Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wandering Among the Dead. Recoleta Cemetery.


Greetings from Buenos Aires! Today, was our first day in this wonderful city! I so enjoyed my day, it almost made me forget about Chile.....almost :-)

We arrived very late last night so there was no chance to stock up the fridge with food for breakfast.  We had the perfect excuse to go out and look for a place to eat.

Our apartment is located in the Recoleta neighborhood, a very upscale area in the city.  Even so, I had read that the spit stain scam that I was victim to in Santiago was also a popular method for harassing tourists here so I decided to not take any chances with having my dSLR stolen so for I decided that for our entire time in the city, I would only take  pictures with my Olympus point and shoot camera.  I have to admit, it took quite a bit of getting used to but in the end, I think I did okay.


Anyway, back to Recoleta.  We had our first views of our neighborhood this morning.  It most certainly looks like a fusion of Latin and European.  The architecture of the buildings is definitely European influenced.  Unlike Santiago,  it looks and feels like a more upscale city.  You noticed it even in the way people were dressed.  As Bro noticed, we saw quite a few people dressed in athleisure wear......with some actually jogging.  For us,  it was a very warm day.  After all, it is the height of summer here and temps are well into the 80's.  It was nice to finally be able to shed our jackets and hiking shoes.  My feet are happily sitting in a pair of sandals!


We passed by a few small grocery stores where we can pick up some fresh produce as well as a  butcher.  I see some Argentinian beef in my future!  Luckily, we also strolled by several bakeries (which I kept in mind for later revisiting) that if you didn't know you were in  South America, you might think you were in France or Italy except of course, the offerings are definitely Latin in flavor like the croissants filled with guava paste.  I was intrigued by the super large sized , multi-layer sandwiches (slightly smaller than a 8"x11" size piece of paper) that were served up on super thin slices of crustless white bread.  These are known as sandwiches de miga.  The olive and egg one was calling to me as was the ham (?) and cheese one.  But since, we're just starting our day, I didn't buy anything.  But we both agreed we would be back later!   

       
We eventually found a place serving up food and got ourselves a quick bite.  When the check came, we were reminded we were back in the big city.  I miss the cheap eats of Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales!


When I was researching accommodations in Buenos Aires, I only knew of one neighborhood and that was Recoleta.  Why?  Because I knew about the famous cemetery, of the same name, located here.  So the cemetery was the top of the list of places I wanted to visited.  After breakfast, I charged Bro with getting us there.    It was getting really hot and humid. We kept looking for the shady side of the street to walk on and smartly, I had put our water bottles into the freezer last night so we were well equipped with cold water to chill down our insides with.

Even though Bro had a map in hand, we had a bit of a challenge orienting ourselves on the city streets but thankfully, Argentinians are very helpful and with a few locals pointing us in the right direction, we eventually found our way there.  Luckily, we crossed paths with some American tourists who stopped us to ask if we knew where the stop for the Hop On Hop Off bus was located and we didn't.  In exchange, I asked if they knew where the entrance to cemetery was located and they did!!  I had fear that we would yet again walk all the way around the huge cemetery to only find that the entrance was just a short distance away, in the other direction, from our starting point.  Not that we've ever done that before....hello Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden.

 

The history of the Recoleta Cemetery dates back to the 18th centry when the austere Augustinian Order of Recollects established a convent and church on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The church is still there, and worth a visit. Less than a hundred years later, the order was disbanded in Argentina, and the vegetable garden of the convent became the first pubic cemetery, the Cementerio del Norte. The dead were not buried but held in mausoleums above ground.


As yellow fever broke out in downtown Buenos Aires, culminating in the epidemic of 1871, wealthier citizens moved north to safer ground, and the status of the district rose. The cemetery was remodeled in 1880.                  

Recoleta Cemetery reminds me very much of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  No doubt i t is one of the world’s most extraordinary graveyards, with over 6,400 grand mausoleums resembling Gothic chapels, Greek temples, fairytale grottoes and elegant little houses.  There's also a lot of beautiful funerary sculptures and plaques here.









We walked through just one small part of the cemetery, stopping to admire the tombs of two of the most famous people buried here - Eva Perón and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento,an Argentine activist, intellectual, writer, statesman and the seventh President of Argentina.  Reading the description of the cemetery in the guidebook, Bro rattled off the names of some other notable people but we didn't recognize any of them so we didn't go in search of their mausoleums or tombs.  Not that we recognized Sarmiento but it just so happened that we stumbled upon his burial spot first.

When Sarmiento died in Paraguay at the age of 77, a soaring obelisk crowned with a huge condor was erected to mark his tomb.


Sarmiento's tomb is quiet something  - the obelisk, the wall of commemorative plaques, the canary palm trees, etc.  Apparently, Sarmiento  designed his ostentatious tomb himself before his death.


We noticed the carved stone plaque depicting Sarmiento surrounded by children; he is remembered for his efforts to promote education for Argentine children and women.



No one goes to Recoleta cemetery without a visit to Eva Perón's  (aka Evita’s) grave. By Recoleta standards, however, it is quite nondescript as it is in her family's mausoleum.


Three years after former First Lady of Argentina died of cancer in 1952, her body was removed by the Argentine military in the wake of a coup that deposed her husband, President Juan Perón. The body then went on a transatlantic odyssey for nearly twenty years before finally being returned to the Duarte family mausoleum in Recoleta Cemetery.


She now lies in a crypt five meters underground, heavily fortified to ensure that no one can disturb the remains of Argentina’s most beloved and controversial First Lady. 



I find cemeteries to be incredibly peaceful places.  When we happened upon the bench, it was the perfect spot to sit and rest a bit.  It was a super hot and humid summer day and walking about in the sun saps my energy.  Even Bro let out a yawn :-)









There is also a monument that was erected in memory of the Argentine soldiers who died in the Argentine/Paraguayan War.










This monument was one of the larger ones. It belongs to the family of Luis Federico Leloir  (1906-1987), an Argentine physician and biochemist who received the 1970 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


As I walked past Leloir's monument, I noticed the decoration underneath the cupola.  Oh, how I wished I had my dSLR zoom lens with me!


It wasn't easy taking the photo with my Olympus but I managed to get a decent shot of the decoration.   If you zoom in on the photo, you can see it's actually a tile mosaic.  I would expect to see this quality of artwork in a church but for a family museum, it's incredible!








After Recoleta, it was time to hit up a few of the places on Bro's must see list for Argentina -  the gardens!