A Bit More Buenos Aires

Sunday is open air market day in San Telmo which is basically wonderful morning of trying to resist purchasing all manner of little artsy things and cute signs for around the house. We don’t have a house. We don’t even have a fucking fixed address. I don’t need crocheted cacti or a novelty drinks coaster. Tarrant fell in love with every shirt she saw. If we had shit like this near where we lived we’d be so poor and we’d have so many random things taking up every available surface. We were the same when Flor took us round the weekend markets near her flat in São Paulo.I never realised how much I needed a Moroccan style plate specifically for dips in my life, I’ve been scraping the guac straight out of the plastic tub with a Dorito like a fucking savage all these years.

We started at Plaza Dorrego which is a cool little square where people apparently practice their tango but we’ve not been there to see that. We’ve had our tango fix, plus there’d be plenty more random tango happening today where ever there was spare space. There is no escape from the tango in Buenos Aires. We wandered around the square then just headed straight down Defensa, the main drag which they close off on Sundays just for the markets, all the way to the Plaza De Mayo.

I’m pleased to say we didn’t buy anything we didn’t need. Well done us. I noticed there’s a lot less Homer Simpson crap than there was twelve years ago. I remember so much stuff emblazoned with Homer drinking beer, Homer dancing tango with Marge, Homer wearing a Maradona shirt and handballing the ball into the net. Like, Homer, but Argentinian. Part of me is a little bit sad the obsession has come to an end but also it’s probably a good thing because I’d probably have left with pockets full of the crap having shaved several days of travel off our finances.

Plaza De Mayo is an important historic square. It’s where the revolution started in 2010 which eventually led to independence from the Spanish. The Casa Rosada is here, where parliament is housed. Pretty much every important political thing that happened in Argentina happened here. We finished our market stroll here, had a wander around then headed back to the Pride Café for a couple of motor impairment beverages.

Casa Rosada and the biggest Argentine flag I’ve ever seen.
There are hundreds of pebbles and stones around this statue and they’re all to commemorate individual victims of Covid.

So on Monday we’d booked a guided tour of the Cementerio De Recoleta, which is a fuck off great big cemetery where the wealthy of Buenos Aires are buried in huge tombs that probably have more usable floor space than our flat in Brighton. That wasn’t until the afternoon though so we took a bus to a bookshop. Not under any illusions that the bookshop would have anything in a language we could understand, but it’s a really fucking pretty bookshop.

Why yes, it’s very grand splendid actually.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid (no, really) is as much as a tourist attraction as it is a bookshop and it’s not uncommon to see people posing for photographs amongst those who are actually there because they want a book for their eyeholes. It’s a stunner of a building both inside and out to be fair. It used to be a theatre and it’s obvious, but it’s been a bookshop for over twenty years.

Find café. Sit outside. Wave like a creep at the shit tonne of dogs the professional dog walkers have.

We still had time to kill so we wandered in the vague direction of Palermo as we’d heard that professional dog walkers operate here and staring at other people’s dogs like a massive fucking creep is one of my favourite things to do. Argentinians love their doggos and we weren’t disappointed. We saw people walking just one or two dogs but we did see the professionals wrangling, like, ten dogs at a time. Maybe I’ll just move to Buenos Aires and walk dogs for a living.

Gomero de la Recoleta. This fig tree is vast! It was planted in either 1823 or 1791, either way it’s very fucking old.
They’ve propped the branches up and at some point someone got creative. The statue of the man holding up a branch is Atlas of Recoleta.

We wandered into Recoleta, grabbed a pancho at a kiosk so we didn’t starve to death, and had a beer at one of the many resto bars that lined the pavements across from the towering cemetery walls. Recoleta is a nice suburb, named after the monks that used to live here. They were sent packing in 1822 and the garden was turned into the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires. You need dolla dolla bills to live here, it’s been an area associated with the wealthy since the 1800s. You need similar quantities of dolla dolla bills to be buried here too.

Panchos! So, hotdogs then. You see them everywhere in some kiosks. They’re a fast, easy snack and usually cheaper than a packet of crisps.

We bought our entrance tickets, found our tour group and in we went. Our tour guide, Victoria, was brilliant. She told us so much stuff and I don’t think I remember it all but what I do is crammed underneath the following photos.

