Monday, October 20, 2014

Where the Dead Become Diamonds


A Swiss company wants to change the way people mourn by transforming the remains of their loved ones into gems.

Rinaldo Willy displays one of his diamonds.

“When a man of 80 kilos is cremated, he becomes 2.5 kilos of ashes,” Rinaldo Willy explained. “With these ashes, we make a diamond of 0.2 grams, smaller than a button on your shirt. How heavy is the soul—if we have a soul?”

In its coupling of the tangible and intangible, it is a question that epitomizes Willy’s work. Every year, Algordanza, the company he founded in 2004, receives more than 800 urns filled with human ashes. For between $5,000 and $20,000, the contents of each parcel are transformed into a diamond.

It is also more than a diamond. “Maybe ‘soul’ is too strong of a word,” Willy continued, still struggling to define the essence of his product. “Our process is purely physical—but if the deceased had blue eyes, and the diamond turns out blue, you can be sure that the family will say, ‘Oh, it’s exactly the color of his eyes.’”

We were sitting on the cool leather couches of Algordanza’s simple reception room in the sleepy town of Chur, Switzerland. Tucked away high in the Alps, the town seems isolated, and yet events as diverse as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Chilean earthquake, the Fukushima meltdown, and the terror bombings in Madrid have all sent ripples through Algordanza’s halls. Within weeks of a major incident the parcels begin to arrive. “We had a British soldier from Afghanistan recently,” Willy mentioned. “He came home and then he came to us. His body—not him, of course.”

The route from the train station in Chur to the company’s facility passes through medieval cobblestone streets, a golf course, and wildflower fields. It is a journey that many grieving clients make. “We ask that the family either brings the ashes or picks up the diamond in person,” explained Willy, 34. “For us, it’s important that they see who the people taking care of their loved ones are.” The pilgrimage to Chur is just one part of a choreography that Willy has designed around the six-month gem-making process. As one of the first companies to enter the memorial diamond business a decade ago, Algordanza, whose name means “remembrance” in the local Romansh language, has developed a tradition all its own.

“I told my staff that they are not allowed to make condolences at the beginning,” Willy said. “You don’t know the people. You don’t know their story. It’s not honest. During this process, however, we inform the clients every time we do something—for example, when the chemical analysis is done, or when we start the growing process. So, if you start to form a certain relationship—if you make chitchat, and you start to learn who the deceased was, how he died, and who the relatives are—if you feel that you want to make a condolence then, you may, because it’s honest.”

Other protocols include standing outside as the family departs until they are out of view, and delivering the finished diamond by hand inside of a polished wooden box like the one on the table before me. I watched as Willy slowly donned white cotton gloves and in a series of precise gestures unfolded the box without a sound. It opened like a flower to reveal the diamond inside on a little pyramid. “It is special to me when I am able to deliver a diamond in person,” he confided. “We do it in the living room or the kitchen with everyone around the table. It’s a very emotional moment when you are returning a family member who was away for six months. The diamonds always bring back beautiful memories. If there are tears, they are tears of happiness.”

In the laboratory down the hall, the gloves came out again. “We never touch the ashes or the diamonds with our hands,” Willy explained. “It’s too intimate for us.” He gestured towards a row of white canvas covers. “During the process when we’re waiting for the next step, we always cover the remains so that they’re not naked. We do this because we believe that’s how we would like to be treated—not as a material.”

Each set of remains is assigned a reference number, both for discretion and for the emotional health of the employees. “It helps the people working with the ashes to have a certain distance,” Willy said. “For me, the French are the most difficult. They have this philosophy to send a photograph of the deceased along with the urn. It’s difficult to see a girl of nine years. What has she seen of this life?”

To read the continuation of this article, click here.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nature Haiku

Golden sky yawns
Egrets scamper across leaves
Life in a silk fan 

Copper rain drips dreams
Sipping from a bowl of sky
not a drop wasted 

(Published in Black Dahlia, Dec 2010)

Elder Koi shake fins
Chase shadows from the fresh pond
Death is not welcome 

Wildflowers undress
Pink, blue, purple petals mix
A puzzle awaits 

Twirling under May
An expectant mother blooms
Spring's first white tulip

Red poppies appear
dot snowy fields of decay
Melting Winter's ire

Barn owls float on trees
feathers soft as fragile clouds
gold eyes glow like stars

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Woman Come Undone by Ha Kiet Chau

Ha Kiet Chau's chapbook, Woman Come Undone, has finally been published after a year.  I first read her poetry when she submitted poems to Flutter Poetry Journal over a year ago.  I instantly liked her work and when she asked me to write a blurb for her chapbook, I happily obliged.  

Woman Come Undone is published under Mouthfeel Press, is Perfect Bound, 52 pages, and can be purchased for $12.00.

