The Quiet Beauty of San Miniato al Monte

Last week, it seems like yesterday, and it seems like a hundred years ago, I was at San Miniato al Monte monastery and cemetery in Florence, Italy.

The church was built in the year 1018 with no power tools, and workers who no doubt couldn’t even write their own names. It is beauty from a dark time.

It was an unexpected, moving, and beautiful find.

We (my husband, children and I) expected to find an old monastery at the highest point in Florence. We did not expect to find the huge cemetery surrounding it.

There was not enough time to spend there. I could have spent a week looking at the hundreds of touching statues that spoke of memories, but there by those who loved and those who lost their hearts. So many dates were from the 1940’s. So many were children.

The ghosts lurked far from us, watching us walk through the rain. More than anything we could feel the love and the loss. It is a special place where those who are no longer remembered by anyone now living, are still touching our hearts and souls.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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City of the Angels Part 2: Beauty in the land of the dead

Last Thursday I visited the city of Colma, where almost everyone is dead. Seriously, over a million graves are there with less than 2,000 living in residence. There are no cemeteries in San Francisco – they were all moved to Colma. People and pets are still buried there to this day.

The photos were taken by my friend Amelia who joined Clara and I for the day. Thank you Amelia. These are lovely.

Click here for Part 1.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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Colma: Part 1, City of Angels – A Photo Essay

No cemeteries are allowed in San Francisco. The town of Colma has become the official cemetery spot and now hosts over a million graves. The photos are from The Italian Cemetery, Cypress Lawn, and a pet cemetery.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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Children's Area Italian Cemetery, Colma, CA

Children’s Area Italian Cemetery, Colma, CA

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Death, Ghosts, and Pokemon Go

Like everyone else, my kids are playing Pokemon Go. In case you’ve been somewhere else, like on another planet or Albania, Pokemon Go is an application you download to your phone. Thanks to a partnership of some sorts with Google Maps, you can find Pokemon critters everywhere. There are hot spots to collect goodies and balls to capture the creatures. There are gyms where they can fight each other. Parks, schools, churches, and murals are all hot spots for a lot of activity. We even found one in our house yesterday.

Of course there are going to be snarky critics who don’t understand the attraction to this game. Screw em. It is a GAME. It is FUN. I’ve had fun watching it bring parents and their teens together.

This is the link to the official web site: http://www.pokemongo.com/en-us/explore/

A quote from the site:

Get up, get out, and explore!

Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokemon. Explore cities and towns where you live – and even around the globe  – to capture as many Pokemon as you can. As you walk through the real world, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you’re near a Pokemon. 

It goes on to tell the players that there is a lot of activity in public sites. One place where there is a lot of activity is cemeteries.

As you know, my kids and I like to visit old cemeteries for various reasons. It isn’t because we’re Vampires. Contrary to popular horror movie culture we don’t live in crypts or in rotting coffins under the ground. Yes, occasionally someone ends up there, but not too often anymore. But that isn’t what this post is about.

Yesterday I was out and about with my kids (ages 17 and 20) when one of them mentioned we were near a cemetery with a lot of activity. So of course at the light I pulled into the parking lot.

I have to admit that I had never been to this particular grave yard, only minutes from my home. It was founded in 1855, four years before I was born. Most of the old grave markers are now flat on the ground, having been broken over the years, and then repaired by no doubt loving hands. Several of the markers and statues are marked by Pokemon activity.

As we walked along exploring the stones we forgot about the game, and started to speculate on the names and the stories.

Unlike many modern cemeteries this one had a mix of flat markers, and traditional larger tombstones. Many had images of hobbies, activities, and occupations. Old and new were mixed together with no real pattern.

Less than a mile away in the old Catholic cemetery we once found a marker for a child who passed away at the age of eight. She would have been forty this year had she been alive. Her stone was in the back by a fence, alone, dusty, all alone. I still wonder about her. No ghost sits on her grave to give us answers.

In this cemetery by the lake, the same lake that borders my neighborhood, there are few ghosts out during the day. It was quieter there than most places of rest.

Anyway, to make a short story even longer…

In the back, near the back fence border, I was attracted to a stone with a portrait on it, and the colorful large headstones near it. I found myself in an entire section of young people. Not babies, but people who’d been in their teens and early twenties. They were Millennials. These were all recent, in the past few years.

One stone, the one that first attracted me, had a message from a twenty year old man’s parents. It said, We will never forgive ourselves for not being able to save you. It broke my heart.

All of the stones had pictures on the headstones of sports, animals, and hobbies, and stories, and portraits and photos of the kids. It was the saddest place in the world. Teens aren’t supposed to die. And here I was with my children, who are in the same age group. It was so random. So sad. They were all there together in the back, near the edge of the lake, where young people hang out.

If was as if they were calling us over to say, “don’t forget us.”

It was odd how a game that is played by young people brought us to such a place.

On the way back across to where I’d parked we saw other stones and speculated on lives that once were. The place was dotted with tiny stones of children who’d come and gone before their first birthday, or first day of school. Yet none of them seemed alone, between the larger graves.

In Chico there is a cemetery with a large children’s area. It is a sad wasteland with no grass or trees, slapped in a sunken area that nobody else would want. Tiny markers with lonely lambs sit in the hot sun, and the cold rain, all alone.

Some say that Vampire infants, those tiny beings born to Vampires parents, steal the souls of dead children. Rest assured it isn’t true.

Last night we had a boisterous night at home with a lot of laughing and joking around. Today there was more searching for tiny creatures in our smartphones.

My brother Andy was over and smiled at our adventures. His strong distaste for ghosts keeps him out of cemeteries, and he doesn’t use his smartphone for anything but phone calls and the occasional text, but he did have some suggestions for an app my son and his friends are developing. It is for Vampires looking for good places to dine. It sounds like a great idea, but for this summer I think I’ll stick to finding tiny imaginary Japanese creatures with my phone, but not without a touch of sadness.

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

 

 

 

An afternoon among angels – a visit to Mountain View Cemetery

This afternoon, after visiting Harlick Boots (for custom skate boots – a lovely and wonderful place if you need the best skate boots in the universe either roller or ice) my daughter and I decided not to head right back home. Driving to Half Moon Bay would have been too far so we decided to visit someplace beautiful and quiet and full of interesting people.

Our destination was in the Oakland Hills – The Mountain View Cemetery. There are about 28,000 internments and many more stories that can be found on the stones and in the air. This beautiful place is a wonderful trip for those who are looking for a stroll, or a rest, or to catch up with old friends, or to find solitude.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to tour the entire 266 acres, but we did manage to take a nice walk around Millionaire’s Row and found quite a few familiar names.

As always in cemeteries there are stories of lives lived and death. Too many lives are cut short. Too many children died before their parents. Too many were lost in wars. That said, there are many stories of lives well spent surrounded by love.

From Wikipedia: The Mountain View Cemetery is a large 226-acre (91 ha) cemetery in Oakland, Alameda County, California. It was established in 1863 by a group of East Bay pioneers under the California Rural Cemetery Act of 1859. The association they formed still operates the cemetery today. Mountain View was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who also designed New York City’s Central Park and much of UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

Many of California’s important historical figures, drawn by Olmsted’s reputation, are buried here and there are many grandiose crypts in tribute to the wealthy who are buried there, so many that one section is known as “Millionaires’ Row.” Because of this, and its beautiful setting, the cemetery is a tourist draw and docents lead semi-monthly tours.

Enjoy the few photos I took from my magic phone. Alas these do not do justice to the place.

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~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman