond the casting, covering a good portion of the surrounding wall extended into elaborately carved wood with gold accent finishes.  On either side of the door, stood two brass statues – one of a warrior woman, the other of a king. Above the eye level detailing of the door, lay what appeared to be an epitaph, in stone in the shape of a crown. The epitaph extended onto a marble finish, which was decorated with two angels and a coat of arms carved out of brass. The surrounding wood wall, extended into a hollow rectangular cuboid decorated with golden butterflies.  As Monsieur Flaubert opened the door, it let out a heavy creaking sound.  Caer, Dmitri, Nico, Sofia, and Selene all followed Monsieur Flaurbert into his studio.

The two-tiered room had tall ceilings and two spiraling staircases on opposite ends. The mustard colored, marble-tile flooring occasionally made space for a brightly colored tile – red, green, or blue tiles, adorned with gold trimming. From every direction, all walls appeared to be covered with books until they arrived through a hallway, a passageway into a different room. They walked into a circular shaped wing, painted all white lined with glass paned windows extending from the ceiling to the floor. In the center of the room there stood 6 white boards nearing the height of the ceiling, though not quite as tall;  Three on the left, Three on the right – displaying multiple paintings, seventy-eight paintings to be exact. “These are the paintings I’ve made for myself. The paintings that are not for sale for they are the ones that keep my spirit alive. Each and everyone of these paintings have saved me in moments of agony, desperation, and despair.” 

In silence, the group made their way through the panels and marveled at the surrealist paintings that were displayed. One painting in particular, grabbed Selene’s attention. The display titled appeared as Á la transition: La Morte. The background was a bright yellow with soft touches  of light green and blue. A grey skin-toned woman sleeping upside down, bent her body into a half-moon shape opening towards the right. Her hair appeared as violent waves of water with rose-colored undertones that extended out of the scene of the canvas. In the half-moon opening, there lay a series of red and orange silk scarves, wind-blown in multiple directions, partly covering part of the woman’s face. Housed in the center of the silk scarf pile, there was a skull carved from grey stone with a slightly open mouth. The slight opening made it appear as if the silks were a product of the skull spewing fire. From the skull’s mouth, slid out a paint-splattered, green colored snake. Selene moved closer to the painting to examine the detail of the strokes. Monsieur Flaubert approached her.  “Are you drawn to it or are you disturbed?” He asked. Startled, Selene shook her head and looked towards Monsieur Flaubert, “What inspired it?” Monsieur Flaubert looked away at a distance through the glass windows. He motioned Selene to follow.

Prior to meeting Loretta, I met a woman who stirred my heart. After selling my first three paintings in Vienna, I decided I needed a scene with more movement, with more edge. I packed my belongings and relocated to Berlin. It was my second week in Berlin that I met Ania. Ania had olive skin, blue-hazel eyes, dark hair – an ethereal beauty. Even more, she was a brilliant mind. We’d often wander the streets of Berlin discussing the meaning of life, the life-saving force of beauty, the sublime, the art of travel, and the importance of human connection. I still remember the first time we met. I was getting off a train and I dropped a small notepad I was carrying on the ground. She was on the platform awaiting for the train, or perhaps it was for me – it’s hard to tell. I’m not sure what possessed me to do so, but when she handed me the notepad, I asked her to meet me at a bakery called Bäckerei Balzer. To my surprise, she showed up. Eventually, I found out that she only showed up after another gentleman stood her up. That night we ate pastries, we chatted, we walked around. I was ecstatic.  She was a ballerina. After two months of constantly meeting, we finally decided to give the romance a shot. She was magnificent. One morning nearing Christmas, we had decided to meet for breakfast. She was leaving town to travel and wanted to spend some time together prior to her departure. En route to the café, I was met with multiple obstacles. Streets were blocked off, buses were re-routed, and it appeared that no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get to the cafe. I had no way of reaching Ania, so helplessly I returned to my small apartment while I crafted elaborate mental scenes on how I was to apologize. I arrived to my apartment, turned on the television, and found that there had been a major accident leading to a multiple vehicle pile-up, including a truck. That afternoon, I passed by Ania’s flat and was unable to find her. After three days, I went to the Ballet academy and asked for Ania. With great sadness, the principal dancer delivered the news: Ania had been one of the casualties in the accident.” As Monsieur Flaubert continued to tell the story, tears streamed down Selene’s cheeks.  “This was the first painting I completed after her death. I poured all of my grief onto this canvas.” As the sun arose to its peak, the bunch left the painting studio, the library, and found themselves ready to continue on with their day.  The group thanked the Flaurbert’s for their hospitality, bid them farewell, and got on the private car headed back in the direction of Nice.