My Review:

Ha Kiet Chau’s chapbook, Woman Come Undone, is a sensual, exquisite journey along the Silk Road of womanhood.  Here, the thoughts and feelings of various women are explored through detailed imagery to include exotic locales and use of metaphor as seen in objects and animals.  This is a book to add to your poetry collection and one that you will want to come back to again and again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

'Bulgarian Indiana Jones' discovers 'vampire grave'

A skeleton pierced with a piece of iron is seen on display during a media event at the National History Museum in Sofia June 14, 2012. This is one of two 700-year-old skeletons discovered with iron rods pierced through their chests. Archaeologists, excavating a monastery near the Black Sea city of Sozopol, discovered the skeletons. (REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov)


Just in time for Halloween, the man known as “Bulgaria’s Indiana Jones” may have unearthed the grave of one of the undead. On Oct. 9, archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov announced that he discovered what he called a “vampire grave” that contains a skeleton with a ploughshare – an iron rod used for a plough – driven through its chest, the Telegraph reports. The grave dates back to the 13thcentury and was discovered at Perperikon, an ancient Thracian city in southern Bulgaria.
Ovcharov’s discovery reveals a gruesome burial ritual that sheds light on superstitions surrounding vampire lore. The skeleton is of a man thought to be in his 40s, and in addition to the metal rod hammered through his chest his left leg was removed and placed beside his body, according to
“We have no doubts that once again we’re seeing an anti-vampire ritual being carried out, Ovcharov told the Telegraph. “Often they were applied to people who had died in unusual circumstances – such as suicide.”
Ovcharov said that, in these rituals, a rod or stake would be rammed through the body in order to prevent an evil individual returning from the grave.
Perperikon isn’t just a site known for things that go bump in the night. Discovered just 20 years ago, the ancient city is thought to be the location of the Temple of Dionysius, the Greek god of wine, fertility, and agriculture. There are a series of vampire graves at the site as well as other unusual findings, according to the Telegraph.
Ovcharov also uncovered the remains of a woman and a young child that were arranged to imitate standard depictions of Christianity’s Virgin Mary and child. Similar to the iron rod being used to protect against alleged vampirism, these bodies were arranged to recreate the recognizable Biblical image as a method to protect against the plague, which was running rampant through the medieval world when the graves were made.
Ovcharov’s discovery is similar to a grave found in the Bulgarian town of Sozopol in 2012. Back then, archeologist Dimitar Nedev, head of the Sozopol Archeological Museum found two skeletons impaled with similar metal rods, according to Archeology.
Just how widespread was a fear of the likes of Dracula terrorizing medieval Bulgarians? Nedev explained that the graves reveal local religious leaders’ emphasis to return to older “pagan” methods for protecting against disease and the supernatural. Nedev said that a Christian religious sect known as Manichean Bogomilism played a very prominent role in Bulgarian religious life in the 13thcentury.
“The Christian rituals practiced then – and now— still included many pagan elements,” Nedev told Archeology. Rituals, like driving a stake through the hearts of alleged vampires, were “particularly well preserved” at Sozopol and other nearby communities, he added.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Page Turners by Kevin T. Johns

Violent Bullies. Broken Homes. Black Magic. KILLER fiction.

From author Kevin T. Johns comes the novel critics are describing as "a crimson-stained love letter to genre fiction" and the first book in a "must read" series.

Nate Bourdain and his friends are thrilled to discover an ancient book of magic spells hidden in their school library--they now have the means to stand up to the villains who make high-school life such a battle. But, when the book's dark magic releases a fictional killer into the real world, the teens must prove they have what it takes to be heroes, or fall as bloody victims in their own horror story turned real.

The Page Turners: Blood is the first book in the Page Turners trilogy: a genre-spanning series sure to please young adult fans of paranormal horror, science-fiction, and fantasy.

Review:  I was a bit hesitant to read this book only because it was described as a YA  paranormal horror, sci-fi, and fantasy and I wasn't sure if it would end up being one of those cheesy books in this genre.  The description did seem interesting, so I thought I would give it a try.  I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The beginning of the book contains maps of the town of Maplewright which I thought was very cool and I could only imagine how much time and effort went into designing each one.  However, I didn't read each one thoroughly because I wanted to get to the story and I always find maps confusing before I actually dive into the storyline.

The first chapter begins with what seems like a tale from the dark ages and I worried that this was the actual story in the book but you soon find out that it's just a novel that main character Nate has been reading.  After that, the book is an adventurous, fun read.  I honestly could not put the book down and read about 1/3 of the book before I finally set it aside.  The story reminded me of the movie Fright Night, mainly because they were battling a vampire.

Nate and his two best friends, Danny and Spenser reminded me so much of my teen son and his group of friends.  There are themes that almost all teens will relate to: bullying, relationships, finding inner strength, and feelings of being an outsider, etc.  The book was different in that the main characters are boys instead of the usual female teen although Danny's younger sister, Diana, eventually becomes part of the group because of her awesome archery skills.  The author ensures that this book will be enjoyed by both genders by incorporating a strong female character.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it flows smoothly and is easy to follow.  The characters are true to life and you can't resist the horror element which has various frightening scenes with the right amount of gore, blood, and grossness (is that a word?).  I would recommend this book to any fan of YA paranormal horror and fantasy.  In fact, I'll be passing this book along to my son and daughter.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Flutter Poetry Journal Resurrected

I'm pleased to announce the inaugural issue of Flutter Poetry Journal which has been resurrected from the cyber ashes of the internet.  The inaugural issue features the hauntingly beautiful poetry of Lindsey Bellosa, Byron Beynon, Valentina Cano, Chelsea Cefalu, Joan Colby, M.J. Iuppa, Michael Lee Johnson, Michael Keshigian, Joan McNerney, James Owens, John Swain, Marianne Szlyk, and Martin Willitts Jr....lucky number 13 poets.

Do flutterby when you have the chance, we'll be waiting beneath October's Monarch sky.