Perhaps visiting a mausoleum city first thing in the morning would keep the mood in a more macabre corner. The cemetery was built in 1822, another way for the wealthy to display even more irrational levels of abundance. Each mausoleum is a tiny marble mansion, extending deep into the earth to hold the decaying flesh of its household.
Many monuments with intricate stonework, deft wrought iron work, and Art Deco glass, line lane after lane of prominent citizens. We were guided by Maxi, a Buenos Aires gentleman who had just dropped off his little girl for her first day of school. He was kind enough to make the joke, “How does an Argentinian man commit suicide? He jumps from his own ego.”
He strolled down the paved walkways, pointing out prominent mausoleums, the odd Celtic monument, and a noteworthy stories. We visited Evita, of course, in the Duarte family mausoleum, as she was the illegitimate daughter of the family. Had she not risen to such prominence with her husband, Juan Peron, she would not have been laid to rest in such an illustrious cemetery. Her corpse alone was more well-traveled than most living people. Strange things happened to her after her young death from cancer. Her husband was ousted from power, and then things got weird.
She rests now with the Duartes, beflowered, and be-plaqued.
Several other good ghost stories haunt the place, including a buried alive tale. A young woman (beautiful, of course, for even in stories without pictures, we need people to be superlative) took ill at the opera one night. She became sicker and sicker, until the physician declared her dead. In such mourning, and probably afraid of disease, they gave her a good Catholic burial in the mausoleum. That night, the caretaker for the cemetery heard banging noises. Pounding noises. He ran to the family’s house, not far away, to get the key. They all returned, opened the door of the marble crypt and found the coffin moved from its original location.
They opened the coffin and found the girl dead, this time, truly dead, with deep scratches on her face and on the coffin itself. The erected a statue to her at the door of the mausoleum in consolation. But is she opening the gate to Heaven for the rest of her family, or is she taking her leave of the crypt?
I could have stayed all day, looking at the mausoleums, ornate and strange, it was like a three-quarters city, walled in, filled with the dead. But we left to go to the main city square, where we found the Pink House.
The Pink House is where, if you’ve seen the musical “Evita,” she has a balcony scene. This is it, where the executive branch lives. In front is a large square, Plaza de Mayo, where modern Argentines come to voice their grievances with protest. The most famous is the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who wear the white scarfs and protest the disappeared from 1976 to 1983. They now look for the children of the disappeared, as some of the women taken during that period were pregnant. Those children were given to party supporters, and never told of their true origin. Some have been found, and through DNA tests, reunited with biological families.
And what would a square be, if it didn’t have a massive church? A quick tour inside the very impressive Metropolitan Cathedral finds the well-guarded body of General Jose de San Martin, the man who helped throw off the colonial rule of Spain for Chile, Argentina, and Peru. He has round-the-clock guards from the Pink House, and they only looked a little bored by their two-hour shift.
But hey! Let’s move away from the death, political intrigue, and human rights abuses. We headed to the Camanito, a street museum and tourist trap, for some shopping. We saw the Futball stadium for Boca Juniors, and got the run down on the game, and the current president of Argentina, who used to own them.
But after a shopping excursion, we headed to a bakery to try some traditional pastries, all of which had politically charged anti-Catholic names. Even the doughnuts were taking issue with the powers that be. If the bakery can’t take the edge off the power struggles and exploitation, then how about some dancing? Some music? The sultry tango has its home in Buenos Aires.
The tango, one may not know, is actually a dance for two men, who are bored as they wait for the prostitutes they have hired. Unlike the politically disappeared from 1976-1983, or the mangling of Evita’s corpse, these are non-specific exploited women from almost one hundred years ago, so clearly, we are coming around to the happy bits of Buenos Aires’ history.
So we got a tango lesson. Mary Joy had taken quite a bit of dancing with her late husband Frank, so she was an old pro. Me? I’ve taken a few oddball lessons here and there, and never tango, but I can keep a beat and follow instructions.
We went to Cafe Tortoni, and got schooled up. In our crowd, though, we had far more women than men, so some of us ladies learned to lead, including me.
I pushed Mary Joy around in our box step, trying my best to be clear and forceful without getting stepped on by our other couples. I think we did pretty well. Nothing fancy, and certainly no sultry moves for this niece and aunt, but all in all, Team Joy did well in the dance challenge.
At the end, they wanted us to take a picture,
men with hats, women with scarves. Those of us women who led, dancing the male part, wanted hats, but this was not allowed. Not sure why, but our male dancing instructor was adamant against the cross-dressing aspect of a fedora. I still say I was a good leader.
This was all in preparation to appreciate the tango show we went to that night. We had a steak dinner (of course), and free-flowing wine, as we watched professional dancers put on a sweaty, scantily-clad show. Not as scant as the cultural show on Easter Island, but all of the costumes were made out of cotton, not grass.
Once again, the band was good, and shoved up all on the top edge of the stage, a piano, two accordions, two violins, a viola, a cello, and a string bass. They were excellent, and I think they were having more fun than the dancers. I would be too–the musicians didn’t have any slinky costume changes.
But enough, Buenos Aires. We had to go to bed after all the beef, the wine, the dancing, the exploitation, the arguments, and the disparity of power. You are beautiful, and you are powerful, but you make me tired.