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Category: In the press

538. bombs & anarchists

On 14 Nov 2018 around 17:15—less than an hour before closing time—a bomb went off inside Recoleta Cemetery. Marcelo immediately sent me a message via WhatsApp & within seconds I watched the story unfold on TN’s live YouTube broadcast from my living room in Spain:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, TN Vivo

The explosion occurred in the far left corner of the cemetery at the tomb of Ramón Falcón, & initial reports mentioned one of five home-made pipe bombs exploding… severely injuring one woman who was being attended by an EMT crew onsite. Forensic police arrived to investigate the scene as well as assess any potential threat from unexploded devices. Later that day, the following photos were released via the national news agency, Télam:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

The story wasn’t difficult to put together. The injured woman, 34-year old Anahí Esperanza Salcedo, had been responsible for the bombing & suffered facial damage as well as the loss of three fingers when the device exploded early… apparently while taking a selfie.

Salcedo entered the cemetery with Hugo Alberto Rodríguez, both disguised with wigs & sunglasses. They identify as anarchists & wanted to destroy the tomb of Falcón, who had been assassinated by an anarchist 109 years ago. In the end, the tomb survived while Salcedo remains in critical condition.

Police officials consider this crime linked to another pipe bomb thrown into the front patio of the home of judge Claudio Bonadio later that same day. Bonadio is currently investigating charges of bribery & money laundering involving members of the previous government, including former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The following day federal police raided the anarchists’ base of operations in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Cristóbal & arrested 10 individuals after finding material used to make pipe bombs.

Marcelo went to Recoleta Cemetery to assess the situation two days after the bombing occurred. The first change he noticed is that bags are now being inspected at the entrance gate. While we aren’t sure if this checkpoint will become permanent, be prepared to have your belongings searched until further notice. Marcelo also confirmed the correct time of the bombing, misreported in local media as around 18:00… impossible since the cemetery promptly closes at that time every day. Forensic police were still working the scene during his visit:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, entrance gate, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Marcelo also heard people ask in several different languages where the explosion had taken place. Word had quickly spread about the incident. He’ll return next week for an update, so stay tuned! In the meantime, tombs that are located inside the orange dashed line on the map below cannot be visited. This corresponds to locations numbered 41 to 44 in the PDF guide:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, affected section from bombing

During 19 years of visiting & documenting Recoleta Cemetery, neither Marcelo nor I ever imagined this kind of violence taking place inside. Some speculate that it may be an attempt to disrupt an otherwise calm city preceding the G-20 summit. Whatever the reason, one lesson that Recoleta Cemetery demonstrates through almost 200 years of history is that violence is never the means to an end. And you can’t kill someone twice!

Update (22 Nov 2018): Apparently all cemeteries in Buenos Aires—Recoleta, Chacarita & Flores—will not allow visitors to enter with bags or backpacks, & handbags will be inspected by security. Photo courtesy of Susana Gesualdi:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Susana Gesualdi, notice

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529. una arquitectura para la muerte

Tapa, Una Arquitectura para la Muerte, 1993

References to Recoleta Cemetery appear in some unexpected places, but I’ve always been surprised at the lack of academic research about its development as one of the most recognized & visited spots in Buenos Aires. Not long ago, I obtained a copy of a book titled “Una Arquitectura para la Muerte” (An Architecture for Death) that was published in Spain after a 1991 conference about contemporary cemeteries around the world. This large book compiles all the research from that conference & first became available two years later in 1993.

Recoleta Cemetery got some much-deserved space with two separate articles. The first was written by team of authors—María Rosa Cicciari, Marcelo Huernos, Rubén Lasso & Carla Wainsztok—who worked in conjunction with the Instituto Histórico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. I’m surprised that I never heard of them since I often went to find info at the Instituto Histórico. Anyway, La muerte en el imaginario social en Buenos Aires does its best to favor the less exclusive Chacarita Cemetery but also presents quite a few interesting facts about Recoleta Cemetery that I’ve had trouble confirming exact dates or never knew…

  • Funeral carriages often took a route down Calle Florida to Recoleta Cemetery so everyone could participate in mourning along the most famous street in Buenos Aires.
  • Bodies were wrapped in sheets due to a lack of caskets during the yellow fever epidemic that gave birth to Chacarita Cemetery.
  • The Estación Fúnebre Bermejo existed at the intersection of Calle Ecuador (formerly named Bermejo) & Avenida Corrientes to handle the transfer of the deceased by train to Chacarita, complete with offices & rooms for autopsies.
  • A trolley line for Recoleta Cemetery began service in 1870, prior to the Lacroze line to Chacarita which commenced operation in 1888.
  • The first cremation in Buenos Aires took place due to a cholera epidemic & became a standardized procedure in 1886.
  • A 1923 city ordinance prohibited a public funeral service in Recoleta Cemetery with a later transfer of the deceased to another burial location. Evidently the social status of being buried in Recoleta Cemetery generated a few odd practices like this one.
  • Home wakes continued until the early 20th century, like that of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. They state that funeral homes didn’t really catch on until 1960!

