Egyptian Avenue, Highgate Cemetery
I just finished reading Necropolis: London and Its Dead, by Catharine Arnold. It covers burial practices in London from tribes through the Romans and the Plague. Ornate Victoriana and into the present. The premise (in a nutshell) is that London sits on centuries of its dead...and here's how they did it.
Years ago, longer than I care to remember, I used to live for long stretches in London. I knew it like a native; sometimes better than a native. There is an old early 19th century cemetery in the northern part of London called Highgate (for the community where it is located.) Karl Marx is buried there. Charles Dickens' wife. Many notables. The cemetery had to be closed to the public in the 1970's when neglect was rampant and grave robbing was occurring (mainly from a local warlock in the neighborhood.) In 1975 an organization called "Friends of the Highgate Cemetery" was formed, and I contributed and participated for many years. In the autumn I would be there with my trowel or clippers, taking away ivy (but leaving it in more artistic array,) and general overall care giving to the acreage.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
One unique feature, among many, about the cemetery, and Highgate in general, is that it sits at the top of London and in certain spots you have an overview of the city, looking down. It's rather unique and very lovely.
At the end of Necropolis, the author quotes from Ford Madox Ford's The Soul of London. When I read the passage, it reminded me of that view:
"For all of us it must be again London from a distance, whether it be a distance of six feet underground, or whether we go to rest somewhere on the other side of the hills that ring in this great river basin. For us, at least, London, its problems, its past, its future, will be at rest. At nights the great blaze will shine up at the clouds; on the sky there will still be that brooding and enigmatic glow, as if London with a great ambition strove to grasp at Heaven with arms that are shafts of light. That is London writing its name upon the clouds. And in the hearts of its children it will still be something like a cloud--a cloud of little experiences, of little personal impressions, of small, futile things that, seen in moments of stress and anguish, have significance so tremendous and meanings so poignant. A cloud--as it were of the dust of men's lives."
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