Page 10, 25th April 1980

25th April 1980
Page 10
Page 10, 25th April 1980 — My recollections of Jean-Paul rudely shattered

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My recollections of Jean-Paul rudely shattered

PERSONALLY I like cemeteries, though I remember that one night in Marlborough my troop of tanks during the war was parked by the cemetery wall.

The grass inside was soft and thick, but the guardsmen refused lo bed down on it, not out of respect for the dead, but for fear. They preferred to sleep on the hard and gritty pavement.

However, I slept better than they and, without being sentimental or apeing my dead betters, I have sat in several country churchyards to write news stories. (In England the public houses are not open all day.) I like the carved headstones which took the authentic baroque right into the 19th Century. I like the pretty little skull and crossbones at the top done by a local carver, the graceful lettering under the lichen, the way the stones lean.

But a curse be on all clergymen and parish councils who move these memorials to line them up, far from their corpses, like soldiers, to make the mowing easier. And another curse on those that relent and let the bereaved put up horrid white marble crosses among the grey stones.

I am told that the most mad cemetery in the world is at Genoa where the local sculptors must have made a fortune out of vmeping women, life-sized and pleasantly upsetting, in marble.

Here you can have a grand chapel or be slotted into a cliff of grave holes, sealed with a marble slab, no waste of space and with a hole at the back going down deep so that your remains can be pushed away like gambling chips to make space for the next family coffin. I do not know what happens if they come thick and fast.

Or there is that graveyard, so distinguished that the French can hardly wait, called Pere la Chaise. Here they have neatly clumped artists and Marshals of France and the nobility. Here too they executed some of the insurrectionists of the Commune.

And then there is our own dear Highgate where you can hardly move for Communist delegations saying their prayers before the bust of Karl Marx or for vandals waiting their turn to paint its nose red. It has a pleasant melacholy air. I have never visited any of these places.

But the other day I had to spend most of a day in the Cemetery of Montparnasse waiting for the burial of Jean-Paul Sartre, not a word of whose writing I have ever read.

• France is one of the empty places on my map; my French is schoolboy beginners', I do not know how to use the French telephone system nor know the French for "transferred charge" which is the way journalists dictate their stories while not having themselves to dish out any money. I have no friends in Paris. nor knew what was going on. It was the sort of day journalists dread.

Only the cemetery gave me pleasure which was just as well since the place I thought was a discreet cafe opposite the cemetery gates turned out to be the undertakers' doing the Sartre funeral.

The nearest cafe I could find turned out to be to me a madhouse of uproarious mourners, rude waiters and not a cosy tourist insight. But the cemetery! It is true "you can't take it with you", but you can leave an awful lot behind and Montparnasse makes Kensal Green look like a desert.

This cemetery in the middle of a pretty well-to-do district, is a miniature city of chapels and temples and great expensive slabs.

The curious little buildings usually have iron doors — often broken — with a name, Famille Quelquechose, written above the entrance. You can peer in, but will see no horrors.

Although there arc a lot of crosses about and even a few crucifixes, you feel they mean about as much as the uniform and orders on a corpse lying in state.

This is not a God-haunted place, it is a place of commercial pride and that is a thing that does not last without love. And yet this resting ground of decorous and pompous death is kept ablaze with flowers.

Under these aedicules there are usually deep concrete pits in which you can pile up the oaken boxes. There are no horrors — except architectural ones —to be seen, no litter of thought provoking skulls.

Some of the graves must be as full as village libraries. Some are the property of religious orders and during the time of Napoleon at a time of dim religion but some great saints, France produced new religious orders as readily as England once produced battleships.

We have both, in our different ways, been diminished since those crinolined days when your prayer4book was bound in ivroy and the choir sang Gounoud's Messe Solonelle.

Some of the tiny chapels have altars ready for Mass with rusted crucifixes on them. Some have busts of dreadful businessmen 'with pointed beards. Some have statues of Our Lady.

It is, on the whole, kept in the deathly equivalent of apple-pie order, by French uniformed and rather power mad custodians who think they are as funny as the porter in Macbeth, and you know how funny he was. Ask for the grave of Baudelaire and they croack back, "Where do you come from? Why do you ask? We're all equal here."

I could have smashed one of them on his silly kcpi. Sogneone in the vast crowd fell into Sartre's very deep grave. He was in a bad way but the mad old keepers were so busy enjoying telling the crowd to get back that they were useless.

Goodness, it was a boring day and I could not even grieve over the dead man. Has this spoiled cemeteries for me?

The following is a dispatch ...

CHARTERHOUSE brings you heavy news. It comes from a slightly unreliable source. The Editor tells him that the blood of St.Pantaleon has not liquified this year.

