Here’s a pictorial clue to my location. It’s the Tower of Barbentane. I haven’t been there. I was further on up the hill. Whenever you say you’ve visited a village/town/city, people in the know ask ‘oh did you visit so and so? Did you try that walk?’ They never ever ask ‘did you visit the cemetery?’ One weasel reader, commenting on the previous post, claimed he couldn’t understand folk who came to the South in order to do their Christmas shopping at car boot sales and brocantes. Thought I’d do something cultural then, like a graveyard.
I last visited Barbentane cemetery on 1 November 2007. It was on the recommendation of a friend. 1 November is Day of the Dead. It’s the day when all and sundry, armed with brooms and pans, shoot off to tidy up and calm down their loved ones following the previous night’s roaming around. It’s largely a joyous occasion – picnics, family games and suchlike. I remember, on leaving the car, being quite overcome by the scent of pine trees and a thousand celebratory chrysanthemums.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking the French only visit those who have passed once a year. A French cemetery is unlike an English graveyard. In a French cemetery, the dead are the subjects of enormous respect. There are no lonely, forgotten graves as everyone is interred with family members who left earlier. It’s a pristine place of ‘ongoing’. When, half way through the meal, your waiter wishes you ‘bon continuation’, he/she could equally be visiting your final place of repose.
The photos thus far show the older part of Barbentane cemetery which covers a vast area. I couldn’t find a single example of an uncared-for plot. There may not always be familial descendants, but there are no overgrown, lichen-covered memorials here: the ‘community’, that usually nebulous entity, continues to care for its local ancestors.
Of course, there is evidence of sadness too desperate to cope with. So many young men, all of an age, who left too early and without warning. Here lies Vincent Huguet who died aged precisely nineteen and a half years by some unspoken accident. On all of the birthdays he never saw, his parents and siblings came once again with new plaques: his 20th birthday, his 25th birthday and his 36th birthday.
And here’s Francois-Paul Winard who left this world also aged nineteen. His headstone tells us that he was taken by a reckless driver. There are so many boys here who never reached their second decade.
On the other hand, the many plaques that adorn these tombs tell us something of both individual lives and of the social history and culture of this part of the world. In fact, they’re the reason why I come to these places from time to time.
They celebrate causes that were fought for and races that were run.
And they make you thankful for those who are remembered with a smile