Thursday, December 13, 2012
Recoleta is the name of the neighborhood we rented an apartment in, but it's also the name of the famous cemetery in that neighborhood. We’re always a little skeptical when someone tries to sell us on a cemetery as a tourist attraction. But there is something to be said for understanding a society or culture by how they treat their dead. And since we were staying in the neighborhood, it was a short walk from our apartment There are beautiful parks and cultural centers in the same area as the cemetery, and a market on weekends, so it also ended up being a good day for people watching, too.
That being said, Recoleta did make an impression on us. This isn’t like a cemetery in the States, though it’s superficially similar to those in New Orleans. It is filled with crypts built in a riot of architectural styles. Most buildings had glass windows or doors with window panes, so you could clearly see inside, which is when you could see that they all had stairs leading down, underground—some of them two stories deep, filled with coffins. Some crypts were pristine; glossy marble, cleaned glass windows, and polished brass stair rails, as well as fresh flowers. Others were completely decayed; broken, smeared glass, thick cobwebs, and rubble and coffin shards strewn about as if there had been some kind of battle inside.
The well maintained crypts were beautiful, and had a sort of sterile, museum-like quality to them. However, there was something about being able to look inside the decrepit crypts, that made the place feel spooky, when we’ve never felt anything like that in a cemetery before—neither of us is remotely superstitious either. Maybe it was the cobwebs, maybe it was the disarray inside that looked as if the dead had been trying to scrabble their way out overnight, but had to stop (temporarily) at daybreak.
The cemetery has a labyrinthine quality to it that adds to the eeriness. Row after row, corner after corner, you begin to get turned around.
Normally cemeteries are at the edge of cities, but in this case the city has grown up around it. I’m not sure if I’d want an apartment overlooking a cemetery, but I’d probably be drawn to the window more than I should if I lived there.
Even though there were lots of visitors on the day we went, we still saw very few of them. Even at Evita’s grave, which is the one everyone goes to see, there were only a couple of other people. Lana read some interesting stuff about her body—apparently it was stolen and went missing for 17 years after her death, and was only returned to her husband shortly before his own death.
Not creepy enough for you yet? One of the other interesting things about the cemetery was the population of cats that called it home. As cats are wont to do, they sprawled languidly across the crypts, basking in the sun.
After stepping back out of the cemetery and into the hustle and bustle of a busy Saturday afternoon, we grabbed an outdoor table at La Biela and watched a little tango in the park.
The verve and vivacity of the show helped us shake off the heebee-jeebees. And a nice cup of café con leche and some medialunas helped too.