I went back to Calvary. Seeing actual burials of Covid-19 victims seemed ghoulish at first, or needlessly moribund. I changed my mind. From quarantine it can start to feel like none of this is really happening. I know a surprising number of people with such attitudes, that it’s some crazy hoax or not as bad as believed. Someone I know, a mutual friend of a person who survived, used his survival as kind of a crutch to prove that this Covid ain’t all that bad. He made it, so will you.
I see the burials in person and feel like others should, too. It keeps me honest in reckoning the unquestionable reality. No denial or seduction into the temptation of believing revisionist propaganda. We should see the cremations, too.
Today being Sunday, the day of rest, I did not expect workers to be out at a Catholic cemetery. But then maybe I did, given the circumstances. Cremations burn 24 hours a day now, but there are not so many dead that burials need to take place around the clock. Individual cremations take 5 or 6 hours, and the machines have to cool down for a while before they can start up again. By comparison burials are relatively quick.
Workers dug several new pits on the far southeast end of the yard, at the fence that separates the cemetery from Laurel Hill Boulevard. I overheard two men discussing something about “two caskets and a cremation” going into one pit. One coffin, white with white flowers thrown on top, sat at the bottom of one pit, and I assume the dirt they were dumping into another pit was to cover a coffin. The other pits all looked empty. Today they were covered over with plywood. It will be interesting to see if these burials remain unmarked.
One of my starkest memories of Old Calvary was nearly plunging into a freshly-dug grave. Workers are supposed to put a sheet of plywood over open graves but one time they did not and I came as close to hurtling my body into it as one possibly could. That would have been a hell of a 911 call. I suspect that plot was open because the funeral service was about to begin. Imagine showing up at a burial and finding some dude standing in your relative’s grave.
This happened while I did work as what they call a “Forensic Genealogist“, a hi-falutin term for cemetery photographer. People, usually from far away, would pay me to go out to Calvary and other NYC yards to get photos of their forebears’ tombstones. More often than not those markers contained information that did not exist anywhere else.
My love for this unusual but satisfying pursuit soured over time. People got used to everything on the Internet being free and did not expect to pay anybody for this sort of thing. Each job took anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. I did not seem fair to myself to do that kind of thing without compensation.
You mentioned that Italy’s first order of business upon reopening the country has been the bookstores. I believe all of ours remain closed, but in normal times The Strand here in New York is said to do extremely well these days. A few holiday seasons ago they announced their single biggest sales day ever, declaring “Print is not dead!”
One of my early NYC Strand memories involved looking through their sheet music bin, which usually only had pop music or children’s teaching materials. Instead of that usual stuff I found a number of scores for advanced piano repertoire of Rachmaninoff, Liszt, etc. Inside each score I found the name “Michael Fardink” either handwritten or rubber-stamped on the first page.
I knew the name. Fardink was a pianist I heard play in Tampa when I was in high school, an outstanding performance my mother and I talked about for years.
It took time to register in me that this stack of music with his name ended up at The Strand because Fardink had died. I later would find his New York Times obit.
That was the first time it dawned on me that used book stores and thrift shops are treadmills for possessions of the dead.