I don’t know why but by the time I was done with my yoga practice this morning, I had a destination in mind- a cemetery.
I’d gone to visit the famous Recoleta Cemetery a while back when I first arrived in Buenos Aires. It was beautiful, strangely calming, and the mausoleums of the rich and famous were impressive. During the walking tour of the cemetery, I learned that the “normal people” were buried elsewhere, in a place much larger than Cementerio de la Recoleta. I’d been curious about this other cemetery and somehow it popped into my head this morning that I should make a visit. I looked up the location and decided it was walkable from my apartment. It was another beautifully sunny day here in Buenos Aires. Why not spend the afternoon in a cemetery?
Food first though, of course. There are still a lot of vegetarian restaurants in my neighborhood I haven’t tried so today I went to Arevalito, a tiny little place in Palermo Hollywood. I snagged the last outdoor table (there were a few tables inside but it felt too claustrophobic), and looked at their small menu which had maybe 5 items to choose from. I didn’t want anything hot so I ordered the “Queen’s Salad.”
This Ensalada de Reina was well composed and absolutely the best salad I’ve had so far in Buenos Aires. Each component of the dish had been prepared separately and then assembled; the eggplant was tart with vinegar, the broccoli was perfectly blanched, the beetroots were roasted and then tossed in a creamy vinaigrette, the greens were dressed well, and there was just the right amount of coarse sea salt sprinkled over everything. Freshly baked whole grain bread, garbanzo beans in olive oil and paprika.. all went very well with the salad. It’s a real hole in the wall with an easily-miss-able sign and it has absolutely no ambiance to speak of, but I loved it. I left with a big smile on my face, ready to walk to the cemetery.
What I first noticed as I got closer to the cemetery were the walls. These walls were at least two or three stories high and I couldn’t see what was waiting for me inside at all. So when I finally arrived at the huge entrance and took in the grand scale of the place, I felt a small chill go down my spine. I started to take a few hesitant steps and looked around me to see if anyone else was around. The grounds stretched and extended out where I couldn’t see the end, and with so many mausoleums I thought I could easily get lost in there. I spotted a beautiful building to my left so I headed in that direction.
Unlike the Recoleta Cemetery where there were huge crowds of people, here I found myself alone in rows after rows of tall mausoleums. I was taking these photos when someone called to me. It was one of the caretakers of the cemetery, Carlos, and he asked me if I wanted to know more about the place. He walked me around for a while and told me that the Cementerio de la Chacarita was built in 1871 during the yellow fever epidemic; this was the place where those unfortunate victims of the disease were buried. He said there were 5 caretakers just for this section of the cemetery, and beyond the mausoleums there were burial grounds and also a crematorium.
We went this way and that for a bit, and Carlos showed me a few very old mausoleums that were in ruins and helped me look inside some that had windows and doors broken. If the families can’t pay the maintenance fees for several years the mausoleum/land becomes the property of the municipal government. He pointed out small doors and stairs inside the mausoleum that lead to more space underground where coffins and ashes are kept. I asked him whether he had family buried there. He said his parents and Grandparents were outside the city. I thanked him and headed off to find a shady spot.
Below: mausoleums made entirely of black marble so shiny that it reflected everything as if they were mirrors...
It was quiet. Quite enough to hear birds chirping. I realized that it was the first time I noticed birds singing since I arrived in Buenos Aires. I didn’t want to move so I just sat there on a bench under a big tree.
For some, this is their final resting place.
Others lie underground without proper headstones. But does it really matter?
I was supposed to go to a dinner party this evening but after spending so much time with the dead this afternoon it didn’t feel quite right to be surrounded by lots of people. I’m staying in and going to bed soon. Night, night.
Cementerio de la Chacarita: Guzmán 680 @ Avenida Frederico Lacroce (Subte B Frederico Lacroce station) in Chacarita, Buenos Aires This is not the official website of the cemetery but has a lot of information on its history. www.cementeriochacarita.com.ar
Arevalito: Arévalo 1478 near Cabrera, Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires