More Selections from Top Ten Buenos Aires (edition 2002)

kevin 009

1. Cemetario Recoleta

The Lonely Planet brags that ¨perhaps no other place says as much about Argentinian society¨ as the Cemetario Recoleta, where Argentina´s rich and well-connected dead repose.  Argentinians have a certain obsession with death, and it is on full display in this most unique and spectacular place.

The cemetery is a veritable city, narrow streets with intersections and cul-de-sacs, streetlights and major thoroughfares.  Names of the dead fill in for numbers in addresses.  Peering down one path (avenue?) from the main courtyard (town plaza?), one expects to see signs hung for the general store, pub, and barbership.  Each mausoleum contains an entryway with a door, some with a series of steps reminiscent of a brownstone from an eastcoast city.  It is a city not of brown, however, but of white and gray marble.  Ornate columns and domes and statuettes adorn most, while a cross and a bas relief plaque garnish the simplest.  Where Buenos Aires boasts pavement and cobblestone, Recoleta shows brown tile, enjoyed by a fleet of cats lying in the sun.

Evita has one of the least impressive tombs, though certainly the most popular.  I can´t help but wonder whether anyone outside of Argentina and the most avid Latin American history buffs would care if not for the musical and Madonna.


Selections from Top Ten Buenos Aires (2002 edition)

6. A Walk Downtown

The second stop on my tour was the Plaza Mayor, fronted by the Casa Rosada (Pink House), where the president lives and where Evita (and Madonna) made her famous speeches from the balcony to throbbing crowds.  The Plaza was curiously divided by a giant barricade, I suppose to quell protestors, of which I saw several groups during my short time there.

One group with banners requested better care for veterans of the war with Britain in the Falkland Islands (¨two bald men fighting over a comb,¨ Borges wrote).  It reminded me of the fatigue and tatoo-clad Vietnam Veterans selling bumper stickers in front of the Mall pond in Washington, D.C.

Another interesting sight were the various and sundry plaques remembering those who disappeared (¨los desaparacidos¨) during the reign of the military junta which ended with the aforementioned war in 1982.  Seems like most city plazas have some sort of monument, albeit small, to the memory of disappeared lawyers, or teachers, or other specific poplulation group.  Apparently, on Thursdays, the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo still march for a full account of atrocities committed during the ¨Dirty War.¨

Also notable are the number of homeless, seemingly unmolested, in the parks and plazas of Bs. As.  In most manifestations I´m familiar with, the transient must stay versatile and compact, always leary, always vulnerable.  They must e able to move quickly if perstered by authorities, or if in danger.  What I saw were homeless comfortable in their skin, in their digs.  Large, queen-sized mattresses with blanketsñ laundry strung up on tree branches, unbothered by the light of day, sleeping through the noon day sun, pots, pans, cooking utensils in cabinets of trees and shrubbery.

Disclaimer: Though I have slept on the street and seek some solidarity in vulnerability, I am ignorant of most aspects of street life.  I have a plank in my eye, if you will.  In addition to a huge cultural gap, I have a lifestyle gap, of sorts, so I can´t pretend to have any real understanding.  The best I can do is observe similarities and differences.  I notice a difference in the hassle given to the homeless here.  In my experience, homeless in the U.S. have no place to be.  Here, at a cursory glance, it seems they do.

I continued through the Plaza to the Catedral Metropolitana, which houses the tomb of José de San Martín.  After liberating, Argentina, Chile, Peru and part of Ecuador, he met with the liberator of the northern part of South America, Simon Bolívar in Guayaquil.  Nobody knows what transpired, but San Martín immediately left the continent for good; it wasn´t until his death that he returned to Argentina.  Today he is Argentina´s most revered hero.  To have been a fly on the wall in that meeting…

I took a cafe con leche and a churro at the Cafe Tortoni, favorite coffee joint of Julio Luis Borges and Carlos Gardel, est. 1893.  Currently, it´s home to mostly overpriced victuals and tourists.  Reminiscent of the Pushkin Cafe in Moscow, it is ornate, uppity, and still worth the visit.

Next door is the Academía Nacional de Tango, where my new German friend, Katharina, and I would meet for classes several times over the next week so that I could stomp on her feet in my hiking boots.