Recoleta Cemetery takes up five city blocks but it’s the smallest of Buenos Aires’ three cemeteries. The largest takes up 100 city blocks. Recoleta Cemetery started as a public cemetery for everyone but as the upper classes started moving into the area it quite organically started to become the final resting place of the wealthy. Eventually they built the wall around it and it became what it is today.
Some of the graves have been abandoned, perhaps because there’s noone left to pay for the upkeep, or perhaps because the remaining family don’t give a fuck about fancy tombs or they simply can’t afford it. They local authorities are meant to track down any living relatives and either get them to pay for the upkeep or have their family exhumed and removed but that’s a whole fuck tonne of bother so, well, they just don’t do it.
Whilst large sections of the cemetery are abandoned it’s still actually a functioning cemetery. There are a couple of funerals here a week. Some of the tombs are owned by families that still use them but it’s also possible to buy them. Victoria told us that you can go on the Argentine version of eBay, search for graves in Recoleta and buy one of your very own. She says the absolute cheapest she’s seen will set you back around US$10000 which is actually still cheaper than a Brighton & Hove beach hut and at least you’re allowed to stay in the graves overnight. Provided you’re dead of course. I’m going to go ahead and assume that this one would cost a bit more than $10k.
What you see above ground is just a fraction of the grave. Most of it is underground and, as not everyone gets a plaque, you’ve no idea how many people are buried in any given grave without consulting the records. Plaques aren’t often stolen from Recoleta on account of the high walls and the security, but theft is common in the other cemeteries.
Liliana and her faithful friend, Sabu. She died in Austria in an avalanche in Austria in 1970 aged just 26. Legend has it that her perfectly healthy dog died suddenly in her apartment in Buenos Aires at the same time as she was buried under a lethal quantity of snow. Legend also has it that if you rub the dog’s nose it’ll bring you luck so I think legend probably doesn’t know what the fuck it’s on about. Still rubbed his nose though. If my bonds come in next month I’ll know who to thank because it certainly isn’t the fucking scarab I walked around seven times in Egypt.
Rufina Cambaceres. On her 19th birthday she was found by her mother in her room pretty much just dropped down dead. They fetched the doctor who confirmed the worst and her devastated mother had her interred in the family tomb. One day the caretaker noticed her coffin had moved. He suspected grave robbers so fetched the mother to check over the tomb. Nothing was missing, so they opened the coffin. She was still there, she still had all of her possessions, but the body had moved and there were scratches inside the lid…
Paz family grave. Super fucking ornate and oozing with Catholic imagery. You can see the two massive angels at the bottom, and at the top is a woman slumped on the floor holding an oil lamp. The lamp symbolises getting ready to, well, die I guess. Above her is her soul emerging from an open coffin being guided by a third angel. Funerary art became big business when the cemetery slowly became a place for the wealthy to be buried in the late 19th century. It wasn’t enough to be buried, you wanted to show off your dolla dolla bills y’all.
This is the tomb of a president who had an arranged marriage and they did not get on. She liked to shop to ease the misery of being in a difficult marriage. He, according to legend, took an advert out in the local paper warning shopkeepers that if his wife tried to buy anything he wasn’t going to pay for it. After he died she lived the absolute high life, building herself a fabulous house and throwing elaborate parties. When she died 15 years after him she wanted to be buried with him, and she wanted her own damn statue, but she wanted it to have her back to his. Her wish was, as you can see, granted.
Luis Firpu. He was a famous boxer who knocked a chap called Jack Dempsey clear out of the ring during a match. Dempsey climbed back in and went on to win the match landing Firpu the title of the King Without A Crown. The statue of him shows him as a younger man with abnormally large hands.
Ramon Falcon was the chief of police in the early 1900’s when working people were being oppressed by the authorities. Protesters died, and when their bodies were being carried to the cemetery the police set upon them and even more people died. As chief, Falcon was the face of this oppression so when an anarchist decided to take action it was he who was targeted. Falcon was actually leaving Recoleta Cemetery after a funeral when the anarchist threw a bomb and killed him and his secretary. To this day his grave is persistently vandalised with anarchist symbols and the word “asesino” which means murderer. In 2018 a couple attempted to blow the grave up with a homemade bomb which went off when they were taking selfies with it. Fortunately it was a shit bomb and no one died.
Eva Peron. When she died of cervical cancer at just 33 years old they decided to try and preserve her body using an experimental technique. The man In charge of this, Dr Pedro Ara, spent two years embalming her body with plastics to keep her looking exactly like herself. They wanted to put her on display but her husband was overthrown and the new leaders ordered her body to be hidden. She was kept in the office of a major before she was packed off to Milan for burial under a fake name. Fifteen years later she was exhumed and kept at the home of her husband and his new wife. Eventually she was returned to Argentina and interred in her family’s tomb. There are rumours they had to bury her under metres of concrete to deter grave robbers but she’s merely in the deepest part of the grave, the door is secured by two gates, and a camera watches the grave 24/7. Apparently she looks the same as she did the day she died.
No idea who is buried here but look at the sheer fucking size of it! It’s not a Jewish grave despite the menorah. In this case, the menorah is just an oil lamp.

We didn’t want to leave Buenos Aires without shovelling steak and wine into our chops but it turned out that Monday was not the best day to do this. The most recommended places that wouldn’t require us to relinquish a couple of organs as payments didn’t open on Mondays but we figured hey, it’s Argentina, even she shit steaks are good, right? Yeah… nah… do not go to Goya Bar Histórico. The meat is average. The wine was good. The waiter spent the evening sneezing globs of snot all over his hands before serving drinks and food to people. If we end up with some manner of mucus producing virus I think we’ll have a pretty fair idea of where we got it from.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

San Telmo & Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Stayed at: Hotel El Pibe, Buenos Aires

Hotel El Pibe. Despite being on the 1st floor half of the hotel is outside which makes it a lovely place to hang out. Unless it rains. Our room was a bit stuffy and the fan didn’t quite keep us cool enough. Shared bathrooms are clean with hot water. In fact the whole place is cleaned daily. Kitchen is functional but you have to ask for crockery etc.

Useful shit to know…

  • Guided tours aren’t necessary for Recoleta Cemetery but I would recommend it. We used Buenos Aires Free Tours which cost US$10 each. If you want to pay in pesos they charge you Blue Dollar rate which is a bit cheeky. Right now it’s about AR$3000.
  • Since April this year you have to pay to enter the cemetery. Foreigners pay AR$1400 and you can only pay by card.

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