No, I’m not dead yet.
Well I guess “yet” isn’t the operative word is it? Lets hope that is years away (I just couldn’t help but try and include some Monty Python).
But death has been a frequent topic in happenings around Buenos Aires lately.
The past two weekends, we’ve visited the two biggest cemeteries in Buenos Aires. The Recoleta Cemetery and El Cementario de la Chacarita.
Filled with extravagant tombs and high-tech security vaults, Recoleta Cemetery is home to hundreds of Buenos Aires’ and Argentina’s wealthiest and most important figures. Eva Peron, viewed as a saint by many, can be found here, along with Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, one of Argentina’s first and widely known presidents.
The place is literally stacked to the brim with these tombs and mausoleums. Some of the tombs are so extravagant, they look like miniature Catholic cathedrals.
It’s no surprise the cemetery is located in Recoleta. The neighborhood is by far the most prosperous in Buenos Aires. However, with wealth and prosperity comes age. Elderly people, to be exact. Trust me, we live in this neighborhood. It’s not exactly the ideal neighborhood for six, 20 some year old college students. But there is something special seeing an old couple out getting ice cream together at 11 pm.
The first week we had several noise complaints from people who thought we had a party. But here’s the catch — there was no party. (But I’m sure this is why the University placed us here. So we wouldn’t go wild) If we lived in Palermo, the neighborhood full of bars and boliches, we’d get far less work done.
Cementerio de la Chacarita
The Cementerio de la Chacarita is the largest cemetery in Buenos Aires. The place has tombs, regular graves (bajo tierra) and gallerías.
However, I felt the place was down right spooky. It’s home to the crematorium the military dictatorship used to burn thousands of political dissidents from 1976-1983. I’m sure someone who has been to the concentration camps in Germany would experience a similar feeling.
Past the thousands of tombs, you reach the gallerías. These are the graves about the size of a coffin and are stacked about six high. We walked down into the gallerías, but couldn’t help but feel spooked when we passed a long unlit hallway.
The most uncomfortable part of the visit were the looks we received from the security guards. We quickly felt tourists were not welcome. As I was taking pictures of some of the tombs, a guard quickly came over and told me if I take photos, my camera would be taken away.
Minus the eerie feelings accompanied with these two visits, it was a great opportunity to learn about great and not-so-great historical people and events in Argentina’s conflict-ridden history.
El choque (The crash)
On a darker note, Buenos Aires made international news last week with a commuter train accident. The railway system does have its problems. Whether that is because it is largely state funded and not privatized is for a completely different discussion. I’ll leave the plight of the railway system with how The Economist described it — “a decrepit suburban railway system.”
A train, carrying hundreds of passengers during peak morning commute hours, crashed into the end of the line at the Once station, killing 51 people and injuring more than 700. (I do not have to ride the trains here in Buenos Aires)
What was interesting about the train accident was the type of coverage us readers and viewers witnessed. The TV stations were difficult to watch at times because of the gruesome images of people stuck in the smashed and twisted metal. (That video is a clip of the scene shortly after the accident)
I don’t know if news stations would air footage like that in the United States. I’m sure some of those people next the dangling man were victims of the accident, but couple the television images with front page photos of medics trying to revive one of the children, and it made for a tough couple days of news watching.
*Note: Death and tragic accidents are never something to joke about and I certainly hope I
don’t come across that way with the beginning of the post. I was simply trying to find a light way to discuss what we’ve done and seen the past couple weeks in Buenos Aires. Bad things come in threes right? So with two cemetery visits and a train accident, lets hope we have all the bad things behind us.
For my first assignment with El Sol de San Telmo, I’ve been assigned to work on a story about títeres (puppets/marionettes). San Telmo is home to Buenos Aires’ only and South
America’s second títere museum. The museum has had a new director for the past 12+ months. The idea behind the story is to do a profile on the director, Italo Cárcano, in the context of the larger títere movement in all of Latin America. The link will come when it is published. First, there’s still a bit of reporting to complete.
Buenos Aires Street Art