So my tour in Buenos Aires on Sunday was supposed to be a tour of the districts of San Telmo (where there is a massive Sunday market) and Boca. However, because of the heavy rains and thunderstorms on Saturday, the Super Classico aka La Copa Libertadores football match between Boca Juniors and River Plate was moved to Sunday. Jessica STRONGLY recommended we avoid Boca not only because of the potential for violence between the fans of the two arch rivals, but because many of the roads and areas of Boca would be closed. As a result, we decided to go to San Telmo, which is the district adjacent to Boca, and then head away from Boca to Recoleta where we would visit La Recoleta Cemetery, famous for the many well known dead people buried there. We would go to Boca on Friday.
We walked a few blocks to one of the main streets in Palermo (where I am staying) and then hailed a cab for the 15 minute drive (in no traffic since it was Sunday) to San Telmo. The day was actually nice and warm and no rain, so was a far cry from the day before.
Now San Telmo is one of the older neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and was at one time a very poor area. In 1806, the Parroquia San Pedro González Telmo (parish) was established with the hope that the church community could work together to address the poverty issues. In the mid 19th century, infrastructure, including street lights, sewers and running water helped attract wealthier individuals to the area who constructed mansion with an art nouveau style. However, the 1871 cholera epidemic killed thousand and caused thousands more to flee to the northern regions of Buenos Aires leaving homes deserted. The vacant homes were soon occupied by European immigrants who banded together to divide up the rooms in a mansion among a number of families. This living became known as convento living.
In the early 20th century, the San Telmo area became known for the tango. Men would pose and dance on street corners with the hope of attracting a woman. At the same time, Carlos Gardel, the famed tango singer, helped make tango famous when he sang in Paris. The two trends coincided and helped San Telmo attract artists and musicians turning San Telmo into a district with a bohemian vibe.
Today, San Telmo is well known for its old buildings with wrought iron balconies, cafes, tango shows and of course, the huge antiques market/street fair on Calle Defensa, which is closed to traffic every Sunday for the massive blocks event.
After we arrived in San Telmo, we took in the Pedro González Telmo church with its gorgeous double spires and simple, traditional Spanish interior. Then it was time to set off down the street to see what was being sold today. Because of the storms on Saturday, there were less stalls set up today, but there were still antiques being sold at little stands all over the place. There was everything from old telephones and phonographs to records, crystal, fir coats and on and on.
We wandered down the street stopping to check out a very old café, which even included the original menu on the wall (with prices scratched out), the original cash register and the original coffee maker. The place was a real gem.
We crossed the antique square and had a look at a number of stalls and even saw a man selling mate (the Argentines favourite caffeinated drink, which is ridiculously bitter) from a portable cart. We then turned onto Calle Defensa and began our walk past numerous artisans who were set up selling everything from leather goods and mate cups to wood carvings, football (soccer) jerseys, paintings and jewelry.
As we wandered down the block, we passed numerous antique shops that were also open for business as well as the occasional grocery store and art shop. At one point, we veered off the street and went into the Mercado de San Telmo (covered market) where there were a number of food stalls, produce and meat stands as well as wine stores.
Now one thing I may not have mentioned is Argentina’s obsession with Dulce de Leche, a thick, gooey Carmel like substance which Argentines put on just about anything. Ice cream. Check. Toast. Check. (I made the mistake of thinking it was peanut butter one morning and got huge shock when I bit into my toast.) Fruit. Check. Waffles. Check. Wait waffles? Yep. Saw a stand in the market where they were selling waffles covered in Dulce de Leche. In fact, they even have stores dedicated to selling various brands of Dulce de Leche. And yes, I have purchased a bottle to take home.
After wandering around the indoor market, we walked back out to the main market and continued down the street looking at artisan crafts at the various stalls. And just when I thought I had seen everything, Jessica took me over to a long line of people waiting to have their picture taken with Mafalda. And who is Mafalda you ask? Mafalda is a 6-year-old girl who was featured in a cartoon strip that ran into Argentina from 1964 to 1973. Mafalda apparently reflected the middle class in Argentina and often adopted progressive attitudes showing concern for humanity and world peace. However, Mafalda was not without her faults as she also could adopt a bit of an attitude.
Anyway, there is a statute of Mafalda that has been constructed on a park bench in San Telmo and people line up for the chance to sit with Mafalda and have their picture taken. And this wasn’t just a couple people, this line stretched for almost a block. Sheesh.
By now, we were nearing the end of the authentic portion of the San Telmo market, so we decided it was time to hop on the bus for the 10 minute ride to La Recoleta Cemetary. We left the bus a couple blocks from the cemetery and then took an overpass to the other side of the freeway where we began the walk up the hill to the famous cemetery. As we walked, we passed, what else, a sign commemorating the Super Classico. It reminded everyone that no matter which side you are one, La Copa Libertadores championship was going to be won by Buenos Aires.
