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Category: Literati

501. florencio varela

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Florencio Varela

Florencio Varela was born in Buenos Aires in 1807 (pre-independence), with his father passing away when he was only 11 years old. As a child, he earned a grant to attend the Unión del Sur school, recently founded by General Juan Martín de Pueyrredón. His university studies began four years later, & in 1827 he obtained a doctorate in Law.

While studying, Varela wrote his first literary piece & was published in newspapers edited by his older brother, the famous poet Juan Cruz Varela. Florencio’s brother also inspired Unitarian ideas that led him to leave Argentina in 1829 after Lavalle ordered the execution of Manuel Dorrego. Complicated times.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Florencio Varela

Exiled in Montevideo, Varela married Justa Cané, had 11 children & spent most of his time working as a lawyer. But during this period, Varela came to be known as much for his literary talent as for his flair for politics. He participated in early elections in Uruguay, supporting Fructuoso Rivera over General Manuel Oribe who shared ideas similar to those of Juan Manuel de Rosas.

In 1843 while Montevideo remained under siege by Oribe, Varela was sent to Europe in an attempt to obtain English & French support against the growing influence of Rosas. The UK turned a deaf ear to Varela although he took advantage of the trip to visit museums, monuments & factories. Later in Paris, he met with Alphonse Thiers, & the French Congress agreed to put the struggles in the Río de la Plata on their agenda.

In the French capital, he also conversed with the aging General José de San Martín & met Louis Daguerre who explained to Varela details of the latest invention: photography. He brought back to the Río de la Plata one of the first early cameras. The daguerrotype below is of Varela & his daughter, María, taken by an unknown author in 1847.

Florencia Varela, daguerrotype

Immediately after returning to Montevideo, Varela founded the newspaper “El Comercio del Plata,” fighting Rosas from its pages & supporting European intervention in the region. Miguel Cané (father) & Valentín Alsina collaborated with Varela, & Alsina would become editor after Varela’s death.

On 20 Mar 1848, Florencio Varela was stabbed in the back & murdered. His assassin declared on trial that he had been sent by Oribe’s men. Interestingly enough, Florencio Varela’s ashes lie among many members of his family, but his wife is not here. After the assassination of Varela, Justa Cané married again—to Doctor Andrés Somellera—and her remains are in that family’s vault. Justa survived Varela by more than half a century, passing away in 1910.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Florencio Varela

One of the most populated areas of the Province of Buenos Aires commemorates the reporter since 1891. In 1883, that same province also issued a bill with portraits of Valentín Alsina & Florencio Varela with the value of 2 gold pesos.

1883 billete 2 pesos florencio varela

The currency shown above is courtesy of Billetes Argentinos.

494. “La Recoleta”

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Marcelo Metayer

Jorge Luis Borges often wandered the walkways of Recoleta Cemetery (along with his friend & fellow writer Adolfo Bioy Casares), but his prediction of being buried there never came true. The cemetery, however, makes a remarkable appearance as the topic of one of his first published poems, La Recoleta… appearing in the 1923 collection Fervor de Buenos Aires. Below is the original text in Spanish followed by an English translation found online by Robert Mezey & Richard Barnes.

Convencidos de caducidad
por tantas nobles certidumbres del polvo,
nos demoramos y bajamos la voz
entre las lentas filas de panteones,
cuya retórica de sombra y de mármol
promete o prefigura la deseable
dignidad de haber muerto.

Made certain of impermanence
by so many noble witnesses of dust,
we linger with hushed voices
between the stately rows of mausoleums,
whose rhetoric of shade and marble
promises or foreshadows the appealing
dignity of having died.

Bellos son los sepulcros,
el desnudo latín y las trabadas fechas fatales,
la conjunción del mármol y de la flor
y las plazuelas con frescura de patio
y los muchos ayeres de a historia
hoy detenida y única.

Beautiful, these sepulchers,
the naked Latin and the linked and fatal dates,
flowers touching marble and
the little plazas cool and fresh as a courtyard,
the myriads yesterdays of a story
now cut short and unique.

