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AfterLife Posts

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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527. historic photo 10

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Arturo W. Boote

Photo by Arturo W. Boote, exact date unknown but sometime around the end of the 19th century. From the angle, this photo was likely taken from the adjacent Iglesia de Pilar, perhaps from the bell tower.

Samuel Boote (1844-1921) y Arturo Woods Boote (1861-1936) were brothers, both first generation Argentines of a large English immigrant family. Raised on ranches in the Provincia de Buenos Aires, they eventually moved to the capital & became the most famous photographers of the 1880s. A decade later they had traveled through much of Argentina, leaving a valuable photographic record for us today. By 1900 both brothers left the photography business to pursue other ventures, but at least they left a reminder of what they experienced at Recoleta Cemetery over 100 years ago.

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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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523. familia de emilio saint

Recoleta Cemetery, Emilio Saint, Águila

Roasting coffee beans & making chocolate turned French immigrant Abel Saint into one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Buenos Aires. His business which began in 1880 grew quickly & after a couple of moves around Buenos Aires, the main factory for El Águila settled in the neighborhood of Barracas. Unfortunately Abel passed away two years before the factory opened in 1894, leaving the company to his son, Emilio.

Recoleta Cemetery, Emilio Saint, Águila

In 1905—less than ten years after taking charge of the company—Emilio launched another factory in Uruguay as well as began exporting chocolate to Paraguay. Águila continued to diversify under Emilio’s direction (with over 100 different products!) but gained fame from making chocolate tablets that could be broken into bars… perfect for the classic hot chocolate beverage called a submarino.

Recoleta Cemetery, Emilio Saint, Aguila chocolate

For most of the 20th century, Águila did very well & became a hallmark, national brand. But diet fads of the 1980s reduced the consumption of chocolate, & the company was sold to food industry giant Arcor in 1993. However Arcor maintained the Águila brand, & it continues to be one of the most popular chocolates in Argentina. Much of the main factory has been demolished, but a few remnants exist to keep the memory of the Saint family alive:

Buenos Aires, Barracas, El Águila, chocolate

Buenos Aires, Barracas, El Águila, chocolate

Buenos Aires, Barracas, El Águila, chocolate

Besides his involvement with the family business, Emilio Saint became president of the Automóvil Club Argentino from 1931 until his death four years later. He oversaw one of the most difficult eras for ACA, following the 1929 world economic crisis. Under Saint’s leadership, the club transformed from being composed of purely elite members to include anyone who had a passion for cars. Emilio also invested heavily in real estate, commissioning one of the most remarkable Art Deco skyscrapers in the city: the Torre Saint. An upper-level was dedicated to rooms for the tenants’ personal drivers… easy to understand given Emilio’s love of cars!

Buenos Aires, Once, Torre Saint, Art Deco

Buenos Aires, Once, Torre Saint, Art Deco

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