Wednesday 18 January 2017

Cimetiere marin de Sete

'The Cemetery by the Sea' was a very fortunate discovery indeed. While wandering through Sete searching for the Art gallery which was hosting a Yves Tanguy exhibition I'd found out about during our stay, I happened to peer over the wall of the street we were wandering down, convinced we were lost as we were on the very edge of the town, and that's when I saw it. The cemetery by the sea.
And what a sight it was to behold. I wandered through the neatly packed rows of graves which snaked their way up the hillside, staggered by steps and sprinkled with great trees. It was unmistakably a French graveyard, they are always so neat and perfectly formed, and have a gleaming sense of pride.
As I climbed the hill, the monuments became larger and more ancient, with the brow of the hill covered with wonderful miniature chapels often found in French graveyards. Each one is an absolute work of art and I could spend countless hours admiring their architecture and the unique personalities given to them by each family and their stone mason.
There is something so serene and unashamedly, but silently beautiful about French cemeteries. They reflect an attitude and respect for death which is not found everywhere anymore. These little empires of the dead are always so private, with their high walls and gates, if you did not glimpse a glimmer of white stone, or see a sign post, you would most likely pass them by never knowing they exist. 
I have wandered many French graveyards before, but this one was different, its location perched on the side of Mont Saint-Clair, looking out to the vast, infinite blue, with the bright sun beating down relentlessly giving the stone the appearance of bleached bone, was enchanting and breathtaking.
I can understand why French poet Paul Valery wrote the poem 'Le cimetiere marin' about the cemetery. Its opening verse (translated from French):

'This quiet roof, where dove-sails saunter by,
Between the pines, the tombs, throbs visibly.
Impartial noon patterns the sea in flame -
That sea forever starting and re-starting,
When thought has had its hour, oh how rewarding,
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!'

I can see why Paul Valery adored this graveyard and chose to be buried within its walls upon his death. I can think of no finer resting place to eternally lay, with the sun on your face and the sea by your side as 'Into flowers the gift of life has passed.'

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