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Category: In the press

335. diario extra, 21 jul 2009

Interview with Diego Zigiotto

Guidebook for the city of the dead by Marcelo Metayer

The author of “1001 Curiosities of Recoleta Cemetery” assures that “there are a lot of people inside that no one knows about” & that he has more than enough material for a sequel.

Diego Zigiotto, a Buenos Aires journalist with a degree in tourism, is also a specialized guide in the city. In 2007 he published “1001 Curiosities of Buenos Aires” & his experience with the most famous burial site in Argentina led him to write his most recent work, “1001 Curiosities of Recoleta Cemetery.”

You’re a newspaper journalist & a tour guide. How do the two professions fit together?

By chance. I was already a reporter, I worked six years in radio, later I quit & began working in tourism. When I started to study tourism (*note: Argentina, like most countries in Europe, has a degree program for tourism), a professor told me: “Since you’re a reporter, you should be a tour guide.” It wasn’t a bad idea, so I began studying to be a guide. I created new routes, one of them being “Curiosities of Buenos Aires.” People told me, “Why don’t you give us something written? It’s a lot of info.” So I began writing. When I had a little over 200 pages, I presented it to a publisher (Cuatro Vientos), put up some cash, family & friends chipped in, & “1001 Curiosities of Buenos Aires” came out. Later the publishing house Norma called where it was re-edited & both careers came together.

How did you start with the book about the cemetery?

I’d always liked this cemetery & for the past two years I’ve worked as a voluntary guide. There were already two books about the cemetery, that of (Oscar) López Mato with good photos & information but with errors, & that of María Rosa Lojo that has some 10 or 12 historical short stories which can’t be used as factual. So I said, I’m going to do something different. There are a lot of people here that no one knows about, but the publisher told me “lighten up a bit because the book will be like a dictionary.”

Pagina 12, Marcelo

But there are still a lot of names, over 200…

A bit over 300. And several weren’t included. There were 450 & we cut it down to 315. We removed many because they said we couldn’t justify including them all.

You propose that people send you information to do an update or even a sequel to this book.

Yes. In fact, we began to take out information & they said, “it’s good for a second book.” Later I thought, who would buy it? I still gather info anyway. Lots of specifics were taken away from different entries… how do you put in two pages everything that these people did?

What’s very interesting about the book is that besides historical summaries, there are many anecdotes.

I found them by immersing myself in libraries. I would have liked to have had more time for that… for full-time research & further investigation.

What kind of response have you had?

Those who have written me liked the book. A 16-year old kid told me, “I read your book by mistake. I bought it thinking it was urban myths/stories, but I loved it.” A descendant of the García Mansilla family who has a blog with a lot of their personal history wrote a post praising the book.

How many people worked with you?

Three people. A friend who works in a library searched for biographies for me, & two women from the cemetery researched information in burial records when I couldn’t come myself.

Of the stories which were removed, which do you regret not including?

We argued a lot about those of Zully Moreno & Luis César Amadori. When people take a guided tour & you tell them Zully Moreno is here, they’re interested because they know her & they’ve seen her onscreen. Another that was deleted is the Club Hotel of Sierra de la Ventana.

What is your next project?

I’m not writing anything now. One project was to do “1001 Curiosities of Argentina,” but it seems a bit ambitious.

And the other cemeteries of Buenos Aires?

Another project was Chacarita, but it wouldn’t sell as well & it doesn’t have as much glamour. Still, there are tons of people (Gardel, Bonavena, the Actors & SADAIC pantheons) to fill two books.

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Original article in Spanish not available online. The lead photograph was taken by Marcelo Metayer.

Zigiotto mentioned to Marcelo during the interview that he came across this blog several times while looking for information about Recoleta Cemetery, & he was surprised information about the cemetery was available in English. I checked his bibliography for a mention of AfterLife—it’s currently for sale at the cemetery gate for 58 pesos—but no credit is given. That’s too bad.

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319. imágenes de la muerte

Marcelo, Suplemento Cubo

La Plata newspaper El Día recently published a compilation of Marcelo’s photos in their cultural supplement Cubo. The March 19th online gallery (unavailable as of 2020) consisted of several cemetery photos, some of which were taken in Recoleta Cemetery. He mentioned participating in this blog, but unfortunately no link was published.

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Update 26 Mar 09: A link to this blog was added as well as many other photos by Marcelo. We’re finally getting some real press!

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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

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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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240. la nación, 18 aug 2008

Mausoleo de San Martín, Catedral Metropolitana, Buenos Aires

158 years after his death

Proposed transfer of the remains of San Martín

Project on docket in city legislature

In remembrance of the death of General José de San Martín 158 years ago, a Buenos Aires city legislature representative has proposed moving the remains, which lie in the cathedral of Buenos Aires, to Recoleta Cemetery.

Meanwhile, numerous acts throughout the country evoked the memory of the Liberator. Official commemoration services by the national government were held in the Granaderos Horse Guard Regiment in Palermo and were presided over by the Minister of Defense, Nilda Garré, as reported on page 9.

The project of representative Roy Cortina, President of the city’s Socialist Party, suggests locating the mausoleum with the Liberator’s remains—for which a public design & construction contest open to national artists would be called—in front of the main entrance of Recoleta Cemetery, near the tomb of Remedios de Escalada de San Martín.

