Above Ground : A photo essay by Kristin Fouquet
The term “six feet under” has no meaning for the dead in New Orleans. Early settlers discovered coffins and caskets would unearth from graves due to a high water table and sometimes float away during heavy rainfalls. The Spanish custom of interring the deceased in wall vaults was adopted. Families of means soon commissioned their own tombs.
Some families combined their funds for bigger tombs.
The wealthiest families built temples or extravagant family mausoleums.
Most cemeteries were comprised of perfect rows and many with functional streets. Tombs resembled small houses and buildings. Lawn crypts were constructed. Some graves were trimmed with wrought iron fences. An old racetrack became the land for Metairie Cemetery. “Cities of the Dead” became a popular sobriquet for New Orleans cemeteries.
Coping graves, also turf-top crypts, are uncovered empty chambers framed then covered with soil and sod. These can be built up to three feet from the ground, granting an earthen burial, a requirement for some religious customs as in Judaism. They also provide rapid availability for recurring internments.
Repeated burial in the same space is called reuse. A vault in a tomb may be reused following another in one year and one day if a wood casket was chosen. Ten years and one day must pass if the last inhabitant was put in a metal casket. The remains are transferred into a burial bag and placed into what is termed the receptacle or the back of the tomb. The casket is destroyed and the vault is prepared for the next occupant.
Angels are popular Christian funerary imagery, second only to the cross. These “messengers of god” are believed to lead the deceased to the afterlife.
The final resting place may also be seen as a reflection of social status. When a famous brothel madam of Storyville, Josie Arlington, spent a small fortune to have her tomb erected in Metairie Cemetery, it caused a scandal among those of prominent social standing. After she was entombed there in 1914, it quickly became a tourist attraction. This horrified the Arlington family, so they had her remains transferred to an anonymous vault elsewhere in the same cemetery, then sold her tomb. The Morales family took ownership. The brass sculpture of a young woman carrying roses stayed behind. Some believe she represents Josie being turned away from her father’s home. Others assert she is a symbol of a virginal girl seeking employment, but not permitted into the house of ill-repute. Arlington claimed no girl’s innocence was ever taken away due to her establishment. Despite the legend, the more likely explanation would be that it is a copy of a sculpture Josie admired.
While pragmatism may have been the initial incentive in burying our dead above ground, aestheticism and personal or familial pride has elevated the practical and enriched the unique architecture in the “Cities of the Dead” that are the cemeteries of New Orleans.
Kristin Fouquet worked as the weekend internment coordinator for Metairie Cemetery and Lake Lawn Park Cemetery and Mausoleum while she attended weekday classes at Delgado Community College to earn her associate of science degree in Funeral Services Education. It was her fondest achievement there to discover the final resting place of Josie Arlington while researching old cemetery records in the vault. You are invited to Kristin’s virtual home, Le Salon, at the web address http://kristin.fouquet.cc
Post-Apocalypse Now !
(A personal reflection on a few favourite films for The End Of The World)
By Jason Michel
The film “The Road” has just been released in France. It is the latest in a long line of films dubbed sweetly, “Post–Apocalypse”, and seen and classified by such people who classify such things as a kind of sub-genre of Horror or Sci-Fi, yet really they seem to occupy an odd place that is theirs and theirs alone. It is a place that starts with a barren and arid hope and often ends with even less.
It is a place that I can hang out in like Beatniks are drawn to a café full of black coffee.
I’ll tell you poor mortals why.
Let’s start at the beginning here. What exactly does Post-Apocalypse actually mean?
The origin of the word “Apocalypse” is something very, very different from the Mushroom cloud or pale white horses. In fact, the word comes from the Greek apokalyptein which simply means – to uncover or to reveal. A “lifting of the veil” or revelation. A moment of insight. How almost enlightening and Buddhist that seems.
It was, of course, with the wig out end-times schizophrenic St John’s Revelation that we get all our modern connections to the word. A word that has inspired every millennial cult from Crowley’s Thelemites to the Jehovah’s Witnesses that lurk around train stations and knock on all our doors. The Rapture, The Four Horsemen, The Anti-Christ, The Whore Of Babylon, The Seven Seals, The Lake Of Fire. That’s a wheelbarrow full of cans of whupass right there. Scared the living shite out of me as small child, I can tell you. When I was a child of five or so in the windy valleys of Wales that we went to the local desolate chapel to see this lay preacher rant. He was doing his Hellfire & Brimstone spiel, and a particularly nasty one it was too. And I went ballistic. I ran up and down the aisles waving my arms and screaming like a little Damien Thorn. It was so shocking that my embarrassed parents had to bundle me there and then into the car and away to home.
Being the child I was and still am, I found that my fear was sated once I had embraced it.
So, here we are.Now for a history lesson.
Your more famous Science Fiction Movie has had its fair share of big bucks scapegoating governmental propaganda in its history. The political influences know that people always want to see a bigger explosion. With Invasion Of The Body Snatchers in the 50s and War of the World’s supposed Anti-Commie message and Independence Day with its blatant scenes of Islamic Fundamentalists adding to the overall horror experienced by its “civilised” audience of a money leeching SFX extravaganza with a plot so simplistic that even a member of your average Reality TV show could have done better.
Horror tends to show us things that go bump in the night and taps into that irrational and unreasonable side of us that only really comes out in everyday life in our dreams or after four bottles of wine.
