Words to live by: savour
These last few weeks, living in a foreign place, that notion of enjoying the moment, savouring, basking in it, perhaps even wallowing has been heavily on my mind. It occurred to me to add some “words to live by” to the Agincourt blog as a tool for understanding my own process. Today’s nominee is savour, largely because I’ve had so little time to actually engage substantially with the places I’ve been visiting.
In British English—whose spelling I often prefer to American alternatives; grey versus gray is a case in point, just one of my many affectations—there is but a single letter separating savour and saviour. Happily (for me) the OED offers two very different roots, each from the Latin through Old French. The first derives from sapere (to taste); the second from salve (to save).; though salvation is not currently on my radar. Among savour’s several meanings, these interest me especially: to relish or enjoy; to give oneself to the enjoyment of. They also suggest savor as a noun—the power to excite or interest—not a way I’d think to use it. Verbs are just so much more powerful than strings of adjectives.
My gut reaction is that savoring is a generational thing, but that’s just too easy. Generational differences are simply too convenient an explanation for why I craved more time on Friday afternoon to absorb Pere Lachaise Cemetery on the lumpy eastern edge of Paris.
The site of Pere Lachaise was acquired by Napoleon about 1803 as expansion for the shrinking capacity of Paris churchyards and crypts. But it didn’t flourish until a generation later when Napoleon III charged his planner Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann with clearing out those crypts and burial grounds. So many human remains were removed that a special rail line connected the city with this remote postage stamp of property that has been enlarged seven or eight times. A map and list of notable interments—Champollion, Proust, Collette, Oscar Wilde, et al.—was a pop quiz in 19th and 20th century history. I stood and savoured only that for nearly half an hour.
During and after the fact, I pondered my fascination with the place. Is it a question of (1) age-and-stage? Were Friday’s parks—I do think of Pere Lachaise as a de facto historical park—interesting because I might soon be one of its residents? Or (2) are they important because of when I was born and the circumstances—the Cold War, the Bomb—that shaped my generation? Or (3) are they more particular to my personal evolution; to the events that brought Agincourt into existence, for example? I won’t stop wondering.
The palpable melancholy of Pere Lachaise does have direct application to Agincourt. I hoped that my time there would help with the design of The Shades, Agincourt’s non-denominational cemetery. It will not be as dense or picturesque as Pere, but the inscription on ancient Greek above the entrance—”We are dead. Save your tears for the living.”—is intended to generate similar feelings for the sublime and nostalgic. Like anything we design, it takes time; architects, after all, are ruminants and must chew their cud again and again.
It requires savouring, one of my new words to live by.