Residents of Recoleta

I have always been somewhat curious about death and upon further self-examination it is more about the manner in which it happens, the tragedy of it – particularly when it happens at a young age and how it affects those close to the decedent.

For whatever reason, I, sometime during high school started “feeling” I would die young but I recognize I am somewhat affected by messages and media and who knows what happened during this period to make me feel that way. To clarify, I’m typically only effected by media when it comes to food. But, this feeling of dying young stayed with me until recently and I wonder if it’s because I have been so fortunate, could more possibly come? Or has it dissipated because I have just turned thirty-six and am no longer “young?” For those of you who might now be uncomfortable, I do not believe I’m jinxing myself by writing this. I have communicated before that I believe things happen exactly when they’re supposed to so writing this has no bearing, nor has writing your will as many seem scared to do. But, if it does scare you know this. I have been so fortunate in my life and have lived and experienced more than many ever will. My friends and family will tell you I always take the bull by the horns and I have lived and hope to continue to live a very enriched, long and fortunate life. There are no regrets. A friend recently sent me a photo of this message spray painted on a city wall. “Don’t have any regrets because it was exactly what you wanted at one time.” I love it.

As for the dying young thing…A few months ago I was riding the subway when I looked up and saw the poem below by Canada’s late Irving Layton and it still stays with me.

I Take My Anna Everywhere

“I take my Anna everywhere.

She is so beautiful she can break

a man’s heart with a look,

the proud thrust of her shoulder.

She tells me she will die young.

I tell her all beautiful women have the same

premonition. Brevity is the stamp

of beauty, sealing it in the mouths of men.

I take my Anna everywhere.

She has the unpitying gaze of a goddess.

All the men who see her

want to live their wrecked lives forever.”

I.L.

Occasionally, more so rarely, I find myself skimming over obituaries, reading the outpouring of affection from loved ones, examining how they died and which charities they supported. In writing this it seems a bit morose but for me it’s about love and loss and I imagine a psychologist would say it is directly correlated to the loss of both my mother and the man I knew as my father at the age of 5 ½. And furthermore, gaining new parents who gave me security and a freedom I never would have had staying with my mother. But, with that new love surfaced a fear of how to emotionally handle any further loss so as not to completely breakdown. Everything ties into one another.

What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams was and is one of my favourite movies for obvious reasons. To this day that image of heaven stays with me, the deep longing to one day picnic under a tree with my parents, walk in fields with passed friends and see my late tabby cat Tiggy and Cinder, our late standard poodle, running over the hill, jumping into my arms. For those of you who have had pets you’ll know they are also our children so it shouldn’t come as weird that I have their ashes to be mixed with mine and scattered together when I pass.

I’ll never forget the day that my father and I were in a taxi in Montreal at the age of 18. We were discussing heaven and he told me that people believe heaven exists so they can deal with death and believe they’ll see their loved ones again. I barely made it upstairs before I burst into tears, collapsing on my boyfriend’s shoulder (as my father was in the washroom). I made my father promise on that day to contact me if he turns out to be wrong. So Dad, I’m holding you to that. Let’s agree on a code word next time we get together.

Interestingly enough as I write this today I turned on the TV to TLC’s Long Island Medium. Hmm…is there such thing as coincidence? I’m thoroughly enjoying it and it’s right up my alley.

It is with all that said that Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires appealed to me, however, I must admit that I was most intrigued by Eva Peron’s story, her tomb as well as the elaborate architecture of many of the mausoleums. I also thoroughly enjoyed the free English tour. Below are some facts about Recoleta and following, a few of my favourite tombs and the stories behind them.

  • The cemetery is open daily from 8m – 6pm.
  • Weather permitting; free English-language tours are held every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am.
  • If you can’t take a tour or want to explore on your own, cemetery maps are also for sale at the gate, with proceeds going to the Friends of Recoleta Cemetery, a private group that helps with upkeep. Maps are ARS $10 each (approx $2.50 CAD/USD).
  • Recoleta is the final resting place of many of the wealthiest and important Argentine political/historical figures.
  • The cemetery was originally the garden next to a small church and was created in 1822.  It is one of the oldest in the city.
  • It covers four city blocks and is complete with tombs by local and international sculptors.
  • Recoleta is a secular cemetery, meaning all religions may be buried there.
  • Families may do their own maintenance on their tombs or may pay for the tomb to be taken care of. Unfortunately many of the younger generation are not maintaining their families’ tombs and many fall into disarray.
  • The cost to refurbish a run down tomb is about $45,000 CAD/USD

RESIDENTS

  • “The most popular site is the tomb of Eva “Evita” Perón. To prevent her body from being stolen, as it had been many times by the various military governments installed after her husband’s fall from grace in 1955, she was finally buried in a concrete vault (27 ft.) underground in 1976 in her family’s tomb (Duarte).” 
  • “The newest presidential tomb is that of Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín, who died in 2009 and was the first president elected when the 1976-82 military dictatorship ended.”
  • “The dead are not the only residents in Recoleta Cemetery. About 100 cats also roam among the tombs. The cats are fed by a dedicated group of women from the area comes to feed and give them medical attention.”

One of the tombs I found to be quite poignant is the story and tomb of a young 25-year-old woman who died in an avalanche in the Italian Alps during her honeymoon. Her parents built this tomb for her and she was laid to rest there in her wedding dress, two years after she passed, in 1972. A statue of her childhood dog was also erected with hers and it is said to be good luck to rub the dog’s nose.

  • Another beautiful tomb is the one belonging to the Paz family, who owned the newspaper La Prensa, as well as the palatial building on Plaza San Martín now known as the Círculo Militar. The tomb is recognizable by its large black marble structure covered with white angels pointing to the heavens.
  • Finally, there is the remarkable story of The Girl Who Died Twice, the tomb of Rufina Cambaceres. Rufina slipped into a catatonic state in the early 1900s and was thought dead only to be buried alive. Workers heard her screams a few days after her internment and when the coffin was finally opened it was too late; scratches on her face and coffin in her attempts to escape. Her coffin now lays behind a glass wall, as if her parents were making up for their mistake. Imagine the guilt her parents must have held with them for the rest of their lives. The corner of the tomb is adorned by a young girl carved of marble whose statue seems to be opening the door to heaven.

 

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