Familia Leloir, architectural diagrams

The second article—Arquitectura funeraria de Buenos Aires, La Recoleta by María Beatriz Arévalo & María del Carmen Magaz—starts with a lengthy history of cemeteries in Spanish territories & the creation of Recoleta Cemetery. The authors then group funeral architecture into trends based either on nationality (English, Italian & French) or by period (Art Nouveau, for example). AfterLife has covered most every topic discussed in the article, but one quote stood out for me… the basis for their research stemmed from a 1989 art history conference that outlined the conditions for every modern cemetery:

Por un lado pasa a ser una reducción simbólica de la ciudad, en segundo término es una galería donde la comunidad conserva la memoria de sus grandes hombres y, por último, es un ámbito donde desarrollar el arte.

On one hand it should be a symbolic reduction of the city, in second place a gallery space where the community preserves the memory of its great men and, lastly, a place for art to develop.

That happens to be the perfect response when anyone asks themselves: why would I visit a cemetery?

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528. vanity fair, 23 jan 2018

Vanity Fair, holiday 2017/2018

Returning to Buenos Aires after decades away, British novelist & biographer Nicholas Shakespeare recently described his observations about Recoleta Cemetery for Vanity Fair:

Directly opposite La Biela is the Recoleta cemetery, where Borges hoped to be laid alongside his parents and grandparents; in fact, he is buried in Geneva—like Graham Greene, whose favourite among his own novels, The Honorary Consul, is set in the Argentina of those years. Rather as Buenos Aires parodies its European origins—flaunting a Harrods, a Claridge’s, a Hurlingham Club and an ugly clock tower modelled on Big Ben—so is Recoleta, in V.S. Naipaul’s words, “a mimic town”.

A beautiful, wounded nation seeking its identity in plagiarized dreams. That is how a walk through Recoleta’s extravagant cemetery makes me think of Argentina. Compressed into marble mausoleums the size of houses are the families who moulded and misshaped the country. Incontestably the best known is Eva Perón, the Generalissimo’s embalmed first wife, whose cult continues to flourish 65 years after her death. Poking from a grille stuffed with roses, a fresh handwritten note from the sharply diminished “Armed Forces” commends “Evita” for “standing up for social rights”.

Embellished with iron roses, a grey bunker houses Argentina’s quintessential dictator, General Manuel de Rosas—“the implacable butcher”, as Borges called him—who died in exile in Southampton in 1877. A journey I never made was with Bruce Chatwin to the dairy farm where Rosas sold milk for two pence a quart, and to see his grave. Chatwin died in the same year, 1989, that Rosas’s remains were repatriated with enormous fanfare to the Recoleta. A riderless horse draped with Rosas’s symbolic red poncho accompanied the casket, alleged by critics to contain the bones of a Blitz-blasted cow. Also in the procession were 5,000 gauchos and members of the security services dressed as members of the Mazorca, Rosas’s dreaded secret police—nicknamed the colorados, after their ponchos—although not many of the estimated two million observers lining the streets knew this. The Mazorca dumped the corpses of their victims over the walls of the Recoleta—as, in copycat style, did Isabelita’s paramilitary successors, the Ford Falcon-driving Triple A.

The authors of this blog are unaware of any dumping of corpses in Recoleta Cemetery by the last military dictatorship. We’ve documented how Mario Firmenich & the Montoneros broke inside to steal the corpse of Pedro Aramburu, but even they left his abandoned casket outside the walls. A visit by Thomas Woodbine Hinchliff in 1863 mentions dumping bodies into a “dreadful hole” by the Mazorca… another claim we have been unable to confirm in Argentine sources. The idea likely comes from Jason Wilson’s compendium of literary references (Buenos Aires: A Cultural and Literary Companion, page 104), but we’ve been unable to confirm any such act.

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526. alfonsín vandalism

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Raúl Alfsonsín, vandalismo, Peronistas

Sadly, two posts in a row deal with damage & destruction inside Recoleta Cemetery. The tomb of former President Raúl Alfonsín was spray painted on 05 Jun 2017 with the pro-Peronista symbol “PV”, Perón vuelve. Alfonín passed away in Mar 2009 after a long battle with lung cancer & was buried with much fanfare, fitting of someone so important in national history (for more info, see the 4-part Death of a President series). This method of showing political disagreement should never be considered acceptable.

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What follows is a translation of a press release from the Télam news agency:

Buenos Aires, June 05

National representative Ricardo Alfonsín (of the Cambiemos-Unión Cívica Radical party) today thanked those who called him concerning the vandalism of his father’s mausoleum located in Recoleta Cemetery & confirmed that he would not accept any candidacy.

After a reunion with Governor María Eugenia Vidal, in which it was rumored that the leader of Buenos Aires province offered him a post, Alfonsín reassured that “the meeting took place & we talked about many things, both sides showed courtesy, kindness & frankness”, but emphasized that he does not want “to be a candidate for an elected position, either in Argentina or in a foreign country”.

