Everything in the narrow lanes of marble and granite mausoleums, monuments and headstones glows with that peculiar half-light of late autumn, early winter — that luminous quality that heightens the contrast between marble and moss, the cypress trees and names burning in clear bronze. As I walk slowly through the names and dates, it seems entirely natural I should expect one of the statues to open its eyes and look at me as happens in that iconic scene in Interview with the Vampire. One statue in particular — a veiled woman carved in pale marble holding the face of a man cast in bronze now green with time and penetrating humidity, seems poised to open her eyes and gaze into my own. Behind them half a Gothic arch — a semi-halo — creating a shrine, a spirit in the middle of an intersection, a veiled Hecate commanding the crossroads — each path leading deeper into this forest of mortality and grief and celebration. Cemitério de Prazeres is sublimely alive.
Everywhere the cemetery grows — the lanes lined in cypress trees, the moss and lichens, the fallen arms of crosses, toppled pillars and porticoes — salvaged, rearranged, re-used — and the newer graves — recent acquisitions of Prazeres. “And you,” this grieving ground seems to ask, “where will you lay down your bones?” There are many memorials here — from the friends of; from the parents of; from the family of; in memory of; tributes and honors and recognitions and lives celebrated. The graveyard vibrates with grief, yes, all graveyards do, and it breathes rejoicing. Near the entrance (if you are being brought to the cemitério) or the exit (if you are a visitor as I am today) is a massive mausoleum that looks more like a Roman Temple than a tomb; atop this stunning structure an angel spreads still valiantly white wings, catching what winter light there is to catch, proclaiming victory, guarding the peace of the family interred within.
I know I will return again, transfixed as I am by the veiled woman — the goddess of the crossroads, vigilant queen in this city of the dead. “Sceptre learning, physic must all follow thee and come to dust”. Lines from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline come to mind, again and again — a spontaneous mantra. “All lovers young, all lovers must consign to thee and come to dust”. And you? Where will you lay down your bones? I return to the veiled woman, I return to this intersection where this testament, burning with life and emotion was erected, brought to life as it were, a message left by a previous generation for the future, for us and for those who will come after us, those who will wander these quiet lanes in search of names after we have taken up residence within the boneyard. It is what graves — what graveyards are — messages. Behind all the stories, the lives and losses, behind the saints and crosses and the names and dates of those gone beyond, behind all of this memorializing and grieving and celebrating, behind it all always, eternally, is the same singular message: all must consign to thee and come to dust.
I love the way you use words. You write so beautifully.