The initiative, which must be debated in the city legislature, proposes that the transfer take place on July 9th, 2010, as part of the Bicentennial celebrations.

“The will of San Martín deserves to be respected & the place for his remains should be grandiose… in accordance with the place that we have given him in our hearts & in our nation,” expresses Roy Cortina concerning the basis of the project.

The remains of the Liberator rest in the chapel of Our Lady of Peace, inside the Metropolitan Cathedral since 1880, permanently guarded by two Granaderos (the first Argentine regiment, created by San Martín).

“The transfer of his remains makes sense based on respecting the will of General San Martín himself, who requested that his heart lie in the Buenos Aires cemetery. Furthermore, without denying the quality of the sculpture of the [current] mausoleum, it sits practically hidden on one side of Metropolitan Cathedral in a space inappropriate with the greatness & importance he has for all Argentines. Historical concensus recognizes [him] as the Father of our country,” explains Cortina in a press release.

In the project proposal, the Socialista legislator points out that placement of the Liberator’s remains in the cathedral “was always controversial” and that, on Jan 3rd 1844, in Paris, San Martín dictated his third testament in which he expresses his desire to be taken after his death to Recoleta Cemetery.

In this text, San Martín himself wrote: “I forbid that any kind of funeral service be held for me, and from the place where I pass away they should take me directly to the cemetery with no procession or ceremony. But I would like that my heart be deposited in that [supposedly meaning the cemetery] of Buenos Aires.”

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Original article in Spanish located here.

José de San Martín died in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1850, 28 years after the opening of Recoleta Cemetery. But the statement in his last will & testament is rather vague… at the time of his death, Recoleta Cemetery was the only public burial ground in the city. However a large number of burials were still taking place inside local churches (even though the practice had been offically prohibited by law). Among the most respected was the camposanto of the cathedral. So without mentioning a specific cemetery or church burial site, no one can truly know where San Martín actually meant to be buried.

Argentines love to move their deceased leaders, but the current tomb of San Martín (above photo) is beautiful & completely in line with his historical importance. And the location could not be better. Plaza de Mayo is the most important public space in the nation, in spite of its current run-down condition. Several other more important city projects need to be resolved… no need to add another to the list. Let the Founding Father rest in peace.

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181. la nación, 11 mar 2008

Receiving 2,000 visitors each day, Recoleta Cemetery renews its historical brilliance; more than 100 monuments have already been restored & works continue this year.

Byline: Susana Reinoso

María Rosa Lojo writes about Recoleta Cemetery: “In this museum of mortals, the personal ramblings of its inhabitants—famous or obscure—blend inextricably with Argentine history.” In her work Hidden Stories of Recoleta which was just republished by Alfaguara, the novelist exquisitely states that whoever walks with their ears alert can hear in the cemetery, one of the most popular places in Buenos Aires for tourists, “the murmor of remarkable lives against the immense chorus of collective memory.”

Precisely because this mortuary museum brings together much of the best funerary architecture & statuary in Buenos Aires, the city government will continue the Recoleta Cemetery Revaluation Program, which aims to conserve & restore the sculptures, vaults, sepulcres & tombs. Approval [for continued funding] came at the end of 2007.

With the intervention of the Subsecretary of City Heritage, the Friends’ Association of Recoleta Cemetery—headed by Marta Salas—and the General Administration of Cemeteries—whose director is Néstor Pan—they have completed since 2002 a remarkable plan of recovering that architecture.

Art & Remembrance

Each day the cemetery receives an average of 2,000 visitors. That equates to more than 700,000 people per year since the cemetery is open Monday through Sunday.

“Over 100 monuments have already been recovered, & we rely on group of highly qualified restorers who work with love & a sense of patriotism,” says Marta Salas to La Nación newspaper.

The President of the Friends’ Association points out: “This effort comes from the fact that we consider Recoleta Cemetery to be the most relevant historical/artistic space in our country, & we are proud to show it to the thousands of tourists who visit it.” The organization, which sells detailed maps of the cemetery to tourists, uses part of the proceeds for restoration of historical monuments.

A brief walk through, like the one taken by La Nación reporters, confirms this. The crowds never stop coming, & there are not enough guides to answer every question. Visitors always make a pilgrimage to the sepulcre of Eva Duarte de Perón.

The director of the cemetery, Carlos Francavilla, states that the revaluation of the cemetery is not [immediately] visible to most people. However the scaffolding & work materials around certain monuments make people realize that restoration is in progress.

This year the program has planned to restore the sculptures & vaults of Adolfo Alsina, Nicolás Rodríguez Peña, Juan José Viamonte, Rufina Cambaceres & Pedro J. Díaz.

In each instance, the work of restoration & maintenance carries out the elimination of invasive vegetation, replacement of missing material, elimination of the deteriorated outer layer, chemical cleaning & an anti-corrosive treatment.

In 2006, restoration was performed on the sepulcres & mausoleums of Bartolomé Mitre, Domingo Fidel Sarmiento, Carlos Pellegrini & Juan Martín de Pueyrredón. Last year, works focused on the mausoleums of Luis María Campos & Nicolás Avellaneda, the vault of the José C. Paz family, the Pantheon for Meritorious Citizens & the sculpture of Christ in the cemetery chapel.

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Original article in Spanish located here.

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