Friday, April 30, 2010




: one who makes a hobby of exploring and studying caves

I don't go in caves. I mean, I would if I had the opportunity, but that doesn't come up very often. So I'm going to talk about crypts (not as to say the opportunity to visit crypts comes up often, but I'm more interested in mummies than stalactites).

Can one be a SPELUNKER in a crypt? I don't know. Perhaps there's another term for regular crypt-diving.

A while back I read a profile in National Geographic about a famous crypt in the depths of the Capuchin monastery in Palermo, Sicily. The catacomb holds nearly 2,000 dead, most from the 19th century. Apparently this is somewhat of a Sicilian phenomenon; the author states the greatest collection of preserved corpses in Europe occurs in Sicily, "where the relationship between the living and the dead is especially strong."

I wonder if my being Sicilian has anything to do with my innate fascination with death. I say "innate" because, since I can remember, I have had an attraction to death. Okay, that's admittedly vague—I suppose everyone is somewhat enthralled by the illusory qualities of the unknown, but I was really interested as a child, even before I had experienced it first hand. Halloween was always my favorite day of the year—not because of candy or dressing up, but because it felt like this moment when two worlds, the living and the dead, somehow met. And I wanted to be at their junction. I was preoccupied with ghost stories and films that dealt with the thin lines between life and death. I remember first seeing Beetlejuice at around age nine and thinking, Finally. Someone gets it.

I have always been attracted to the aesthetics of death—skeletons, specifically. So it doesn't surprise me at all that I want to SPELUNK the Capuchin catacombs. It excites me when I think about being in the presence of all that death. But I wonder where this attraction comes from; maybe I was born with it (although it could be Maybelline). Is it my Sicilian roots that render me so propelled toward the world of the deceased?

I don't know. It's a long shot. But that National Geographic article said it before I did. I'm just an Italian that wants to go look at a bunch of 200-year-old corpses.

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