In statements to Télam Radio, Alfonsín said that he received calls offering support after news of vandalism of the mausoleum of the deceased ex-President Raúl Alfonsín had been made public.

“In every country around the world there are powerful personalities with anti-democratic ideas who do this kind of thing, which we always must renounce regardless of who is the victim”, he affirmed.

Among those who communicated with the Cambiemos representative are the Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich; the head of the Federal System of Media & Public Content, Hernán Lombardi; the ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; the ex-Minister of Transportation Florencio Randazzo; and the former head of the Cabinet Aníbal Fernández, as well as “all members of the Radical political party”, the Governor of Santa Fe province & the national head of the Socialist Party Antonio Bonfatti.

In this context, Alfonsín complained that the during the period of government under Cambiemos, the UCR party had maintained “a rather passive role which has harmed society” & added that “no one should be surprised, therefore, that disagreements would present themselves”. At the same time he admitted to be “working” so that “in 2019 there will be a Radical party President”.

Photo from the Télam news agency.

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525. statue down


From the Argentine national news agency Télam

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Pedro de Anchorena, acidente

A 30-year old tourist was injured today when he fell along with a statue that he had climbed on in order to take photos in Recoleta Cemetery. Information comes from SAME (Sistema de Atención Médica de Emergencias, the EMTs for Buenos Aires), the Ministry of Environment & Public Space, & from Rivadavia Hospital.

Some witnesses who saw the fall said that it happened around 14:00, &, after identifying the young man as a tourist from the Spanish city of Málaga, they explained that the accident took place when he climbed on one of the two marble sculptures that “guard” the entrance to the Pedro de Anchorena vault.

“The sculpture separated from its base & fell, taking the young man with it”, informed a city government official who assured that there are signs on-site in the cemetery which state “it is forbidden to climb structures”.

According to city government sources, the tourist “is out of danger” after being immediately treated by SAME, who sent the patient to Rivadavia Hospital for evaluation.

“The young man showed early signs of trauma to the thorax & was later evaluated by the emergency room in Rivadavia Hospital”, said the spokesperson for SAME, Alberto Crescenti, just after the accident.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Pedro de Anchorena, acidente

The sculpture that fell “could not have done so by itself. That would have been impossible for a statue like that. Someone must have climbed on it”, said Raúl Rivas, who organizes guided visits & is familiar with the cemetery’s architecture.

According to the guide, “the aged, white marble sculpture, no more than 1.5 meters tall, is one of two female figures in sorrow with a small bouquet of flowers in their hands that ‘guarded’ the entrance of the Pedro de Anchorena vault, a member of the well-known & powerful landowning Argentine family”.

The sculptures that frame the entrance of the Anchorena vault, according to Rivas, have a base that is proportional to the rest of piece, so it “is impossible that it would fall without an external force”.

The Pedro de Anchorena vault is located in the Sector 1 of the cemetery, to the left-hand side after the entrance gate & leading to monuments dedicated to Facundo Quiroga & Sarmiento.

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Marcelo & I struggled to come up with an accurate-but-nonjudgmental title for this post. In the end, this is just one more cultural loss due to stupidity. The accident reminds me of a similar incident in Lisboa last year at the Rossio train station. This should go without saying, but just in case: Please respect Recoleta Cemetery while visiting so its artistic legacy can endure.

Photo credits to news agencies Télam & DyN.

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524. famous visitors

Buenos Aires attracts millions of tourists every year & among those are quite a few celebrities. Whether in BA for promotion, performance or just to relax, many see the city’s top attractions. However, only few have left a public record of their visit to Recoleta Cemetery.

One of the oldest celebrity photos we’ve found online is from Liza Minnelli‘s visit in 1993. Below, she leaves flowers for Eva Perón:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Liza Minnelli

During a Rolling Stones concert tour, Mick Jagger strolled through the cemetery apparently unnoticed in February 2016… except for staff taking photos for his Twitter account:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mick Jagger

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mick Jagger

Ashton Kutcher traveled to Buenos Aires in March 2016 to promote his latest series The Ranch. He really made the rounds, as Armando Besada posted in Instagram:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ashton Kutcher

A surprising omission: Madonna first visited Argentina in 1993 during the Girlie Show World Tour, then returned three years later to film Alan Parker’s version of the musical Evita. Amazingly, no photo ever surfaced of her visiting Eva Perón’s mausoleum. Did she go undercover? After hours? Would that have even been possible? Madonna brought the Sticky & Sweet Tour to Buenos Aires in 2008 & finished the MDNA Tour in 2012 in Argentina. Although she didn’t miss a photo-op with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner & another visit to the Casa Rosada, there has never been a public photo released of Madonna in Recoleta Cemetery.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Madonna, CFK

Did we miss a celebrity? Send a photo along with details, & we’ll add them to this list.

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