After nearly an hour, they were driven through Rue Bonaparte, reminding Selene  of Chez Pauline and Tristán. Moments later, they found themselves in Cimitière du Château, a cemetery built on the ruins of the ancient town citadel situated on a hill overlooking the city. Nico was an anthropology graduate student at Paris Sciences & Lettres where he studied thanatology, how people died, and how people were commemorated after their passing. Naturally, cemeteries were in his repertoire of interests. The cemetery was lined with over 2,800 tombstones – there were tombstones, sculptures, marble, stone, glass, monoliths, obelisks; the space was covered in artistry in an attempt to immortalize those who lived before us. Selene walked next to Nico and felt the arousal of creative tension that occurs when she enters spaces that attempt to reduce the human experience to a few labels: daughter, devoted wife, mother. She felt as if those labels didn’t do their lives any justice. What were her dreams? What were her sorrows? Who was she, really? Nico increased his walking speed and stopped at a tall structure. “This here is the tomb of Emil Jellinek-Mercedes, the founder of the German Mercedes car brand.” He said as he walked around the arrangement. The structure’s design was reminiscent of one of the towers in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, though not quite of the same height. In between the four pillars on a bed of marble, was a gravestone in the shape of a house, which read: Emile Jellinek Mercedes | 1853 – 1918 | Pionnier De L’Automobile. History says that Emil had to escape France during World War I as he was suspected of committing espionage in favor of the Germans.  It is believed that he settled in Geneva and upon his death requested his remains were laid to rest in France.” 

Nico and Selene continued walking while making intermittent stops at particular stones or sculptures. “Thank you for saying that, Nico. Otherwise, I would have left here with a two-dimensional perspective of whom Emil was. Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t these one word descriptions appear shallow to you?” Nico looked at the the details in a sculpture in front of him as he began to speak. “You know, I revel in it. Rather than having access to someone’s entire life story in an instant, you’re forced to use your imagination along with other sources to paint the picture of an individual, their family, and the historical epoch they lived in. The gravestone, the tombstone, the epitaph is an invitation to explore more. It’s the gift packaging for information of time’s past. With Emil’s tombstone, the passerby gets a summary – automobile pioneer. A combination of the description, the years the person lived, the chosen architecture, and visual expression of a cemetery structure is precisely what excites me about these spaces. They’re treasure mines that contain pieces of unwritten history of those whom time has tried to make us forget. Information on not only how we die, but also how we live. There are days, when I spend hours upon endless hours with symbology books in cemeteries. Taking photographs of the pieces from multiple angles. Trying to decipher whom someone was, or whom their families or society thought they were, with just the visual information provided before me. Often times, these excursions lead me to deeply delve into history…To answer your question, I don’t hate it. It creates tension, fuel for the fire so to speak, increasing my desire to know more. If anything, the silent demeanor of a cemetery is precisely what gives it its depth.” As they continued walking, from afar came a familiar voice, “Nico, come take a look at this!” Dmitri exclaimed.

 Nico headed towards Dmitri as Selene continue walking forward. A statue of a woman with a headdress sitting on a gravestone staring down into a book with a single photograph of man caught Selene’s attention. She wondered whom the woman was supposed to represent. She made a few rounds around the sculpture, in an attempt to find a name, years lived, or some inscription that would provide her with context. Selene stared at the expression of soft sorrow on the woman’s face and thought on the words that Nico had just shared. Perhaps, it was precisely the lack of words or the unique structure that attracted her to the figure in the first place. With her mind’s eye, she crafted an elaborate story of whom them man on the photograph had been while he inhabited the realms of the earth. She then looked out into the background to the open ocean, a marina, some mountainous terrain. From afar, she could see Caer, Sofia, Dmitri, and Nico headed towards her. For a moment, she came to realize that though the people walking towards her were familiar in their visual form, they had all changed in the two years she had spent on the road. How had she changed? What parts of her had died? Which aspects had resurrected? What others lay dormant awaiting for the perfect time to emerge? Selene looked out into the sunset in reverence; the death of another day.

 


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