Dead Can Dance

The Hotel for the Departed, a City of
Mausoleums & a Coffin-Making Class

In the age of transcontinental traveling, it’s not easy to be buried in your hometown. Unless you choose to live where you plan to die.
But for your grieving loved ones, nothing like a hotel to send you off in style. Better yet, why not learn how to build your own coffin?
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. In fact, we bet that our earliest ancestors had similar concerns, and thousands of years after, we still anguish over what to do with the deceased.
This week’s scenes of staged grief by professional North Korean criers notwithstanding, we tend to mourn those who go before us in ways we wouldn’t find out of place, if it were our own time to go.
We build crypts, we enact rituals and we find ways to memorialize the lives that were, so to transcend the simple natural fact that once we’re born, we’re ever closer to that final moment.
So now that we creeped you out, let’s visit an old mountaintop, in Russia’s North Ossetia, where each family has its own crypt.
The hard to access village of Dargavs looks like a collection of medieval white houses from a distance, popping up on the top of one of the five mountain ridges in the region.
It’s only once you get closer, after a trying three-hour trek through steep hills, that you realize that the structures are actually stone crypts where locals have been burying their loved ones for centuries.
The city itself is an ancient Ossetian cemetery and each family knows exactly where they’ll be spending the next several centuries.
Abstracting the morbid aspect, though, the arrangement of living quarters plus resting place is rather quite practical.

It’s a convenience, really, to have a spot nearby for spending the eternity, lest not tax your relatives and friends with the arduous task of taking your body down the mountain or, worse, upwards.
None of that Spartan stuff is what distinguishes the Lastel in Yokohama, though. In fact, the idea is to provide a luxurious setting for you to wait on, while your cremation is not scheduled.
Again, convenience, albeit of the modern kind, seems to be part of yet another idea on how to send off the departed in a timely manner.
As it goes, demand for that oh so brief time in the furnace of Japan’s crematoriums is increasingly high. Waiting time to dispatch your body may take a few days. So why not lay in wait in a tasteful setting?

The hotel, of course, won’t allow a living soul to share with you those very last moments in this earth. Then again, inside your refrigerated coffin, you’ll be blissfully unaware of it all.
Your ever so dedicated significant ones will also be minding their own business, until called to collect your body and that should do it.
There will be friends or relatives of yours, though, who may want to do something more personal, to mark your falling into the Big Sleep.
They may want to take classes on how to build a coffin, for example.
The reasons driving anyone to learn this er, dying craft vary wildly, and are not always conditioned by convenience. In many cases, people enroll in the class to build their own final box.
It took Minnesota woodworker Randy Schnobrich to come up with such a therapeutic approach to one’s own death, and the business is booming.
Of course, if you live in a New York studio, you may need to have a serious reason to travel to the midwest in such an extravagant enterprise. It’s not that you would do it to keep your brand new coffin at the Manhattan Mini Storage, or to save it for a rainy day.

But a terminal disease diagnostic, of course, changes everything. And have you checked the prices of coffins lately? It’s almost as if they want your loved ones to hate you to hand them such a final but hefty bill.
Still, being the half-full kind of guys as we are, we imagine that the idea of building a coffin to give it as a gift would be somehow sunnier. Then again, we could always be misunderstood, and in fact, we often are.
So, we’d study the situation very carefully first, lest not lose another friend by giving he or she the impression we can’t wait to see them try on our gift prematurely.
Coming to think of it, we wouldn’t recommend including in your holiday gifts list, at least not at this time. People are kind of funny when they assume you’re thinking that they will go before you, that’s all.
On that note, and have nothing else to add to such a touchy and ancient subject, we’ll give the whole thing a deserved rest. Peace, brother.

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