Equivocamos esa paz con la muerte
y creemos anhelar nuestro fin
y anhelamos el sueño y la indiferencia.
Vibrante en las espadas y en la pasión
y dormida en la hiedra,
sólo la vida existe.

We confuse this peace with death
and we think we long for the end
when all we long for is indifference and sleep.
Vibrant in swords, tremulous in passion,
asleep in the ivy,
life is all there is.

El espacio y el tiempo son normas suyas,
son instrumentos mágicos del alma,
y cuando ésta se apague,
se apagarán con ella el espacio, el tiempo y la muerte,
como al cesar la luz
caduca el simulacro de los espejos
que ya la tarde fue apagando.

Time and space are but the forms it takes,
the magic instruments of the soul,
and when it is snuffed out,
as when the light dies
time & space will be snuffed out with it,
death will be snuffed out,
the semblance in the mirror expires,
which the twilight was already snuffing out.

Sombra benigna de los árboles,
viento con pájaros que sobre las ramas ondea,
alma que se dispersa entre otras almas,
fuera un milagro que alguna vez dejaran de ser,
milagro incomprensible,
aunque su imaginaria repetición
infame con horror nuestros días.

Kindly shade of trees,
bird-streaked wind that ripples through the branches,
soul dispersing itself into other souls,
it must have been a miracle that on a day those souls left off existing,
a miracle that passeth understanding,
even though its imagined repetition
stains our days with horror.

Estas cosas pensé en la Recoleta,
en el lugar de mi ceniza.

These thoughts came to me in La Recoleta,
in the place of my ashes.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Marcelo Metayer

Photos courtesy of Marcelo Metayer.

466. josé hernández

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José Hernández

In 1834, José Rafael Hernández y Pueyrredón was born in the Province of Buenos Aires. His parents & relatives had property near Buenos Aires, so he spent most of his childhood in the big city. At the age of 9, his mother passed away. Diagnosed with respiratory problems, doctors recommended a change of climate for Hernández. He went to live with his father who ran ranches for Juan Manuel de Rosas… a great opportunity to learn the gaucho lifestyle.

Hernández began a military career in the 1850s. On & off, he participated in many of the decisive battles to determine if Buenos Aires would become the capital of Argentina. But a career in journalism lured Hernández away from the military. Already an established member of the literary community, his greatest work began to be published in 1872 as a newspaper series under the title “Martín Fierro.”

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José Hernández

Combining gaucho folklore & romantic imagery, Martín Fierro became immediately popular for its authentic tone, first-person narrative & innovative use of language. The work became a fundamental piece of Argentine identity & by the time of its 11th edition in 1879, Hernández penned a popular sequel titled “La Vuelta de Martín Fierro.”

José Hernández passed away in 1886. Martín Fierro has been adapted in many formats since then, & many Argentines continue to identify with this classic piece of literature. Both texts can be found here, & it is often presented in comic format for a younger audience:

José Hernández, Martín Fierro

Despite his contribution to national identity, the tomb of José Hernández is rarely visited these days. It was made a National Historic Monument in 1946, & the following plaque was placed in 1964 on the 130th anniversary of his birth:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José Hernández

453. antonio zinny

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Antonio Zinny

There’s no better example of how space is at a premium in Recoleta Cemetery than the crypt of Antonio Zinny, tucked neatly at the end of a diagonal avenue. The family managed to pack a nice memorial in a very limited space:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Antonio Zinny

Born in Gibraltar in 1821, Zinny arrived in Buenos Aires in 1842 to complete a law degree he’d begun in Spain. After a brief period in Corrientes & working at several newspapers, Zinny returned to Buenos Aires. He is remembered for founding a few schools, but Zinny seemed to have found his true calling as a historian while organizing national archives.

