Visual Paraphernalia

The Graves of Sweet Goodbyes…


“Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death.”

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Why do we travel? I think it is mostly due to this irresistible urge to make use of our feet, walk and explore, new places, new people, old buildings, rivers and streets with illegible and unpronounceable names, to experience the history, the mystery and secrets, new tastes and music. Every now and then this urge becomes unbearable, like that itch right between your shoulder blades, and we take a trip. We visit cities and beaches, national parks and zoos, we take cable car rides and funicular rides and walk for hours, we take mental pictures of moments worth remembering and fill up our camera’s memory cards, click-click-click, with memories worth revisiting! We all have these folders in our computers and clouds and drives, chock-full of pictures with our travel adventures, a tiny time capsule, that we use to look back, at the places we’ve visited, to reminisce the people that we were and all the changes that have happened in between now and then.
A couple of months ago we visited the village Hallstatt which is nestled between the mountains of Northern Alps, on the bank of the lake Hallstatt. It is so whimsical that on our ferry ride I felt like I was visiting the city of Arendelle from the movie Frozen. (wishful thinking πŸ˜› ) It is one of the most beautiful places I have been to, in the last 11 years. And I have been around… a lot! What’s not to like!!? The majestic mountains of the Alps, so much history like the 800 years old Catholic Church, the spectacular views and the passive-aggressive swans (don’t ask), the very conspicuous waterfall right in the middle of the town center, the pretty houses precariously perched on the Salzkammergut mountains, and the fact that even though it attracts so many tourists, (and is so small) it is one of the cleanest places we have ever visited! Oh I could just roam around there for hours and hours, munching on cream filled pastries… The best part for me though, was visiting the graves in the Iron Age cemetery at the Catholic Church.Β (I knowww.. how morbidly romantic ! πŸ˜› )

Like most of us, I have an unhealthy fascination with cemeteries.Β When I stepped into this Catholic Church cemetery, I was ready to just see and read and move along. But that’s not what happened because I was pleasantly surprised! First of all, the graves were not at all what I expected. They were flower beds with ornate headstones made out of wood and wrought iron. There were colorful lanterns and weeping angels. Beautiful, vibrant flowers, purple, blue, orange, red and yellow, the air full of their stinging sweet scent. It was all so incredibly overwhelming! The cemetery had such a profound effect on me, that I had goosebumps the entire time I was there. So, I did what I always do when I am on the edge, I made up stories about the dead people from a different era (for the record, I don’t always make up stories about dead people.. πŸ˜‰ ). There was a middle aged man who died at around 50, so I wondered if he was a great father, a faithful husband and a good son. An old woman who died at 92… I imagined her to have lived a full life, packed to the hilt with laughter and light, travelling to distant lands, who died surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A little girl who was all but 9 years old, and who, I thought, must have died of the plague that hit Europe hundreds of years ago. And the young woman of only 23, who might have died giving birth to her first baby.

Looking at the weeping angels, I could feel the grief of the family members who lost and buried their loved ones here, with such clarity that I was overcome with sadness. Yet, the flowers reminded me that even in something as dark and final as death we must find beauty and hope, because life must go on. The stark contrast of the despondency of death with vibrancy of new life, I have never experienced anything like this before. The hopes that we hold for those who we love and lose, that they are in a better place, was so heartbreakingly tangible here, I could taste it in the air! So, after loitering around and reading every epitaph on each and every headstone, shedding a tear or two, I reluctantly bid goodbye to this little piece of paradisaical purgatory. And after all this time, I am yet to recover from the paradox of it all. Such was the tragic charm of this obscured little Austrian village called Hallstatt. πŸ™‚ <3


Fun fact: The graves didn’t contain just one person. As a rule in Hallstatt, a grave, in this special cemetery, can be emptied of its occupant after 10 years, and whoever new dies at that time can be buried there. The headstone contains the names, epitaphs, the times of death of all the occupants. The bones of the exhumed occupant are decorated with colorful paints and stored in the city’s Ossuary (another fantastic place).

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