Thursday, November 18

from dust to daises

When I went to eastern Switzerland in September for a family reunion, we visited the tiny village perched on plain above the Rhone River. It's called Affier, which is pronounced like, "afire," as if the village is constantly being consumed in flames. They did tell us the church had burnt down a couple hundred years ago. An old stone tower remains from the original church, with a sundial featuring some cryptic numbers.

Alongside the church was a graveyard unlike any I'd seen. Atop all the graves were blooming beds of lovingly-tended flowers. Amidst the death there's overwhelming life. And the graves had either wooden or wrought-iron crosses. No imposing slabs of rock here.

All the graves are recent, too. None I spotted were more than 50 years old. My great-grandfather left there for America over 150 years ago, and soon after his brothers followed. The plots are recycled, I'm told. So anyone in my direct lineage buried there has since had someone else buried in their plot instead, or on top of them. I didn't ask how the mechanics work.

The beds are quite small, though, about four feet long and a couple feet wide. It's as if the dead were afraid of taking up too much space for eternity—or at least until the next person takes over the plot. Or perhaps it's a village of stunted people. That could be—it seems there's been a bit of incest.

Today my relatives names' still persist here. My great-grandfather's extended family didn't stray too far, it seems. There's a lot of Aligs and Casanovas—both in my direct lineage. And a bunch of people buried there have hyphenated names, I guess from women carrying their maiden names into matrimony. Alig-Schmidt. Schwartz-Casanova. Alig-Alig. Maybe they should've gotten out of their village a bit more.

The village has long been a Catholic, German-speaking enclave amidst a Romansch-speaking, mainly Protestant population. So in this Catholic village, holy water is important. Each grave has a little covered bowl of holy water, and for sprinkling it on the flowers there's a special tool that looks disquietingly like a toilet bowl cleaner. What these drops are supposed to do, I don't know. But if I was to be buried, I'd rather be here

On the bulletin board on an ancient rock wall along the foundation of the church and graveyard, I saw this poster for a rave called "Flabjam." What that sounds like to Germans, I don't know. The flowers, the toilet brushes, the sign: all gloriously mundane.


Post a Comment

<< Home