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Category: Literati

344. familia de angel sastre

Born in what would become Uruguay in 1808, Marcos Sastre was one of those rare figures in literary history who made contributions by supporting the arts instead of being a prolific writer. In 1835 his bookstore—the Librería Argentina—transformed into the Salón Literario & the nation’s first public library. Sastre’s 1,000 book collection could be consulted by anyone who registered & soon became a meeting point for students, the elite & anyone with political aspirations.

Marcos Sastre, Recoleta Cemetery

The most important topic of the time was national organization. Argentina had recently separated from Spain & fought difficult internal & foreign battles to define the nation. Sastre & his colleagues were between 20 to 30 years old & included recognized names like Esteban Etcheverria, Juan Bautista Alberdi, José Marmol, Carlos Tejedor, Florencio Varela, Juan María Gutiérrez & Miguel Cané. Fortunately this center for debate can still be visited—it continues to operate as a bookstore—one block from Plaza de Mayo at Adolfo Alsina & Bolívar:

Salón Literario, Buenos Aires

Spirits were high in those days with so much to be accomplished, but consensus proved impossible to obtain. Etcheverria became frustrated at the lack of direction & scarce original literature he thought necessary to define the Argentine experience 200 years ago. His 1837 epic poem “La Cautiva” highlighted the classic Argentine struggle of civilization vs. barbary. Alberdi & Sastre opposed the group when they saw a viable alternative in Juan Manuel de Rosas:

El refrena las pasiones, mientras las virtudes se fortifican, y adquieren prepondernacia sobre los vicios. La paz y el orden son los grandes bienes de su gobierno.

He restrains passions, while virtues grow stronger & gain prominence over vices. Peace & order are the greatest gifts of his government.

If only that were true. Rosas soon showed his true colors—power hungry & a desire for complete control. In 1838, the magazine “Moda” published by Sastre was censured by the government & the Salón Literario was forced to close. Persecuted by Rosas, Sastre left the city to live in the Tigre Delta where he finished his own book, “El Tempe Argentino,” a Darwin-esque natural history text accompanied by illustrations & surprisingly modern commentary about environmental policies & conservation.

Sastre later became known for developing a system to teach children how to read, used in Argentine primary school for decades. Travelling throughout the country, his status as an educator allowed his books to be widely distributed. Sastre died in the town of Belgrano in 1887 before it was incorporated into Buenos Aires. A simple plaque marks the spot where he passed away, now a series of Neocolonial houses built by Martín Noel. Supposedly buried in a local cemetery, Sastre’s remains were later transferred to Recoleta Cemetery… at least there’s some agreement about the day he died if not the year:

Casas Martín Noel, Belgrano, Buenos Aires

Marcos Sastre, Recoleta Cemetery

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315. perfil, 08 feb 2009 ◊

As posted by Jeff on his blog, Borges may be moved before José de San Martín… we’ll have to wait & see.

The Peronist Party wants to repatriate their former political adversary Borges from Geneva to Recoleta by Ceferino Reato

A majority party representative, backed by the SADE (Sociedad Argentina de Escritores), will present a bill to repatriate the remains of Jorge Luis Borges which lie in Geneva since his death in 1986, following other notable Argentines like San Martín, Sarmiento, Rosas & Alberdi. The intention of the Peronists, of whom Borges said were neither good nor bad but incorrigible, is to finalize the transfer in August during festivities to celebrate his 110th birthday. “He is an Argentine icon,” posed one of his biographers. But his widow, María Kodama, could oppose the project.

Although certainly impossible, if he knew Jorge Luis Borges might comment: “Didn’t I tell you? Peronistas are neither good nor bad; they are incorrigible.” Old political adversaries of the great writer want to repatriate his remains, which have been in the Plainpalais local cemetery in Geneva for almost 23 years, to the family vault in Recoleta Cemetery.

Jorge Luis Borges, Plainpalais Cemetery

By doing so, Borges will follow the path of other noted Argentines who died abroad & whose remains were returned to Argentina, such as José de San Martín, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Juan Manuel de Rosas & Juan Bautista Alberdi.

