Walking Among the Dead and the Disappeared

Today I finally made it to the place I’ve been trying to get to since I set foot in Buenos Aires when I first arrived in Argentina at the beginning of January and it was worth the wait. I headed out early to Cementerio de Recoleta, a beautiful cemetery filled with crypts that mark the final resting place for the remains of the city’s elite including past presidents, military heroes, noble prize winners and a granddaughter of Napoleon as well as the rich and famous. Beautiful statues and centuries of families lie in vaults that line the ‘streets’ of the cemetery. The crypts are filled with big coffins, old coffins, cobwebbed coffins, abandoned coffins and even ones for babies.

The entrance to Cementerio de Recoleta.

The entrance to Cementerio de Recoleta.

For those who have known me for years, they know that I have a huge fascination and love for old graveyards. If I’m away and I come across an old graveyard, I just have to stop and wander around and take some photos. Graveyards, although filled with death, they are also filled with a sense of life lived, dreams, loves ones and all that is wonderful about life. I always find myself wondering what kind of life the person whose grave I stand by lived. Did they live their dreams, did they have regrets, were they happy…. So much fills that space between the birth date and the date they died and somehow it reminds me to live mine.

This cemetery has more than 6,400 elaborate vaulted tombs and majestic mausoleums. The mausoleums resemble chapels, Greek temples, pyramids, and miniature mansions and for someone with a graveyard fascination, this was a complete feast for my eyes.  It may be odd to some, but for me it is strangely peaceful to walk among the graves in this city of the dead, all the time seeing the skyscrapers of the living hovering in the background in places.

Inside Cementerio de Recoleta.

The ´streets´of Cementerio de Recoleta.

Inside Cementerio de Recoleta.

Inside Cementerio de Recoleta.

Cementerio de Recoleta.

Cementerio de Recoleta.

Cementerio de Recoleta.

Old, forgotten about coffins in Cementerio de Recoleta.

The tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak who died in an avalanche at the age 26 and her dog. Reportedly the dog fell dead at home in Argentina the same moment his master was swallowed in an avalanche in the Alps.

And what would a graveyard be without a spooky story…

As the story goes, Rufina Cambaceres is known as the girl who died twice. She was thought dead after suffering a cataleptic attack, and was entombed on her 19th birthday in 1902. Rufina awoke inside her casket and clawed the top open but died of a heart attack before she could be rescued. When Alfredo Gath heard of Rufina’s story he was appalled and commissioned a special mechanical coffin with an opening device and alarm bell. Gath successfully tested the coffin in situ 12 times, but on the 13th the mechanism failed and he died inside. The lesson here could be that maybe it´s best we don´t temp fate…!!

I also got to see Evita’s final resting place too. There was a bit of a traffic jam as I happened to arrive at the spot smack bang between two tour groups! The embalmed remains of Eva Duarte de Perón, who made it (almost intact) here after 17 years of posthumous wandering, are in the Duarte family vault. Apparently, around July 26, the anniversary of her death, flowers pile up here.

A traffic jam on the way to Eva Peron´s final resting place.

I ran into a bit of a traffic jam on the way to Eva Person´s  final resting place.

Evita Person´s final resting place in Cementerio de Recoleta.

Evita Person´s final resting place in Cementerio de Recoleta.

Evita Person´s final resting place in Cementerio de Recoleta.

Evita Person´s final resting place in Cementerio de Recoleta.

After hours of wandering around, I finally dragged myself out the front gates and on to my next stop. Next up I wanted to visit the Catedral Metropolitana. It was originally built-in the sixteenth century, although it has since undergone several changes and the current building was constructed in 1745.

Interior of the Cathedral viewed towards the main chapel. Both the main altarpiece and the pulpits date from the late 18th century.

Interior of the Cathedral viewed towards the main chapel. Both the main altarpiece and the pulpits date from the late 18th century.

Beautiful stained glass windows lined the chapel.

