March 11, 2017

Ici Repose La Femme Ideale

A gate, slightly ajar, invites

I like walking. There is something very medieval, and very satisfying, about walking through the landscape you belong to. There is a connection.
Walking the same path over and over again, however, annoys me to no extend. I like variation, and so I have explored quite a bit of terrain around my mountain house.

A tiny graveyard

So yesterday late afternoon, we tried another path. Not much of a path really, much of it required climbing fences,  jumping streams, and holding on to branches as we slid down animal trails, and clambered through the underbrush.
And at some point, we passed by an abandoned hospital, and stumbled upon a little outcrop on a hill, with old trees.
t was the gate that got me interested. I have a thing for iron gates, especially if they are slightly ajar. And this one was.

Some 30 graves, maybe even less

When we got in, it turned out to be a graveyard. It didn’t contain many graves, maybe 30, most of them fallen in disrepair or without a gravestone.

But it got really interesting when we started reading the stones. There were christians, but also Armenians, and muslims and druse too. Cemeteries in Lebanon are always segregated, like much of society still is, since its laws on family affairs are still run by clerical authorities.

Ragheb Doumyat, a muslim, on the left.  A christian on the right,

The graves were not well maintained. It was clear that this place is hardly ever visited, and used even less. Although someone had been buried there recently (no stone was placed yet), and someone else was laid to rest in 2013, all the other graves looked very old, and were in various states of crumbling down. Some vandalism must have aided the overall deteriorated state of the place.

An iron fence around a grave was a 'fashionable' thing in the early 1900's. No stone was inside
But here was a mixture of religions, which is very unusual.

Most were Christian names, as this is a primarily christian region. There were two local names, Bechara and Abu Haidar, but some were from quite far away.One person was from modern day Syria:  George Basel Shalhat from Hallab (Aleppo), born in 1904. He died on March 8, 1930, when Lebanon as a state did not exist yet, and both Allepo and Lebanon were part of the French Mandate. 

An Armenian grave

There was a Prince Sheikh Ali, which sounds like it is a druse grave, (Amir, al sheikh Ali, 13-12-1942). Amir (prince) is a name common within the druse community.
Two graves, judging from the form of the stone and the date, were probably sunni muslim. One was very old, of Ragheb Doumyat, who died in ‘1350’, which is 1931 on the Gregorian calendar.A few Armenians (in Lebanon usually christian) had found their final resting place here as well. I cannot read Armenian, so I can't tell you anything other than the date (1913 – 1938)

George Basel Shalhat from Hallab

Another interesting name was Jordan Tokatlides (January 6, 1896 – June 6, 1924). Tokatlides, or Tokatlidis, indicates Greek origins. Greeks have always been actively engaged in trade with this region, and there are quite a few Greek families in Lebanon who originally came from Crete and settled in the region during the Ottoman Empire.
Two rather oddly-shaped graves. No names or dates. 

There were also some European foreigners.
 I have a penchant for foreigners buried in Lebanese soil. What is the story of these people, to end up so far away from home?

Ice Repose La Femme Ideale. Either she was indeed the perfect wife, or she trained her husband really well, or this was his final revenge; Dead was her best state yet. I am romantically inclined; I think it was true love.

Anna Eisner, apparently was married to a Lebanese,  Omar Fozi Issa, which is why she ended up in Lebanon. Omar is – in general – a name associated with the sunni, the other large group with islam, but it could be christian as well.  Eisner sounds German, but then there were quite a few American missionaries in the region. Would a missionary marry a muslim? What if it was true love? Did they have children? What became of them? She died young, only 35 years old. Her husband had given her stone the perfect epitaph, one that I think I will request; ‘La femme ideale’. 

It almost looks like they gave her the ‘Cross of Loraine’, which symbolized Free France during the Nazi occupation

I couldn’t find anything online about Anna Eisner, nor her husband, but I did dig up, no pun intended, some interesting things about the other foreigner, a certain Helena Bierer -  Thormann, who lived until the ripe old age of 88. 

The Internet claims Helena Bierer, wife of Emanual Bierer, was an SOE agent, together with her husband, during the second World War. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British organization that was ‘conducting warfare by means other than direct military engagement.’  They were ‘to encourage and facilitate espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines and to serve as a focal point for the formation of a vestigial resistance movement in Britain itself (the Auxiliary Units) in the possible event of an Axis invasion.’ 

They employed a number of women, including Helena, and were active in the region. The organization was dissolved and merged into the current M16. What happened to the Bierers? Somehow, she ended up, or stayed, in Lebanon. Although the records show they do not know when and where she died, nor what happened to her husband, her grave stone indicates he died in 1972, in Lebanon. I have mentioned before that – although I am by no means dead yet -  I do wonder where I will end up once I am dead. Due to the ridiculous laws I am not allowed to be buried next to my husband (or rather the other way around, as I intend to live to become a 100), who’s planning on a sailor’s grave anyway (quite against local customs and law).

Another fantastic gate, this one unfortunately locked

So here is a solution. In this little graveyard, on a narrow promontory in the Lebanese hills, mountain range in the back, sea view in the front, for a century now, a mixture of people have found their final resting place. Religion is obviously not an issue here, nor are gaudy tombs and cenotaphs and I like that.  It is all simple and plain. This is going to be my final resting place. That is why you should never walk the same road twice. Had I not hiked in that direction, I’d never have found the little graveyard, nor met Helena Bierer – Thormann.  I am going to claim a stake in this place. 

This will be my view

And what will my stone read? Well, I have to stay with the spirit of the place.
"Ici repose la femme ideale . . "


Kristi Lonheim said...

I love how a change in direction, a bit of a scramble, and an unlocked gate resulted in our receiving this treat of a post. What a fascinating cemetery.

Anonymous said...

But you didn't tell us where (the name of the village). Naughty!

Tony M. said...

Good post.

Tony M. said...

Good post.

Sroussi Jean Marc said...

Sur place, non loin de Beyrouth, vers le sud, (et ce n'est pas du tout loin de la capitale libanaise, Il serait fort intéressant de se pencher également sur une chatelaine neglgée, une figure disons emblématique et là, je fais reference simplement à Lady Stanhope, elle qui aura joué un rôle prépondérant avant que l'histoire ne se penche sur son destin.

CleverWebber said...

Ms Noshie,

You taught me in the 5th grade at ACS way back in 1996-1997 (5C!). My partner and I absolutely love exploring cemeteries. We make it a point to park our car on the side of the road whenever we stumble upon a new one. A few years ago, we found a massive World World I-era graveyard in Pittsburgh; many of the tombstones were dated 1918, so I reasoned that these were Spanish Flu deaths. 'Twas eerie and humbling.

After all these years, you are still one of the most unforgettable teachers I have ever had. I'm glad this blog exists.