Palm Springs, California. Flat land surrounded by the San Bernardino and the San Jacinto mountains that seem to rise up out of the ground. It’s hot. Bloody hot: 46 degrees in the shade (116 F). Posted signs give you an idea of how old the population is and yet when driving around, I didn’t spot any cemeteries. It took a while to reason why. There are no headstones. The only thing that gives it away is the wall surrounding a seemingly empty field.
We came across the Wellwood Murray cemetery, built for the first white settlers in Palm Springs. Wellwood Murray Jnr was the first to occupy this small plot of land in 1894. Once in there, his parents allowed other white settlers to be buried alongside him and in 1914 WM Snr, the pioneer hotelier, was laid to rest. He had opened the first hotel in the area, the Palm Springs Hotel, and set the town on the road to fame and fortune.
A ribbon of towns wends its way through Coachella Valley: Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Bermuda Dunes, La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, Thermal and Mecca with barely a discernable difference visible to the novice eye. Over in Cathedral City, on Ramon Road lies Desert Memorial Park, another quiet cemetery with nare a headstone in sight. Home to the some more famous internments (as the guiding map so eloquently puts it), I stood for a while over Frank Sinatra’s grave.
Once, in London, waiting for afternoon tea in the Ritz, I sat near the pianist. He asked if I’d like him to play something for me. I asked if he knew any Sinatra. Knew him? He’d played with the man himself in South America. He asked what I’d like him to play. I told him to choose. He started playing I’ve got you under my skin.
Some weeks later, I was in a pub near Waterloo. The owner, a karaoke-loving freemason, told me he’d sing me a song. What would I like? I asked if he knew any Sinatra. He said he knew just the song for me. And yes, he started in on I’ve got you under my skin.
Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous – and while I have no idea what He was trying to say to me, this song remains a favourite.
Used to the more ornate and decorative European cemeteries I’ve visited, these two were rather quiet and somewhat sad. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in all those places I never got to visit…