Anyway, once we reached the top of the hill, we took a quick coffee break before heading over to the cemetery. As we walked out the café, we passed el “Gran Gomero,” a 218 year old rubber (ficus) tree that had one of the largest tree trunks I have ever seen. It was massive with gigantic branches and trees roots. Pretty cool to see.
Now a bit about La Recoleta Cemetery. The cemetery was built in the garden of a former convent and in 1822 became the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires. The cemetery features hand carved marble mausoleums in a myriad of artistic styles. The cemetery has wide park Iike walkways and is laid out in blocks. The cemetery is the burial grounds of famous military heroes, presidents and wealthy Argentines. The families of those buried in the cemetery are responsible for the upkeep of their family mausoleums (except in cases where the government has insisted on burial in the cemetery and in such cases, the government maintains the mausoleums). If a family decides it does not want to maintain the mausoleum, the family can remove the dead, rebury them elsewhere and sell the burial plot to the highest bidder. The cemetery is said to be the most expensive real estate in Buenos Aires.
And once inside, I could not believe my eyes. These were not just any headstones and crypts. These burial grounds were works of art. There were marble angels, stained glass windows, statutes and busts of the dead, carved flowers and trees and on and on. It was like being in a museum. Simply amazing.
One of the first notable mausoleums we saw was the mausoleum of Brigadier General Tomas Guido. Now while Guido is one of the lesser known generals from South America’s fight for independence, his tomb is notable for the fact that he once said he wanted to be buried under the Andes stones. So what did his family do? They brought hundreds of Andean stones to Buenos Aires to construct his mausoleum. The mausoleum now looks like an Andean mountain.
Another notable mausoleum was the mausoleum of former President Mitre. President Mitre was the first Argentine president who did not practice the Catholic faith. He was also the first president after the Argentine civil war and unified the country. His mausoleum is notable for the three female statutes representing the ideals of Argentina, Justice and Duty (from left to right). The mausoleum was one of my favourites.
The next notable tomb was the tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak. Now this young woman was not famous during her lifetime, but her tomb has made her somewhat notable. Apparently, she died in an avalanche in Innsbruck in February 1970. Her grief stricken mother designed her tomb which is a life sized bronze statute of the young woman in her wedding dress. It is unknown if her husband survived the avalance, but her mother apparently did not want her to be on her own in the afterlife so her statute includes a small statue of her dog Sabú with her hand resting on his head. People rub Sabú’s nose for good luck.
And the spooky tomb award goes to Rvfina Cambaceres. Apparently, the young woman collapsed at 19 years of age and was declared dead. She was placed in a casket in the crypt prior to her memorial and church service. The next day, the groundskeepers discovered the casket had been moved. They called the police and the family and when the casket was opened, they discovered that the lid was scratched and marked. It is now thought that she simply had a seizure and was put in the casket alive where she later suffocated to death. To this day, people see a woman in white at night walking around the area of the crypt. Oooooooooooo.
Anyway, the last, and perhaps most notable mausoleum is the tomb of Evita Peron. Evita is buried in her family’s crypt and had a heck of a journey to reach her final resting place. When she died, she was embalmed and left to lie in state in the union headquarters. When her husband was ousted as president, the generals wanted to remove all memory of Evita so they moved her from union headquarters, kept her body at the military headquarters and then spirited her body out of Argentina to Europe. Eventually, the general believed to be in charge of moving Evita’s body to another country, was kidnapped and the information about Evita’s secret burial in Italy was revealed. She was exhumed and moved to Spain where her husband was living in exile. When her husband was reinstated as President, Evita was finally brought home and buried in her family’s crypt. To this day, she remains incredibly popular in Argentina and is visited daily by thousands.
So once we finished our tour of the amazing cemetery, I said goodbye to Jessica (who I will see again on Friday) and took a cab back to my hotel. Then it was a change of clothes and a walk down the street to a neighborhood bar to watch the Super Classico. And what a match it turned out to be. Boca Juniors opened the scoring much to the delight of half the crowd and then a minute later River Plate tied it up much to the delight of the other half of the bar. There were screams of agony and delight as the game progressed.
The game remained tied 1-1 at half time and then Boca Juniors took the lead again only to see River Plate tie it up again. Late in the game, the River Plate goalie made the save of his life stopping a breakaway with a thrust of his leg towards the ball. The game ended two minutes later tied 2-2. The second game is in River Plate stadium on November 24 and at this point, River Plate is the favourite since they are playing at home. I will certainly try to watch the game (although I will back in Seattle then and have no idea if it will be televised in the U.S.)
So with that, I walked back to my hotel and decided to call it a day. I was very tired and was going to have a long day tomorrow with a trip to Uruguay for a wine tour near Colonia. Should be fun.