Pantaleon is one of the great hero-saints of the Holy Orthodox Church. He was born rich, he became a physician, returned to the Christianity of his birth which is what a lot of the privileged young of this country who are intellectually idle or deathly proud do not do. He died circa 305, but is still 'applies. Well, some or it does.

He was denounced, after being a doctor to a previous Emperor, to Diocletian. Pantaleon was ethane nt and healed a paralytic in the process. This stern, Lord Curzon of an Emperor thought he was a magician. So — He was burned with torches He was boiled in lead. He was thrown into the sea, but the stone to which in the Mafia manner he was fastened, floated, He was thrown to wild animals who fawned upon him and would not go away until he blessed them.

He was bound to a wheel but the wheel broke. They tried to cut off his head, but the sword buckled and the swordsnien joined the Christians. (Pantaleon's name means the Allcompassionate.) And they could not kill him until he gave his leave.

He really almost certainly existed and his actuality, though not his decorations, are well documented.

But I seem to have been here before. Last week I wrote a squib about St George and the gorgeous details of his improbable and impossibly protracted torture are curiously similar.

Perhaps the Greek Hagiographers were a bit uninventive. They certainly leaned heavily upon their pens. But he is one of those tremendous saints and wonder workers.

Just as they have one of St Januarius' in Naples, they have a phial of his blood in Istanbul. Pantaleon also has relics of a gruesome sort scattered even in the West.

But the slightly worrying thing is that when his blood does not bubble away, it presages most serious war. Averse as one is to believing such predictions, particularly when they come from Saints of the Middle East where killing is rather like Captain Mark Phillips' pastiele rather than our nationai holocausts, this bloody prediction has a worldly logic about it.

Not for the first time, the predictions of the most lordly pundits of the Press and the most ancient predictions of the most ancient saints are in conjunction.

Mind youel would trust St Pantalcon before Peregrine Worsthorne or Malachy before John Whale. But I'd trust the whole sacred boat full of them before any Foreign or Defence Secretary .in the world. Charlerhouse is wondering whether the old and proper use of his knees might help.

A Christian act, a kindly deed

SOME 16 years ago in the grim city of Johannesburg I met a very great man, as black as your hat, South African, brilliant, a barrister and a nationalist. He was physically massive, soft spoken and very reasonable. This was Mr Nelson Mandela. I liked and admired him at once.

He was not an easy man to meet and interview because he was on the run and certain to he caught in the near future. He was just too conspicuous. To get to him I had to meet two white communists and even that had to be done through intermediaries, They were text book page three party members — boring, didactic, intolerant and vain. Still, the wife took me. with great care, to a respectable bungalow where I drank beer with Mr Mandela.

Scarcely a day passes but the memory of him just touches on my consciousness. Because of the drawn out, hopeless horror of his life. Not long after, he was arrested, tried for planning a "coup'', sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Robben Island, which is South Africa's special oubliette.

Now I ktM in fact an extreme moderate myself and despise the selective indignation that is kept for South Africa but not for the Russian version of the imperial and police state.

This attitude — exactly mirrored in the International Olympics Committee — is the result either of simplicity or of dishonest thinking. (And who, pray. is being didactic now?) But South Africa justifies forgetting the man who should by all logic be their head of Government by dismissing him as a committed Marxist.

The Prime Minister of that doomed Republic, Louis le Grange, recently described him thus and said he would not be released.

I really don't think he was a Marxist, though the matter is immaterial. No coup was even conceivable at that time and Mandela seemed to me to be a man of remarkable good sense with a strong and unemotional hold on reality. His charm and courage set him apart.

He is now 61 and has been 16 years on that loathsome island from which few are released and journalists do not visit because they cannot and from which all the rumours that come are or cruel and disgusting treatment. By these accounts the place is as had as any Gulag. And I find the idea of Mandela rotting away there without hope unendurable.

There is a "free Mandela" movement under way. I see that the man who arrested Mandela, the former head of security in South Africa, General Hendrik van den Bergh, who was a man of terrible power, has said that would now release him if he were still in oflice.

He has been reported as saying, "Mandela has served his time. He is a broken man and he has paid his debt to society." No further denunciation can beat that. he

Golfing goodies

IF ANY golfing priest is looking for a holiday he could get a 15 day orgy of it in Portugal.

The offer is of full board and lodgings and all in a luxury hotel and free access to a superb golf course. He would have to pay his own transport, bar and telephone bills. In return he would be asked to say a daily Mass at the hotel church. Anyone interested should write to John Stilwell, Esq., at The Penina -Golf Hotel, Portimau, Algarve, Portugal.

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