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I am a complete sissy. A wimp, a wuss, a scaredy-cat. If I watch the trailer of a horror film (or let’s be honest, a thriller), I cannot sleep properly for several nights. I still haven’t grown out of my childhood fear of clowns. And I have a low tolerance for anything remotely spooky. However, my son is obsessed with pirates and each time we would drive past the marine graveyard in St Paul, he’d be fixated on the Jolly Roger at the entrance. He begged me for months to take him to what he called the ‘pirate graveyard’.

One day a few months ago, I finally said yes. I was sceptical about how interesting a cemetery could be for a four-year old. But surprisingly, we both ended up really enjoying our little outing. For starters, it is a beautiful cemetery. On a sunny day, the contrast between the sparkling blue water of the St Paul Bay, the black sandy beach, the cliffs and the lush green plants all around is breath-taking.

The cemetery is also well organised, with signs pointing out the most famous or significant graves. Most of all, I appreciated the historical explanations, placed throughout the graveyard on black metal scrolls. The marine graveyard is the final resting place for not only pirates, but writers and political figures in Reunion’s history. I could finally understand why so many street signs or schools were called Eugène Dayot or Leconte de Lisle. There were even extracts from their poems hung up around the place. Being a history geek, it was fascinating to read about certain people’s impact on modern Reunionese society.

Well-known families such as Desbassyns and Panon were there, but so were many lesser-known doctors, naturalists and entrepreneurs. The most famous grave, and the one that brings in so many tourists, is La Buse. What’s unusual about this cemetery is that the graves of laypeople, famous land-owners, sailors and priests are all placed together with no separations or hierarchy. When the cemetery was established in 1788, some members of the public called for a racially segregated graveyard.

But the decision makers decided against it, saying that it was ‘revolting’ to separate the races since the corpses of black and white men were equal. What a progressive decision, especially when it would take another 60 years for slavery to be abolished in Reunion. All in all, the marine graveyard is worth a visit if you like history or pirates or both. And don’t worry, it’s not that spooky.

Vocabulary

sissy / wimp / wuss / scaredy-cat - poule mouillé
trailer - bande annonce
spooky - sinistre
Jolly Roger - drapeau de pirate
to beg - supplier

graveyard - cimetière
breath-taking - à couper le souffle
scroll - manuscrit
sign - panneau
hung up - accroché

lesser-known - moins connu
unusual - inhabituel
laypeople - profane
sailors - marins
corpses - cadavres

equal - égale
slavery - esclavage
both - les deux