Saturday, 1 November 2008

Lapeyrouse Cemetery

Lapeyrouse Cemetery's span is apparent from the 21st floor of the new Nicholas Tower in downtown Port of Spain. It lies north east of Victoria Square; two city blocks west of the savannah.
This afternoon it is lively and busy with industrious grave painters;flower arrangement vendors; and devoted family members for even though today is November 1st, the fading light is dotted with the soft glow of candles lighted to celebrate the memory of the dead. (All Soul's Day (sometimes called the "Day of the Dead") is always November 2 (November 3rd if the 2nd falls on a Sunday). All Soul's Day is a Roman Catholic day of remembrance for friends and loved ones who have passed away. This comes from the ancient Pagan Festival of the Dead, which celebrated the Pagan belief that the souls of the dead would return for a meal with the family. cemetery mirrors our society with extraordinary parallels. It is rich with history and stranger-than-fiction tales told by mossy headstones. It is laid out, like Port of Spain, in an organised grid pattern. So that in death, as in life, you are given an address. It's a reassuring thought and one that brings an odd sense of comfort.
Walking through the wide avenues of this heavily populated city of the deadit is possible to trace the history of Port of Spain. Here on the right as you enter, are the Chinese graves with their Chinese writing.On the left side of the main avenue is the large de Verteuil family crypt and down each avenue the histories beg to be told, each headstone a whole life lived. The first occurence of cholera in Trinidad was in 1853. "For two frightening months the epidemic raged and there were over two thousand deaths in Port of Spain out of a population of about 20,000. Whole families were wiped out and almost one in five persons in Port of Spain caught the disease." P93 Voices in the Street -Olga Mavrogordato. The last recorded outbreak of cholera was documented in 1865. It is said that the casualties of the cholera epidemic created this cemetery city. According to Olga Mavrogordato's Voices In the Street, "all the space from Richmond Street, between Tragarete Road and Fraser Street, as enclosed by a wall and called the Old Cemetery. It can be assumed that Lapeyrouse Cemetery came into being officially sometime after 1813. However it is recorded that there exists therein a headstone of one Jean Creteau who died in 1745. This shows that it must have been used as a cemetery during the Spainish occupation." P.20
Lapeyrouse Cemetery has fallen into disrepair over the last half-a-century; a severe indictment on a society that allows its dead to languish in squalour. It is currently populated by tenacious goats and equally formidable vagrants.
But on this afternoon in November, all is well for the moment and the soft murmur of families as they stroll through the avenues is a reassuring reminder that our dead live within us and not alone in the dusty vaults and crypts of a decaying cemetery.