The intention of the majority party is to finalize the transfer in August for what would have been his 110th birthday.

The initiative comes from the pro-Kirchner Congressional representative for Buenos Aires, María Beatriz Lenz, who plans to present the bill at the end of February or the beginning of March with the backing of the Argentine Writers’ Society (SADE). Its President, Alejandro Vaccaro, is one of the most recognized biographers of the writer.

“Borges is an Argentine icon. Regardless if we are the kind of readers he desired or not; he already has a place in our heart. The repatriation of Borges’ remains is something that we owe ourselves & him as well,” explains Vaccaro in his Recoleta apartment which has been converted into a mini-museum dedicated to the writer.

For her part, Representative Lenz assures that the bill calling for repatriation of Borges’ remains already has the support of head of the House of Representatives Alberto Balestrin, the lower house’s Vice-President Patricia Vaca Narvaja, & the head of the Kirchner faction Agustín Rossi.

Borges & Peronism were always at odds; the writer never hid his fierce anti-Peronism & his lack of confidence in democracy (not about the nation) but wisely kept the topic to public declarations: “Politics will never interfere with my literary work,” he once said & experts agree with that, except for the short story “The Monster’s Party” written with Adolfo Bioy Casares & published in 1955 during a seminar in Uruguay.

In an Argentina deeply divided between Peronist supporters & opposers, Borges had his reasons: a few days after the first Presidency of Juan Perón began in 1946, he was “promoted” from his position in a public library to Chicken & Egg Inspector for local markets. Two years later his mother & sister, along with others, were detained by police in Florida Street for protesting against Perón & his wife, Eva. A judge later sentenced them with one month in prision.

Now, when that Argentina no longer exists, the Peronists—those “incorrigible people” as he defined them—want to bring him from Geneva where he died on June 14, 1986.

According to the large amount of documentation collected by Vaccaro, Borges often voiced his desire to be laid to rest in the family vault.

For example in his first book of poetry from 1923, Borges “writes about an absorbing afternoon when he wandered among the ‘sidewalks that eminate from lined-up pantheons’ & observed how ‘beautiful is the serene decision of tombs, their simple architecture & the small plazas as fresh as a patio.’ After that poetic description of Recoleta Cemetery, he praises: ‘[That entire afternoon, things] heard, read, meditated, I did it all in Recoleta Cemetery, alongside the very place where they must bury me.'”

“In the same sense many years later in his Personal Anthology, he clarifies, ‘I don’t pass by Recoleta Cemetery without remembering that buried there are my father, my grandparents, & my great, great grandparents, just like I will be.'”

In agreement with Vaccaro, Roberto Alifano—friend & collaborator of Borges for ever 10 years—affirmed that “in mulitple opportunities, not once or twice but several times, Borges expressed his desire that his remains lie together with his ancestors in the family vault of Recoleta Cemetery.”

The same had been said by the writer’s sister, Norah Borges de De Torre, on June 18, 1986. In a letter published in La Nación, Norah sustained that she had found out “by the press that my brother has died in Geneva, far from us & many friends,” & remembered that he “always wanted to be with his ancestors & mother in Recoleta Cemetery.”

The proponents of the repatriation of Borges’ remains have searched for all kinds of evidence because they foresee opposition from María Kodama, the second wife of the writer.

“All Argentines agree about this; only María Kodama could be against it. Why? For one, it is difficult to understand her point of view. For another, if Borges comes to Argentina, she would lose him since he would go to the vault of Borges’ nephews & nieces,” sustained Vaccaro who has maintained well-publicized disputes with Kodama.

At one time Kodama, who could not be located for this article, managed to block in Swiss court a request for the transfer of the writer’s remains to Argentina by his nephew, Miguel de Torre.

