National Geographic : 2009 Feb
realize that the big di erence between the living and the dead is that you can stare at the dead with an intense, close-up curiosity that the liv- ing would never tolerate. And then I think they really ought to be playing Michael Jackson s "Thriller" as background music, given how like prosthetic, schlock-horror-e ect zombies these bodies look, how comically and patheti- cally the great denouement of nature mimics not just art but cheap art. eir jaws hang open in silent yowls, rotting teeth grin with menace, eye sockets stare bleakly, shreds of hard skin cling to shrunken cheeks and arthritic knuck- les. ese people are mostly small, their arms crossed as they sag against the wire and nails that hold them upright, their heads lolling on shoulders, bodies slowly collapsing with the e ort of imitating a past life. e corridors are segregated into religious folk and professional, meaning doctors and law- yers and a couple of vaudeville grand soldiers in their carabinieri uniforms. ere s a women s corridor where the guide points out that we can admire the fashions of the past. e skeletons stand in shredded rags, grimed and bleached a murky gray. ere is little to admire. A side chapel is devoted to those who died virgins, especially poignant and by contemporary mores a patheti- cally cruel appellation to carry into eternity. When they were interred here, they must have appeared as symbols of purity amongst the decay. And then there is a small chapel for infants. e children are dressed in their party frocks, propped up like living-dead dolls. One sits on a nursery chair with a little skeleton on her lap, perhaps a younger sibling, unbearably pitiful and simultaneously laughably grotesque. of Rome, an archaeological excavation of tombs. Here the bodies were always meant to be seen, and they charge you a small fee for the pleasure. ere Under the 15th-century cathedral of Novara di Sicilia lie six mummi ed priests. At least 50 mummies are known in Piraino and Savoca; nearly 2,000 are found in Palermo. A. A. Gill writes for the Sunday Times and is a con- tributing editor to Vanity Fair and GQ. Vincent Musi shot the March 2008 cover story on animal minds.