Posts about Operation

383. tombs for sale

29 Jan 2010

Mercado Libre ad

Something perhaps not all visitors realize is that Recoleta Cemetery is not a museum with permanent exhibits. Burials & ceremonies still occur & although there is something built on every square meter, it remains possible to find a burial spot there. According to real estate agents in the area, between 10-20% of the cemetery’s vaults are always for sale at any given time. In other words between 500-1,000 lots… quite a large number.

But Recoleta is not cheap… not the neighborhood nor its famous cemetery. An easy way to understand its relative cost is by looking at the rates charged by the city government for a burial niche. In Chacarita & Flores, the other large cementeries in Buenos Aires [also administered by the city], a first row niche costs 55 pesos per year & in Recoleta they charge 398 pesos… 720% more!

The same kind of price scheme applies to vaults. The majority are discreetly sold by real estate agencies in the area—obviously a “for sale” sign would never appear on a vault—but they can be purchased online through sites like Mercado Libre [the Argentine equivalent of eBay], & a greater price difference between cemeteries can be seen. A vault with 18 coffin beds costs US$ 16,000 in Chacarita & US$ 39,000 in Recoleta. The ads get your attention: “wrought-iron door, chapel with double altar, stained glass, marble staircase.” Luxurious. Although even that is not as expensive as it gets. There are vaults for sale which cost up to US$ 150,000.

Of course the largest & most famous vaults are priceless… & in those cases the family usually does everything possible to hold on to them. If anyone dreams about ending their days in Recoleta Cemetery, the only available option is to find a mid- to lower price range vault.

375. caretakers

11 Jan 2010

Vista, Recoleta Cemetery

In spite of its grandeur, Recoleta Cemetery is not very large. It is only as big as four city blocks, but more than 4,700 tombs & mausoleums can be found among its narrow walkways. Smaller plots have only one coffin while larger ones can have more than 50. To maintain them all—checking drainage pipes, fixing floors, trimming trees & an endless list of other chores—there are some 65 caretakers… very nice people, passionate about the cemetery & who in several occasions act as guides for the unavoidable tourist who wants to know the quickest way to the tomb of Eva Perón.

A simple bit of math reveals that each caretaker has the responsiblity to maintain about 70 tombs, large or small.  Not all of those tombs are cleaned or cared for since some families do not pay the corresponding maintenance fee—according to the official Buenos Aires city government website currently 48 pesos or about US$ 12.50 per square meter. Tombs not paid for are neglected by caretakers. The reason, according to one of the cemetery workers, is simple: each caretaker receives as their salary a percentage of what the tomb owner pays to the city government. And in many cases, due to the number of mausoleums in any particular sector which pay no taxes, the money provided to caretakers per month is very little… less than 500 pesos or US$ 130 at the current exchange rate.

Tools of the trade, Recoleta Cemetery

Some of the biggest vaults, like that of the Familia Leloir, also pay the aguinaldo (a year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s salary) to the city which ends up going to the caretaker. In addition, some families give extra cash directly to the caretaker to ensure better maintenance… a tip of sorts.

Caretakers appear everywhere in the cemetery, visible at any time of day. They are easily recognized by their gray workclothes & their characteristic way of referring to the cemetery:  the capacity of a vault is measured in “beds,” not coffins, & the dead who occupy them are “tenants.”

What unites them, as mentioned in the beginning of this post, is their love for Recoleta Cemetery. And their dream, their personal utopia, might just be reaching the status of the most famous caretaker of them all: David Alleno, the only cemetery worker who is buried there.

349. map development 7

11 Nov 2009

Here’s a preview of things to come:

Map development 7, PDF Recoleta Cemetery

Map development 7, PDF Recoleta Cemetery

I know I’ve been promising this forever, but my life from February until now was spinning out of control. Only now do I have the time & energy to finish this project… hopefully making it part of something even larger. Stay tuned for that. Once a few design issues are resolved & the text revised, the only PDF guide to Recoleta Cemetery should be ready by mid-December consisting of approximately 20 to 25 pages.

Naturally it will have sections about history, symbolism, a walking route with descriptions of 70 tombs, the complete story of how Eva Perón finally came to rest there & a few urban myths… basically an abbreviated version of this blog to carry with you while inside:

Map development 7, PDF Recoleta Cemetery

Map development 7, PDF Recoleta Cemetery

Map development 7, PDF Recoleta Cemetery

Thanks for your patience!

Read the complete story: Part one, two, three, four, five & six. The PDF guidebook is now available.

346. facelift

28 Aug 2009

Rufina Cambacérès, Recoleta Cemetery

The tomb of Rufina Cambacérès underwent restoration in July 2008. She looks even more attractive than before now that the scaffolding has been removed.

318. major repairs

20 Mar 2009

Major repairs, Recoleta Cemetery

301. new sidewalks

14 Feb 2009

New sidewalks, Recoleta Cemetery

Back in Buenos Aires after living 7 months in Sydney, the biggest change on my first return visit to the cemetery was obvious before I even walked inside. New sidewalks are being installed around the perimeter, & it’s about time. When I left BA in July 2008, mayor Mauricio Macri had begun peppering the streets with big, yellow signs for public works… probably because he had little visible evidence of his administration after 7 months in office.

Although I never posted about it, one thing that upset me most about the city government was the neglect of access to the cemetery. Damaged, purplish cement—often stained & reeking from garbage deposited by the strip of restaurants across the street—was the first impression millions of tourists had of Recoleta Cemetery. Good riddance:

New sidewalks, Recoleta Cemetery

According to signage, the project will take 8 months & has a budget of almost 9 million pesos. Currently that’s about U$S 2.5 million—a huge investment. The company responsible for sidewalk installation (Cunumi) is the same one currently used for the restoration of plazas & parks. What a huge contract that must have been. At least they use the same tiles chosen by previous administrations & help give Buenos Aires a more uniform look:

New sidewalks, Recoleta Cemetery

New sidewalks, Recoleta Cemetery

I was also glad to see that the gingko trees planted during ex-mayor Telerman’s attempt to green BA were still alive & being protected. Gingkos are rarely seen in BA & will add a nice touch to the cemetery in a few years.