For this reason, Representative Lenz as well as the biographer Vaccaro claim that the only way to repatriate the remains of Borges is if the national government requires it by law. According to them, “the historic precedent most like this case is that of the poet Ricardo Güiraldes, who died in Paris in 1927. His remains were repatriated by means of a national law.”

“Furthermore the great-grandfather of Borges, Coronel Manuel Isidoro Suárez, was repatriated from Uruguay & his ashes lie in a wooden urn in the Borges vault, constructed for that occasion in 1879. [See below] Borges, always present in commemorative services, supported that action,” added Vaccaro:

Coronel Isidoro Suárez, Recoleta Cemetery

———————————–

Original article in Spanish located here. The tombstone of Borges was photographed by Gonzalo Rosendo. All Argentines, as mentioned in the article, are probably not in agreement about the return of Borges, but it is odd that he isn’t in Recoleta Cemetery.

Update (25 Jan 2010): A few weeks after the iniciative was first presented, Congresswoman Lenz met with María Kodama & later withdrew her request to repatriate Borges. While living in Geneva, Borges & Kodama were constantly pursued by paparazzi… which inspired Borges to be buried there & not in his family plot. He did not want to bring the media circus of his death to Buenos Aires. After making his wishes known to Kodama, Borges wrote a letter in May 1986 to the Spanish news agency Efe denouncing harassment by the press. He also tried to clarify his reasons for leaving Argentina & marrying Kodama:

I’m a free man. I’ve decided to stay in Geneva because (my time there) corresponds to the happiest years of my life… My Buenos Aires continues to be that of the guitars, of the milongas, of the cisterns, of the patios. None of that exists anymore. It’s a big city like so many others. In Geneva I feel strangely happy. That has nothing to do with the reverence for my ancestors and with my essential love for my homeland. I find it strange that no one understands and respects the decision of a man who has taken—like a certain character of (H.G.) Wells—the decision to be an invisible man.

With the iniciative withdrawn & Lenz no longer a member of Congress after elections in June 2009, Borges safely rests in peace in Switzerland.

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299. antonio zwingen

Antonio Zwingen, Recoleta Cemetery

Spanish speakers will easily recognize that the author of this dedication got a bit carried away with nautical symbolism. Items mentioned are: an aurora, the sea, the horizon, a bow, a seagull, waves, stars, the breeze, sails, sea foam, a hurricane, a beach… among many others.

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288. angélica blanco granada

Angélica Blanco Granada, Recoleta Cemetery

Unique among the thousands of plaques in Recoleta Cemetery, Angélica Blanco Granada wrote a poem about her own death. Only 19 years old when she passed away, there must have been ample warning of her demise since she wrote this 5 years earlier (translation follows):

¿No es la muerte, Señor, la libertad?
¿No es el umbral de tu divina gloria?
¿No es el paso, Señor, a mejor vida?
Pues entonces ¡Oh Dios! Por qué le temo
Y me asusta la idea de que venga?

¿Es que acaso, Señor, no tengo fe?
¿Es que acaso me falta la certeza
De saber que es la gloria de tu presencia
Y temo y me tortura y no descansa
Este pavor intenso de morir?

¡Es que soy muy cobarde, Señor mío!
La sola idea de sufrir me aterra
Y el pensamiento del dolor me espanta!

Dadme fuerzas, Señor, dadme coraje
Para no tener miedo de la muerte
Y en el último instante de mi vida
Deciros ¡Oh Señor! entre sonrisas
Ya traspongo el umbral, ya estoy contigo.

Is death not, Lord, liberty?
Is it not the threshold of Your divine glory?
Is it not the way, Lord, to better life?
Then, oh God, why do I fear it
And the idea of what will come scares me?

Is it that, Lord, I have no faith?
Is it that I lack the fortitude
to know the glory of your presence
And I fear, it tortures me, & does not end
this intense terror of dying?

I am such a coward, My Lord!
Just the idea of suffering terrifies me
And the thought of pain frightens me!

Give me strength, Lord, give me courage
Not to be afraid of death
And in the last instant of my life
Proclaim, Oh Lord!, between smiles
I have passed the threshold, now I am with You.

