The Wandering Taphophile Returns: A Cemetery Bucket List
Being possessed of a transient heart, I can whittle my bucket list into something that generally revolves around travel and experience. This is only ironic inasmuch as I am fond of staying home on my couch, until I’m not: until I’ve crammed a week’s worth of clothes into a backpack and hopped on a plane to go adventuring — to see what I ordinarily wouldn’t see.
I’m in the planning stage of another two trips — three if you factor in DragonCon 2017. Two of those adventures are taking me back across the pond to Europe, venturing a little deeper into the land where my forebears came from. I endeavour to taste the food, smell the smells, touch the things, dodge the tourist groups, and poke my head into places that might get me arrested.
I’m an advocate of practical inspiration: if you want to write about a particular setting, its helpful to experience that setting to get a better sense of it. How you paint it is up to you, but I like parameters and context and understanding by sticking my nose into things to lend an extra layer of authenticity — but also, I just like to travel.
My one exception to the “experience to understand it better” rule is asylums, because NOPE.
I do, however, have an unrivalled fondness for cemeteries. Always have. Probably why I’ve developed a separate bucket list dedicated to cemeteries, ossuaries, charnel houses, and chapels. (It’s not a phase, mom!) They require a different sort of attention, and I tend to schedule entire days around them when I’m off slaking my wanderlust. (I could tell you about that one time in Paris where I went back to back to back: Pere Lachaise, Montmartre, and Montparnasse in a drizzle. Following a visit to Oscar Wilde’s grave, I was feeling overly self-indulgent, and ended up getting the most absurdly expensive creme brûlée — but I now associate creme brûlée with the Picture of Dorian Grey and all those lipstick kisses left on Wilde’s memorial, so I guess it was worth it.)
Suffice to say, my list is pretty long, but I’ve been working my way through it for a few years. For those interested in cemetery tourism, I’d like to offer the highlights on my to-do list, as well as a couple that I’ve already knocked off.
La Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The first public cemetery in Buenos Aires dates back to the early 1800’s, and is the permanent home of Eva Peron, Raúl Alfonsín, and several Argentinian presidents. It’s an architectural masterpiece, exhibiting a number of different styles and sculptures, and is well worth checking out as an outdoor museum. Best way to describe it.
South Park Street Cemetery, Kolkata
I was weighing in on which cemetery was farthest away from me up here in (freezing cold) Montreal, and I think South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata (Calcutta) India is up there alongside a few Japanese shrines. Why I’d consider making the trip: the architectural features are a mash of gothic and indo-saracenic, and it’s got just the right amount of wear to pique my curiosity. South Park Street was the earliest non-church cemeteries in the world, and probably the largest Christian burial ground outside of Europe and America.
Cimitirul Vesel, Sapâna, Romania
Cimitirul Vesel means “merry cemetery.” It’s so freaking colourful and cheery, and the graves are loaded with folk art. Located in Romania, Cimitirul Vesel might be the final resting place of some six hundred souls, but each grave is a celebration of life: scenes depicting the individuals buried within, but also their dirty secrets and final moments. Would you like to be remembered like this: “Ioan Toaderu loved horses. One more thing he loved very much. To sit at a table in a bar. Next to someone else’s wife.”
Bonaventure, Savannah, Georgia
Popularized by the book and the film, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Bonaventure Cemetery is home to the recognizable sculpture of a girl standing with a bird bath in each hand. She looks out from the cemetery in serene contemplation, and indeed, there are several inward-looking statues, probably pondering mortality beneath the shade of all those draping, mournful willow trees. Beautiful. Also haunted.
Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno, Genova
You don’t call it a “monumental cemetery” without expecting numerous, grandiose, extremely well-articulated 19th century sculpture to go along with the title. Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno is located in Staglieno, Italy, on the outskirts of Genova, and is a love affair with commemoration. If you’re a fan of sculpture, this place is going to take a week of your time, and probably a piece of your heart.
The Actual Bucket List
While doing research for this article, and refreshing my list of places I’d like to visit, I eventually broke down and added another page to my collection. I considered typing up the list (and I might someday) but for the moment it resides in my bullet journal (which is basically my grimoire, spellbook, personal archive, story tome, and day planner all in one.)
If you’re curious, this is the bulk of it to date:
You Tell Me
Are you a fan of cemeteries and haunted locations? Tell me where I should visit next in the comments. I’ve got a lot of pages left in this book to add to this cemetery bucket list, and I’m totally open to suggestions.
Gorgeous! I really appreciate an good cemetery. I love these!
These cemeteries are beautifull!