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Wednesday, 1 April 2015


 Tuol Sleng genocide museum, Cambodia: photo by Ambroise Tézenas via the Guardian, 13 November 2014
They are, first of all, places of involuntarily remembered suffering. Time has deposited its wastes there, in the form of used-up memories no one will ever wish to have again. Still some things can't be brought to a finish so easily. No one can command time to stop, a fact in tribute to which which the Archives stand as a redundant yet palpable reminder. A smell of mildew; cobwebs that brush one's head, passing in silence from subterranean chamber to subterranean chamber. Echoes and whispers everywhere: a sudden small scurrying sound startles from behind, but nothing's there when one turns to look. We think someone's there. We think they are speaking to us. We think they are saying something to us, in muffled, disinterested, ambiguously connected half-sentences, certain strange words that are virtually indistinguishable from the silence. Yet we must strain to hear, on penalty of awaking. The pain of being a human being has an extended half-life, its date of completion remaining always indeterminate, yet forever, in merciless increments, drawing nearer: this seems to be the message. The past is set on Repeat, here in the Archives; it has been programmed to send the same message over and over.  The vapors and particles it has left behind are here, filling the dark corridors, lining the corroded walls and scuffed floors, deeply imbedded in the suffocating atmosphere of the place; an invisible, insistent tour guide, helpfully provided by management, refuses to let the horror escape from our minds for so much as a moment. The visitor is encouraged to remember that these are religious sites, and behave -- well, not as though at home, exactly, but let us simply say accordingly.

Some of the skeletons uncovered at cemetery below University of Cambridge. One of Britain’s largest medieval cemeteries containing the remains of more than 1,000 people has been unearthed under part of the University of Cambridge. The hospital cemetery, which catered largely for scholars who had fallen on hard times, was found during excavations beneath the Old Divinity School at St John’s College. About 1,300 burials and 400 complete skeletons were discovered there as part of the refurbishment of the Victorian building three years ago, but the details have only now been made public. The bodies, which are mostly from the period between the 13th and 15th centuries, are burials from the Hospital of St John the Evangelist, which stood opposite the graveyard until 1511, and gave St John’s College its name. The vast majority of burials took place without coffins, while many did not even have shrouds, suggesting the cemetery was primarily for the poor. Very few of the bodies belonged to women and children, perhaps because its main purpose was to cater for “poor scholars and other wretched persons” and pregnant women were excluded from this care.
Personal items such as jewellery were found only in a handful of burials. Despite rumours linking it to the Black Death, no evidence of the disease was found on any of the remains and the team did not uncover any signs of large burial groups from that part of the 14th century. In later centuries, plague victims in Cambridge were buried on local grazing land such as Midsummer Common, and it is likely that the same locations were also used in the medieval period. The bodies did not exhibit many serious illnesses and conditions that would have required medical attention. A report by The Archaeological Journal on the find said “this could reflect that the main role of the hospital was spiritual and physical care of the poor and infirm rather than medical treatment of the sick and injured”.: photo by St John's College, University of Cambridge/PA via The Guardian, 1 Aprll 2015

Dwelling there on Midsummer Common, where the devoted bagpiper, forbidden to practise in his rooms, piped mournfully, every afternoon all through the bright chilly springtime, in his quaint kilt, above the unidentified remains of the plague victims  buried on what had once been local grazing land, how was the visitor to know succour had lain so close to hand, once, its clayey residue perhaps still persisting there even now, and thence on unto eternity, in the Archives?

The Karostas Cietums military prison in Liepāja, Latvia
: photo by Ambroise Tézenas via the Guardian, 13 November 2014

Tbilisi, Georgia. Children look at exhibits at the Soviet Occupation Museum. Georgia marks Soviet Occupation Day to commemorate the Red Army invasion in 1921
: photo by David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters via the Guardian, 25 February 2015

The Rwandan genocide memorial tour: photo by Ambroise Tézenas via The Guardian, 13 November 2014



pls make a monument
to all the future
wars and holocausts
where I can
lay down
& rest

billoo said...

Wonderful photos, Tom.

TC said...

Well... the bagpiper was real. That was fifty years ago. I was then dwelling just across the road from Midsummer Commons.

Everything else must be merely archival (accumulation of temporal detritus).

Will the future contain Hollinger Boxes filed in metallic shelves on rolling casters, or will they all have been incinerated, melted down, decomposed, contents included?

All traces of the bipedal primates who populated this planet en route to destroying it will hopefully be lost, soon enough.

Then, perhaps, a fresh start for any species accidentally surviving US.

"A clear day, with no memories."