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215. manuel ocampo

Ocampo, Recoleta Cemetery

As part of an aristocratic family & a successful structural engineer, Manuel Ocampo increased his family’s fortune by constructing railroad bridges in Argentina. He had six children… all girls. The oldest, Victoria, & the youngest, Silvina, became major figures in 20th century Argentine literature.

Like most elite families in Buenos Aires, the Ocampo daughters were taught French as their first language & also learned English at any early age. The family traveled to France for extended stays & lived in Paris for two years. After the death of her father, Victoria used the family fortune to establish the literary journal Sur in 1931. It grew to become one of the most important outlets for upcoming, Latin American authors. Sur also published European writers & established a reputation for having some of the best translations into Spanish. Among those presented to an eager Argentine audience were T.S. Eliot & Henry Miller. But the most important writer in Sur was Jorge Luis Borges, whose career was greatly aided by the patronage of Victoria Ocampo.

Victoria was an unconventional woman of her time. A strong-minded feminist, she felt stifled by traditional women’s roles. Victoria married young as expected, but the union quickly turned into disaster when she fell in love with her husband’s cousin. Divorce was not allowed in Argentina during that time, so she conveniently moved to a different bedroom. The in-family love affair didn’t last, & after her husband’s death Victoria never remarried. However, she had many lovers, particularly foreign intellectuals.

Victoria Ocampo, Recoleta Cemetery

As the matriarch of literary culture in Buenos Aires, Victoria hosted lavish parties at family residences & often provided housing for foreign writers to spend months in Argentina. Among the lucky few were a Nobel Prize winning Indian poet & the acclaimed English author Graham Greene. Albert Camus also was a friend of Ocampo’s. Victoria’s sister, Silvina, is also buried here who married the best friend of Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares.

Instead of an imposing mausoleum, the Ocampo family opted for a crypt with ample room for underground storage:

Ocampo, Recoleta Cemetery

Biography kindly provided by Jeff Barry, author of Buenos Aires: City of Faded Elegance. Original copies of Sur can still be found for a few pesos at many of the used bookstores along Avenida Corrientes.

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198. vicente lópez y planes

Vicente López y Planes, Recoleta Cemetery

With today marking the 198th anniversary of Argentina’s declaration of independence, there’s no better time to discuss the author of the national anthem.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1785, Vicente López y Planes participated in every important event leading to the birth of the new nation. His political career began as secretary of the short-lived First Triumvirate, & he maintained a close friendship with Manuel Belgrano.

As the fight for independence continued in other parts of Argentina, López y Planes was requested to write the lyrics for a military march which later became the national anthem. First played in 1813 at the home of Mariquita Sánchez de Thompson then publicly debuted on May 25th that same year, the song bitterly attacked Spain… a normal reaction given that they were at war. The anthem was later changed to remove the nasty references to Spain, & a shorter version was officially adopted since the original ran a bit long:

Mortals! Hear the sacred cry:
Freedom, freedom, freedom!
Hear the noise of broken chains,
see noble Equality enthroned.
Rises to the heights of the Earth
a new and glorious nation,
its head crowned with laurels,
and at her feet lying a Lion.

Chorus:
May the laurels be eternal,
the ones we managed to win.
Let us live crowned with glory…
or swear to die gloriously.

As minister under the first President Bernardino Rivadavia, López y Planes took charge of the 1827 interim government when Rivadavia resigned. After his one-month presidency ended, he maintained an active role in national politics mainly in the judiciary branch. Other intellectual pursuits found López y Planes as part of a literary society founded by Marcos Sastre.

López y Planes died in 1856, & his crypt was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946. Simply decorated with four corner posts connected with chains, numerous plaques occupy the walls of neighboring tombs. New plaques are generally made of marble instead of bronze or other metals:

Vicente López y Planes, Recoleta Cemetery

The full text of both the original & modified versions of the Argentine national anthem can be found on Wikipedia along with an instrumental recording.

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