01 October 2008

It was like the Sound of Music a little bit...

The other day, I went walking in the hills nearby that overlook Ružomberok. You can be totally in nature and still also watch the city below. Out of one eye, I saw (and heard) sheep, and out of the other eye, I watched the mountains of wood chips grow outside of the paper factory across the city.

On my way back, I went to the cemetery (or one of the cemeteries?). It is possible to learn a lot about a place by visiting the cemetery, and there are often curious things – one of my favorite places on Earth is the Protestant Foreigners’ Cemetery in Rome. Here, for example, I learned that there were a lot more Germans and Hungarians than I would have thought. Not so many any more, but a friend reminded me that it’s only a hundred years ago that this was still part of Hungary. One of my (relatively young) colleagues still can speak Hungarian, and one of my students has a Hungarian surname, but the majority of Hungarians here in Slovakia are in the south, closer to Hungary. Their political party is quite powerful. There were also a lot of Germans, and the so-called Carpathian Germans were just to the east of here in the Spišský kraj. It seems they have mainly survived only via surnames – and of course, some Rusyn villages are close by to these German villages.

The Jesuit plot was probably most dramatic – (in Latin) “Here the following members of the Society of Jesus expect/await resurrection.” Following the many Hungarians and Germans, there were a lot of epitaphs in those languages. One tombstone had this bronze relief with the ČSSR and USSR flags together, and I could tell it wasn’t a war monument; it was someone’s personal plot. Another was like this ‘NAME OF DECEASED s manželkou’ – ‘NAME OF DECEASED with his wife’ for two brothers in the same plot. That’s interesting, because these two wives are kind of relegated to an earthly future of anonymity, whereas the usual thing here is to put the woman’s family name on the inscription as well. One tombstone announced the (not-yet) deceased as an American Slovak.

There were families there doing work, like repainting iron black or scrubbing down the monuments and working with flowers. Often, people keep a plastic water bottle tucked behind the tombstone, which looks strange except that it has a very practical purpose – it’s of course there so that they can keep water in the accompanying vases and plants. Also while I was there, a funeral was finishing. The grave diggers (there’s a better word for this in English – what is it?) were very smartly dressed, and the priest had on a beautifully dramatic purple cape that stood out among the relative gray of the rest of the cemetery.

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