Talking With the Dead: Part 1
There was a thick fog over the lagoon on 12 November: melancholic and spooky enough to go talk with the dead and maybe get some classic shots of abandoned graveyards in the mist. As it happened, they were far from abandoned: vast fields of commemorative plastic flowers had been recently replaced on most plots twelve days previous for Tutti Santi and things were spruced and tidy.
To talk to the dead you have to be quick these days. Space is now at a premium on San Michele and Venetians buried on the island are usually are left in peace for around 10 – 12 years, before the body is exhumed and the bones placed in metal boxes and lodged in the ossuary for a fee. A few privileged families can lease tomb space longer, but if you can’t afford either of these 2 options (or there aren’t any relatives alive) the bones are placed in a communal bone-yard.
Family members are asked to be present at exhumations to check that the skeleton has calcified: the artist Emmanuela Ficotta told me that she wanted the skull of her father to keep, but the body hadn’t rotted enough and was re-interred. My father-in-law was the only one of three brothers courageous enough to attend his father’s exhumation. He thought his father wouldn’t like the idea of mixing his bones with others in a mass grave, and so he paid for a box. He also said that he was able to divorce the sentimental attachment he had for his father from the skeleton he saw.