Some of the kids we met spoke six languages. Mainly while criss crossing Scandinavia, where education is lauded above most other things. English was on their communicatory laundry list. English, for the most part, the universal default.
And for that, we were lucky.
Until we dove deep into central Europe. Our white van enveloped by fields of raps, a bright yellow flower, like a blanket, covering rolling vastness. Its radiance, hiding the inevitable gnarled cultivation, ground up, a dirty death to produce diesel fuel.
We drove past the nuclear power plants, those giant caldrons, steaming an atomic witch’s brew of energy.
Past hundreds of miles of windmills, travelling in lines, scarecrows marching the contours of the landscape, spinning because thats all they know to do.
Beside them, far below, lifeless in the dirt, avian carcasses, chopped into pieces: collateral damage for a green revolution.
We were on the hunt for the small town of Kutna Hora. The town, part of old Bohemia. Tucked away from the Medieval city of Prague. Mashed among the hidden old world of a new Czech Republic.
Somewhere inside Kutna Hora, among a scattered selection of religious institutions, was the Sedlec Ossuary. A tiny cathedral. An offering to God. Decorated completely in human bones.
Yielding to a farmer, the man, much like a peasant, spoke a slavic dialect. We pointed at our arms, legs, and head: sign language symbolizing skeletal make up.
Like neanderthals we reached out, availing nothing but complete disconnect.
So we drove on, heading towards the religious town. Church spires popping through the foliage, those thick birch trees, peppering the hillside, white, thin and black.
In Kutna Hora, we hopped from one church to the next.
The first, too grand. Its stain glass windows resembling nothing of what we saw in the photos of the infamous Ossuary.
The second, much too exposed, left to the elements.
Worshippers crowded the facade. Death tends to skirt attention, I thought.
This was not what we were hunting.
Rambling down the lanes, the single dirt strips, roads similar to those in the deep, ominous, South.
We passed tattered people, laymen to the land, traversing by foot.
Until we gave up.
Turning onto a side road, we headed diagonally out of town.
Out of Kutna Hora, we skirted a single unimposing Roman Catholic Church. Tiny in comparison to the others, much less a grand archive for the remembrance of things past.
An impossible tomb for the bones we sought.
Up the narrow walk way we entered, through a diminutive wooden door, and into an ancient house of worship.
Inside, bone piles, like a mason’s shelving of limestone upon a castle’s walls. Jagged, uneven, a jaw-boned outcrop. From a distance, their teeth resembling mortar, a glue that would have held them together had gravity not been the sole element in their balancing act.
There were four chambers total. Each stacked, centrally, but only with calvaria. Above, intricate chandeliers connecting femur to ulna to rib to radius.
Looping down just above our heads, vertebrae like streamers connected mounts for candles. Wax dripping, oozing over craniums. The wax, like drool, dangling from the mouth of skulls.
In the Ossuary, every bone was used. No momento wasted.
Each piece; a spur on a ball joint, a collection of broken tarsals, ominous eye sockets once harboring gelatinous goo.
Those eyeballs, telling its own narrative, of “life translated into a new language.”
I wondered why we evolved to bury our dead.
Far removed from the early rites of, say, Zoroastrians. Those ancients, laying out their deceased, to have buzzards pick flesh, to consume sinews.
In the end, those bones left out, evidence of human transcendence, to each of us a different place, a hopeless celebration of resurrected life in death.
We were alone. Whispering awe amongst ourselves. Paying respects to the dead.
Until the cathedral door cracked open.
From outside in, a group of young students came through the doors of that house of worship. What looked like an elementary class: I noticed that the lot were all adolescent girls.
Bubbly, the girls excited, giggled at the bones.
Their beautiful, slavic tongue, telling a different sensory experience.
Of a different culture.
I envied their indifference to death.