It is cheaper to
live extravagantly all your life than to be buried in Recoleta.
common Argentine saying
Susan doesn’t really like graveyards,
so we don’t visit them all that often. I don’t usually
raise a fuss about it since I’m not a graveyard fanatic,
but I do like to wander amidst the bones once in a while. Interestingly,
the people you usually see visiting graveyards run an incredible
gamut, from intellectual-looking, tweed-wearing types to tattooed
kids wearing all black and sporting a variety of painful-looking
piercings. But back to the point, there was no way I was going
to let us miss the legendary Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
As I sometimes do, I had purposely avoided
looking at pictures of the cemetery beforehand (see cambodia:
not WAT i expected). So, as we walked towards the gates,
I thought to myself, “Hmm, I’ve seen quite a few cemeteries
and tombs and mausoleums. I’m sure this one ranks near the
top, but it probably won’t blow my socks off.” Um…actually…
yes, it will.
one of many
magnificent "streets" at Recoleta Cemetery
First off, “cemetery” is an understatement;
they should call it something like “city of the dead”
or “the Paris of cemeteries.” There are certainly
cemeteries that occupy more square feet, but I’ve never
seen one as impressive as this. Like a city (of the living), it’s
complete with wide thoroughfares and small alleyways running between
the ominous-looking tombs. The tombs themselves are actually small
buildings, fantastically decorated or imposingly stark. It is
at once amazing and spooky, even in direct sunlight (admittedly,
the shadows were getting fairly long by the time we arrived).
Susan tended to stay in the middle of the “road”
(maximizing the distance between the tombs on either side), but
being fascinated, I slinked along the edges, curiously peering
in to the “lives” of the dead. One of the first tombs
I examined closely revealed a further secret. It was like an iceberg;
most of it was actually underground with a skinny spiral staircase
leading deep into the dark. The above-ground portion is about
15 feet tall, with glass French doors, slightly ajar and covered
with cobwebs, held loosely closed by a chain locked with a big
padlock right out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Susan pointed out that
the whole set up looks more like it might be more about keeping
something IN rather than keeping us out. Nice. As I have my head
stuck through the door (where one of the panes is missing) trying
to peer down the stairs, I suddenly feel something brush against
the back of my legs, raising the hairs on my back. Of course,
it’s a jet black cat. No, really, it is.
The cats are actually considered good luck.
Relatives of the deceased leave food for them near the graves.
Nonetheless, this lends an even spookier air to the whole place.
Susan at a
Walking around more, and peeking in to many
more tombs reveals that they are rarely for a single individual,
but instead usually for whole families. Money alone is not enough
to get you into Recoleta; you need an important surname (something
like Arambura, Avellandeda, Martinez de Hoz, or Sarmiento –
none of which sounded all that familiar to us, but obviously they
hold considerable weight). Many important Argentines rest here,
including Eva Peron (also known as Evita, a famous Argentine political
figure – a woman who rose from humble beginnings to become
a famous radio personality, and then wife of the Argentine president).
On a related note, Argentine national figures are honored on the
date of their death (instead of the date of their birth).
A few hours later, finally submitting to the
less and less comfortable looks from my wife (she really was being
a good sport), we took our leave. Back to our apartment, a good
bit smaller than some of these magnificent tombs, but decidely