Artwork inside the cathedral.

Artwork inside the cathedral.

Inside the cathedral.

The inside of the cathedral was vast and beautiful. I always find cathedrals a quiet place for taking a break from the crowds outside and it fills my soul with such a feeling of peace.

After a long while inside, feeling at peace, I left the cathedral and strolled over to Plaza de Mayo, which is known as BA’s ground zero for the city’s most vehement protests.

Graffiti on the walls lining the Plaza - no doubt from past protests.

Graffiti on the walls lining the Plaza – no doubt from past protests.

Plaza de Mayo.

Plaza de Mayo.

Our guides while on the mountain had spoken about a group of woman who march silently and are known as the ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ and from what I had heard it happened on a Thursday afternoon and I wanted to witness it for myself if I could. As I sat in the park a crowd was growing and banners were beginning to appear. The crowd started chanting and then a van pulled up delivering a bunch of older woman with white head scarves on. They slowly started moving around the circle in the middle of the Plaza. But then out of nowhere, a smaller group of older woman also wearing white head scarves appeared, also walking slowly around the Plaza. They were holding photos of their own disappeared children as they walked in silence.

The crowd beginning to gather on Plaza de Mayo.

The crowd beginning to gather on Plaza de Mayo.

The history behind The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is an association of Argentine mothers whose children “disappeared” during the Dirty War of the military dictatorship, between 1976 and 1983. They formed while trying to learn what had happened to their children, and began to march in 1977 at the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace, in public defiance of the government’s state terrorism intended to silence all opposition.

These woman had the courage to defy the Argentine military who were kidnapping and secretly killing anyone who they felt challenged their rule. The military unleashed a wave of terror against all “unpatriotic” individuals and organizations, including labor unions, political activists, university students, and human rights groups.  But the Argentine generals, having studied the lessons of previous military dictatorships, had determined to carry out their repression quietly and largely out of sight. Rather than filling stadiums with political prisoners or leaving mutilated bodies on the side of the road, they perfected the practice of kidnapping their victims from their own homes, murdering them in secret, and leaving no evidence behind. In this manner some fifteen to thirty thousand men and women joined the ranks of the “disappeared.”

In their grief, these Mothers found each other – women who shared the same pain and anguish. A group of ordinary women, mothers of those who disappeared. At first they came together for mutual support, and then they demanded to be heard. It began with a silent vigil in the Plaza de Mayo, the very same public square in Buenos Aires that I stood on. Their silent, persistent demands for truth helped topple the regime then, and their vigil became a weekly event, a quest for justice that still continues to this day.

The second, smaller group of ´Mothers of the Disappeared.´

The second, smaller group of ´Mothers of the Disappeared´ holding photos as they walked around the plaza in silent protest.

Two mothers stop to hug as they silently show their presence on the Plaza.

The larger crowd with the ´Mothers of the Disappeared´in the front row.

The larger crowd with the ´Mothers of the Disappeared´in the front row.

It was amazing to be apart of this today. To watch these woman continue in their search for the truth as to what happened to their loved ones.

It has been another day full of the wonder of this city. I hopped back on the tube and headed back to my hotel for an early evening for a change. I sat on the tube doing my usual people-watching. I love hands and as I sat there rumbling along the underground I checked out the hands of the men sitting opposite me, whether they were holding a book, reading a newspaper or just sitting with their hands in their lap. It´s simple things really, I could do it for hours…

Tomorrow evening I fly back home. I have no plans for tomorrow expect for taking my book and my body to a beautiful green park and relaxing for the day.  I don’t want to leave, I feel so at home here and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to a city I have fallen completely in love with.

I have had the most incredible days and the best adventures!

Thank you, Argentina!!

– All Photos By Me –

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. margii73
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 20:14:25

    Lara, you write incredibly, and you should publish a biography, I for one would definitely read it, your time in Arg certainly is one to remember for the rest of your life. Miss you muchly xx

    Reply

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