Sifting through Argentina’s early days inspired Zinny to write the first provincial histories ever published. Another significant contribution was compiling all the early newspapers printed in Argentina from Viceroyal times until the Rosas era (1776-1852)… no small accomplishment given that many were only printed locally & had a limited audience. It’s amazing that Zinny isn’t more recognized today.

Zinny passed away in 1890, but this crypt took some time to be built. The socialite magazine Caras y Caretas published a lengthy article in July 1907 (No. 458) about the dedication service. They even included a photograph of sculptor Alejo Joris alongside his bust of Zinny:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Antonio Zinny, Caras y Caretas

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Antonio Zinny, Caras y Caretas

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Antonio Zinny

In 1921, fellow immigrants from Gibraltar donated a plaque on the 100th anniversary of Zinny’s birth. I wonder if Zinny formed part of the Asociación Calpense de Socorros Mutuos?

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Antonio Zinny

452. ángel de estrada

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

Born in Buenos Aires in 1840, the first Ángel de Estrada came from a long line of wealthy landowners & helped found the Sociedad Rural Argentina at the age of 26. His family connections plus large amounts of cash helped Ángel become a successful businessman. In 1869, he established a publishing house, the Editorial Estrada, which still exists today as part of the Macmillan Group. Many of his later ventures would have to do with publishing, including the first paper factory in Argentina & the production of elements for printing presses. Eventually, De Estrada would provide many of the educational materials needed for the rapidly growing nation. Ángel de Estrada passed away in 1918.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

Perhaps his son, also named Ángel de Estrada, is better known because of the body of work he left behind. De Estrada (hijo) was born in 1872 in Buenos Aires & became a recognized novelist & poet… very fitting given his father’s legacy. He often traveled to Europe & was inspired by classic Greek & Roman literature as well as works of the Renaissance. In 1923, a boat accident just off the shore of Rio de Janeiro ended his career prematurely. The son’s upper-class connections would be remembered by a plaque from the Liga Patriótica Argentina:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

One of the tallest mausoleums in Recoleta Cemetery, its placement among the long rows of the southeast section makes it difficult to appreciate & to photograph:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

Two separate entrances, one to the altar & another to the crypt below, are gated & prevent visitors from appreciating the interiors:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

But keen observers will note that the decoration was inspired by the cemetery’s entrance gate… almost a carbon copy:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ángel de Estrada

446. macedonio fernández

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Macedonio Fernández

Born in 1874, Macedonio Fernández led a fairly standard life where he studied & practiced law, had four children & published various poems. But in 1920 his wife passed away, he left his children in the care of his siblings & began anew. The following year, the family of Jorge Luis Borges returns to Argentina after an extended stay in Europe… Macedonio & the father of Borges had been lifelong friends & this friendship was passed on to Borges himself.

Borges & Macedonio were often on the same wavelength, chatting endlessly about reality itself. These conversations about metaphysics would emerge 20 years later in the writings of Borges in the 1940’s. Literary circles debate if Borges would have ever developed his characteristic style without the influence of Macedonio, & Borges often credited his tutor for fashioning his intellect. They likely created each other.

Macedonio continued to write until his death in 1952. Borges said a few words at Macedonio’s funeral in Recoleta Cemetery, remembering his grand sense of humor:

Las mejores posibilidades de lo argentino —la lucidez, la modestia, la cortesía, la íntima pasión, la amistad genial— se realizaron en Macedonio Fernández, acaso con mayor plenitud que en otros contemporáneos famosos. Macedonio era criollo, con naturalidad y aun con inocencia, y precisamente por serlo, pudo bromear (como Estanislao del Campo, a quien tanto quería) sobre el gaucho y decir que éste era un entretenimiento para los caballos de las estancias.

The best possibilities of that which is Argentine—lucidity, modesty, courtesy, intimate passion, wonderful friendship—existed in Macedonio Fernández, perhaps more fully than in other famous contemporaries. Macedonio was a true product of this land, natural & still innocent, & precisely for that reason, could joke (like Estanislao del Campo, who he loved so much) about the gaucho & say that they were merely entertainment for horses.