I met Giuseppe1) at the corner of Pandanus Street, the one in the shape of the digit eight. That could be the only street that has an intersection with itself. He was on time and we decided to walk to the local cemetery to attend my funeral2).
When we arrived, there were only five or six other people. I recognised two photographers from the silk screen print shop at the Students Cultural Centre. Giuseppe introduced me to a big man with a bushy bird. He was a well-known film director from a neighbouring country.
Soon the ceremony started and we walked slowly along the long alley, separating different sections of the cemetery. Other people, when they saw us coming, were politely stepping aside, to avoid distracting the ceremony. A few men took their hats off, standing still at the kerbside, until we passed by.
Then the music stopped and we stood around the burial place, watching the coffin sink in a freshly dug, deep, dark hole.
A few people approached me, to shake my hand and give me a hug, as if I was the closest relative of the deceased.
We left the cemetery and someone suggested we have a drink at the pub across the road. This was a custom with a dual purpose; as a symbolic farewell to the one who has passed away, and as a reminder for the rest of us that there is still life after death.
A tipsy man in the corner, dressed in Sally’s rags3), played the piano and sang the words of Heinrich Heine’s4) poem ‘Die Lorelei’, to his own musical tune.
Then Hakuna entered the bar area and walked towards us.
‘How old was he?’ – someone asked.
‘Twenty-four’ – I heard the answer.
‘Poor guy, has not lived very long.’ – another voice said.
I thought of Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin and Brian Jones5), who passed away when they were twenty-seven.
‘The best years were still ahead of him’.
Then we laughed and knocked off a couple of rounds of scotch and beer, usually referred to as ‘Concrete’ in local jargon.
I heard them arguing; if a state-of-origin game was organised from passed players in the after-life, how old would the players be? Someone insisted that all of them would be the same age. A female voice suggested that they would be as old as they were in the same calendar year, arbitrarily chosen. Hakuna thought, each player would be from the period when he was in his best personal form.
‘Lucky, they don’t believe in reincarnation’ – Giuseppe mumbled in a drunken voice.
‘If that was the case, some players could be re-born as birds or reptiles, further complicating the matter.’
I looked down and there was a water stream running through the middle of the room. One wall was preventing me from seeing upstream, and the opposite not allowing me to see downstream. There were two rocks in the creek, not far from our bar table. They looked identical and were positioned on top of each other. The bottom rock was fully submersed, whilst the above rock was completely dry.6)
Then the man in the black dressing gown, read my death notice:
‘With great pain and sorrow, we announce that on the 15th April 1977 a fun-loving and generous heart suddenly stopped beating and Paja Stankovic is no longer among us.
The funeral will be held on Sunday, 17th April 1977 at 2 PM, from the chapel at the New City-cemetery.
He will be sadly missed and well-remembered by his Family, Friends and Colleagues.’</em7)
With a glass of wine in his left hand, Giuseppe leaned towards me and, in his typically cynical voice, whispered – ‘One must have a heart of stone to read your death notice without laughing.’8)
1) Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) – An Italian opera composer
2)Paja – ‘My Funeral’, a body-art urban ritual, Belgrade, Serbia 1977
3)Sally’s rags – a vintage clothing shop in Byron Bay, Australia, across the road from the beach pub
4)Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) – A German poet
5)Rock musicians that died young – Jim Morrison (Doors), Janice Joplin and Brian Jones (Rolling Stones)
6)Paja , Mirko – ‘A project for Day and Night’, a landscape ritual, Brezovica, Serbia 1978
7)Paja – ‘My Funeral’, a body-art urban ritual, Belgrade, Serbia 1977, direct translation
8)An altered expression from ‘A Susan Sontag Reader’ (1982), by Susan Sontag (1933-2004)