Post-Apocalyptica pops its scorched head up from time to time.
This is one of those times.
And its message has always been a lot more subversive than its first grizzled impression.
Charlton Heston was the 60s godfather of such films, before he became the gun wielding fiend that terrified liberals from California to Manhattan. Each of the characters he played came from the same basic mould; a tough world weary misanthrope angry at his species for their greed and stupidity, snarling and shouting so whenever the opportunity allowed. A hippie gone bad.
And the zeitgeist scarred each of these films and showed what could still be.
The threat of nuclear annihilation and the idea that humans were not the end all of the evolutionary process inspired such films as Planet Of The Apes and its subsequent sequels. Anybody remember those mutant nuke worshippers? Brrrrrrr.
The threat of the baby booming generation and humanity’s voracious appetite for breeding without control and to the detriment of all other species informed the classic Soylent Green.
Finally, The Omega Man showed us a world after the threat of biological weapons of mass destruction in the wake of The Vietnam War became a reality. The Omega Man was, in fact, itself a remake of an earlier flick, The Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price fighting off infected vampires and was subsequently re-remade in the 2000s as I am Legend (the original name of the novel by Richard Matheson) with Will Smith taking the Heston/Price role.
The Sixties also saw the rise of the most famous sub-genre of all Post-Apocalyptica. The zombie flick. Shuffling into our consciousness in 1968, George A Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead changed our perception of the zombie forever. Gone was the idea of Voodoo witchdoctors reanimating corpses to do their bidding. It was now replaced by something all the more insidious. A creeping mindless horde of undead cannibals. So influential was this film and its sequels that oddles has been written about them. From their satirical counter culture stance on the military and The Vietnam War in the form of the pompous General to their comment on our consumer society. Also The Night featured a black hero. This was considered subversive enough for your average Middle American in 1968. To say that these films were mindless rubbish was really missing the point. They are a glorious modern day Grand Guignol.
The Mid-Seventies brought with it its own social upheaval and counter culture – Punk. Its chaotic battle cry of “Anarchy!” mixed with the nihilism of Heavy Metal and permeated throughout pop culture from the seminal Brit comic 2000AD to the bedsits of a thousand potential record labels and fanzines. Film was no exception and another great piece of Post Apocalyptica was George Miller’s 1979 feature, Mad Max and its sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Pre-Catholic lunacy leather clad Mel was the coolest anti-hero on Earth beside Johnny Alpha as he drove like a demon to avenge his wife and child while around him punks raped and pillaged their way around a Third World War stricken Australia in search of precious oil. In 2006, the co-scriptwriter James McCausland wrote in an article on peak oil, “George and I wrote the script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late”.
Throughout the Eighties and Nineties there were the odd one or two of note, such as Gilliam’s pandemic fantasy 12 Monkeys but in general the films were poor such as the utterly pitiful Waterworld, which even Dennis Hopper couldn’t save and the turgidly vacuous Tank Girl which should have stayed a comic. The films belied an era built on dreams that are turning on us today.
The Noughties on the other hand have brought with it a slew of worthwhile efforts not seen since the Sixties, such as 28 Days Later, a film that added a new slant to the zombie movie and showed that normal humans are even more frightening than the infected that they are running from. This film also heralded a new wave of zombie flicks that continues today including a decent remake of Dawn Of The Dead and Romero’s own Land Of The Dead as well as the emergence of the Zombie Comedy with Shaun Of The Dead. Zombies have well and truly gone mainstream with even Channel 4 in England showing Charlie Brooker’s splendid Dead Set, a zombie story set in a reality TV show.
Another of note is the intelligent almost biblical Children Of Men with some fantastic action scenes and genuinely gritty sets, in a story concerning the worldwide infertility of women and the consequences on a species knowing it’s going to die.
Then there is 2012. Based on a Mayan prophecy, the Apocalypse has finally gone fully sooper-dooper SFX mainstream entertainment.We are now living in our own Sci-Fi world, with portable communication devices and a worldwide communication network. We have everything we want at our fingertips. Computers are everywhere and are so ingrained in our way of life that most are invisible. We can enter into virtual worlds of our own making and live out our fantasies however high or tawdry. Our species life expectancy is longer now than at any time in the past. Bubble-headed TV shows designed to take the worries of the big bad world away from us. Ice cream in a thousand flavours in the average supermarket. We should be happy. But we’re not.
It all comes at a price.
New viruses appear weekly to make us wash our hands in anxiety; our species is breeding so rapidly that if every family in the world had the lifestyle of the average American family, we would need five earth’s to support us; there are CCTV cameras on almost every street corner for our “safety”; our governments are playing with our money willy-nilly and getting away scot free; the proliferation of nuclear warheads to so-called “rogue states” is imminent; our society is based on a fundamental resource that not only poisons us and our environment but is depleting fast, and as for Climate Change, don’t even start me on that one. Tornadoes in Derby?! A Lovelockian tragedy feels more and more real everyday.
I see the Post-Apocalyptica all around me and I have to admit that I don’t feel that much hope for the future. Not to say that I am right. Or some kind of eco-avenger. I do my bit, don’t drive, don’t want kids. If there is any hope in all this it is a quote from the biologist Lynn Margulis, “Gaia Is a Tough Bitch”. Nature will sneeze and off some of us tumble, but when Rome begins burning I’ll be on my veranda with a Strawberry Daiquiri, searching for my violin.