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:
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:
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.
Neglected by ADACRE & in the process of moving temporarily to Australia, I removed my map for sale from the internet. If they didn’t need the assistance, so be it. Their less than lukewarm response did little to encourage further correspondence. But I still wanted to get the word out about the highlights of Recoleta Cemetery. So in the midst of packing, I began making a master map which I could use for any future project that came to mind.
It involved returning to the cemetery… a lot. During the first half of 2008 I went through 10,000+ photos, matched corresponding tombs to their locations & documented everything possible. I also wanted to maintain this blog while in Australia & had to plan for that. My apartment looked like a map explosion for several weeks:
Most visits involved correcting info & fine-tuning the previous map. Counting pavement tiles, confirming angles & filming videos to mark exact locations may not be fun, but the end result was worth it:
Stay tuned for the next release: a 20-page PDF handbook with information about the cemetery’s history, the most interesting family vaults (approximately 70 in an easy-to-follow route), symbolism, & the complete story of Eva Perón’s post-mortem travels.
With an expected release of March 2009, the handbook will be the most complete guide to Recoleta Cemetery available to date. I can’t wait to put the finishing touches on it. Purchasing the PDF will be like taking this blog along with you or having a guided visit with zero time constraints. Not focusing as much on Argentine history, but the best experience short of hiring me personally :)
With space at a premium in the four city blocks allocated to the cemetery, storage sheds can often be found filling the gaps between family vaults. Caretakers like David Alleno need space for the tools of their trade. Not much effort is put into making the sheds look attractive or having them blend in with neighboring structures… they are purely utilitarian:
When no space can be found to insert a shed, caretakers have appropriated tombs which families no longer maintain. Older vaults are usually subject to this secondary use, & caskets often remain inside. Kind of a creepy thing to have in an office:
In spite of a heavy workload & shifting focus to downtown Buenos Aires, I still considered publishing a guidebook to Recoleta Cemetery. But I couldn’t even find time to finish the map. As a compromise, I decided to publish a walking route of what I considered the Top 50 tombs to visit. It wouldn’t have the text of a guidebook, but I thought of it as the first step to a bigger project down the road.
During the summer of 2006-07, I stopped offering tours to work full-time on the map. By March 2007 it was ready for sale. There were a couple of typos that slipped by me, but for my first printed project I was happy with the final results. I had never dealt with printers before or even taken a course in graphic design. I couldn’t complain:
But distribution turned out to be a big problem. I talked with several kiosks around the city, & they wanted an extreme percentage of the profits. So that was out. I managed to obtain contact info for Horacio Savoia of the Friends’ Association of Recoleta Cemetery (ADACRE). I’d always thought to use them as my main distribution mechanism… they sell their own map plus other items at the entrance gate, so I offered to give them 10% of the sale price (2 pesos per map).
I explained that I did not want to compete with their own map but only needed a sales point if someone requested my version. I could promote my map online, & we’d all get something out of it in the long run. I’ve previously mentioned that the price of the ADACRE map is 4 pesos & part of that money goes to fund restoration projects as well as the salary for the women that sell the map. Considering I was willing to donate 2 pesos per map & not even have them actively market it, the proposal seemed fair.
The last I heard from Horacio was in July 2007:
Previo agradecer su atención paso a decirle que he recibido sus dos correos. Ambos los elevaré a la Comisión Directiva para que en su próxima reunión considere su propuesta. Lo tendremos al tanto de las novedades.
Thank you for your correspondence as I have received your two emails. I will present both to the Directive Commission so they can consider your proposal in their next meeting. We will keep you informed of any developments.
My response: Thank you very much, & I will await the response of the DC. I can deliver a copy of the map so that you have it for the next meeting.
Since there was no mention of when the next meeting would take place or even the slightest bit of gratitude for the two years of work put into the map, I wasn’t hopeful. In fact, I never heard from Horacio or any member of ADACRE again.
The whole scenario seems fairly typical for Buenos Aires. If you aren’t part of the clique, then you have no input. But since the cemetery had been neglected for so long & restoration work is expensive, it seems reasonable that anyone willing to donate cash would be welcome. Apparently not so.
My alternative was to start this blog & offer the map for sale via PayPal. It worked well since I’ve since recovered the cost of printing, but that map is no longer for sale. Better things are in the works… not involving the Friends’ Association.
As reported by La Nación newspaper in March, further restoration works are now in full swing. Even though the number of projects scheduled for 2008 is fewer than those completed last year, it’s a relief to see planned restorations underway.
The exterior for the crypt of Nicolás Rodríguez Peña has been cleaned & a missing truncated column has been returned to its base. Interestingly enough, the inscription on the column is in French. For the moment, I can only make out a portion of the text describing inconsolable parents & their best son. I’ll have to wait until the scaffolding is removed & better light to add the full text to the original post:
Another vault currently getting a facelift is Rufina Cambacérès. One afternoon a couple weeks ago I noticed someone removing rust from the wrought-iron doors & decorative gate at the corner. Now scaffolding covers the entire structure. The restoration guy appears to be working from the top down since I could only see his feet:
While I don’t doubt that the finished restoration will look fantastic, the weathered & aged statue of Rufina has a certain charm to it:
So much restoration has been done over the past few years that an info panel now sits at the entrance to show visitors before & after photos of major works: