Wednesday, February 13, 2008

First Full Day in BA (split post) Part 2 - 12 Feb 2008

---Secondo Parte---

This was my first experience with dulce de leche. It’s a famous desert/sweet here in Argentina. Dulce de leche is sweet caramelized milk. I remember when Hanna studied in Argentina with Sra. Rolón, she told me how wonderful this stuff was. It really is quite good.

Oh for my knitting friends, I found my first yarn shop in Recoleta. It probably was more of a notions shop because it had hundreds of buttons, stuff for sewing, and a bit of yarn. I can’t wait to go to the area of Palermo that has more yarn, but my wallet will hold me back.

After my lunch I was heading to explore the acclaimed Recoleta Cemetery. When two men approached me with vests that had Red Cross’s on them. The funny thing is that I usually avoid these kinds of people when I’m traveling, but they caught me because I was gauking a bit too much when I turned onto the street toward the cemetery. I took it in stride because it ended up being a good conversation. They wanted to know how long I was in BA and for what purpose. They made a bunch of different recommendation, i.e. go to Puerto Madero and La Boca. We chatted about the cemetery and church, too. They then told me their purpose. They are volunteers for a nonprofit organization in BA Asociación Civil “Si a la Vida”, or Yes to Life, Civil Organization. Their organization provides two functions: First, they provide educational resources to citizens and foreigners traveling to BA about HIV/AIDS and second they provide services to children stricken with HIV/AIDS specifically.

They asked for money, and I gave a few pesos, in return they gave me a red ribbon. After I knew all of this, I chatted to them about things I’m involved with at Gettysburg College with World Aids week. They told me where their volunteers are at and said they would permit me to interview them if I needed it for my research. They also said there are doctors I could talk to affiliated with their association! It was an exciting mistake. Wear red tomorrow, and tell someone about HIV/AIDS awareness—better yet, inform them about the risks of Heart Disease, too.

Next I went to Del Pilar Cloisters, or Our Lady of Pilar Basílica. This church and convent was built by commission in 1715 by the King of Spain Felipe V for Franciscan monks. Later Juan de Narbona from Spain commissioned a chapel, office, and 4 cells, which was ultimately dedicated to Our Lady of Pilar. The tradition goes that the Christian Apostle James crossed a bridge over the river Ebro when the Virgin appeared on a marble pillar. Accordingly James called her Virgin of the Pilar and the name stuck. In 1822 the monks were kicked out of the convent and the church was reopened as a parish of the Catholic church on 18 November 1829. Finally Pope Pio XI raised the church to the title of Basilica in 1936.

I thought the Prayer to Our Lady of Pilar was quite nice (It was from their brochure, so I lay no claims to its validity):
Show us the Father each day.
Show us Christ,
Who lives in our brothers.
Teach us to live simply the fecundity of sanctity.
Show godless and embittered men
who only trust weapons and live the explosive temptation of violence that
Peace is still possible
because Love is possible.

I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary with this basilica fashioned with guidelines from the Middle Ages. The museum was interesting because it had many very old relics from the early convent that are still used for special services today. A man was there taking down an exhibition of Nacimientos from Christmas and I talked with him a bit. (Nacimientos are also known as Crèche or Nativity’s). The other great thing for a strange perspective on photos is that there are really neat windows that look onto the cemetery from the 2nd and 3rd floors. These are great places for an interesting perspective on the cemetery. In fact the windows make the cemetery look overwhelming.

My cousin Jennifer told me to visit the cemetery—without her knowing that I have a bit of a fetish for cemeteries. I guess I get it honestly; my grandma is the recording secretary for St. John’s Cemetery, Berrysburg, PA (aside St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church). This cemetery was very different than cemeteries in the US or the cemetery I spent time in Cuernavaca. I’ll try to put in words some history of the cemetery and some of my reflections on why this was quite interesting.

The cemetery was started after the monastery had begun, but didn’t really come into full service until after the Basilica of Our Lady Pilar became a parish. Because this is located in a historically wealthy and aristocratic part of town, over time this became the cemetery that the elite were buried in BA. To be buried in this cemetery, you had to be part of an elite class in BA. It’s interesting because the mausoleums are quite posh; most are constructed out of stone, granite, or marble. The tombs are full structures. They usually have multiple people in the same family buried within their walls. Many of the rooms have an underground section, too. The acclaimed Evita Perón is buried here.

I’m just starting to learn about Argentine history, so I will be brief with my remarks about Perón. Evita was the wife of Juan Perón, who led Argentina in the 50’s. You might remember her when Madonna played Evita while serenading to ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ on a balcony of la Casa Rosada. Evita had humble beginnings born out of wedlock and become someone fantastic.

One of the plaques on her grave says: “Es y será la guia de los trabajadores argentinos y su legado iluminara por siempre el camino de la justicia social sindicato unico de trabajadores del estado de la ciudad de Buenos Aires,” or loosely in English, “She is and will be the guide to Argentine workers and her legacy will always iluminate the walk toward united workers in labor unions in the city of Buenos Aires.”

One thing that kind of resonates with me is that internationally we are all drawn to leaders like Perón. Her legacy will never be forgotten. After talking with my host family about this, it seems like Argentines think of Perón very highly, too. When I saw her grave, I was taken aback at the shear number of people congregating at her grave—it was an international moment. Some were Argentines, French, German, English, Americans, Japanese—it was neat. It was the first time I actually heard all of these languages at once since I arrived in BA.

The sad part of this cemetery is that it is falling into disrepair. The upkeep of these burials is incredible, since most of the graves themselves are like small houses. Accordingly this has gotten much worse since the economic recession in 2001 and the government has started to assist in its upkeep since it is a major venue for tourism.

It’s really interesting to me how much resources we put into death. In modern day, we plan for it, some of us try to put it off—while others try to quicken death’s pace—but inevitably graves seem to the last thing we are entitled to on this earth. It amazes me that Archaeologists tend to find a lot of their information about a past culture through grave yards. I guess the question I’ve been pondering is: Why do societies put so much emphasis on death? Sometimes I think we put so much emphasis on dying and planning for death as a society that each of us forget to live the days we have. I guess in some cases our religious persuasion creates this climate, since most major religions believe that the afterlife will be better than the present, earthly life. I think it’s something worth pondering. What do you think?

So the day got more entertaining as time marched on. After the cemetery, I got this amazing idea to walk through Recoleta on the way to Alto Palermo and then back to my home in Lafinur. In theory it was great—if I only would have been paying attention to the map. I went through Recoleta and went to Avenida Santa Fe which runs parallel to Alto Palermo. I just went the wrong way—not realizing it at the time—and ended up on Avenida 9 Julio de Septiembre towards town center. I saw a Subte (metro) station close by and realized what I had done at that point. (I know my mother will be rolling her eyes at this point when she reads this…) So I decided to use the Subte to go to estación Bulnes, near Alto Palermo. It was a silly mistake in hindsight, but I got to walk down one of the prettiest avenidas in BA, so it all turned out quite good!

At Alto Palermo I shopped around and got the cheapest cell phone I could find at the many kiosks. It will be adequate for my time here. The guy that sold it to me talked fast, but I understood him. I headed back to the apartment for dinner around 8, and that completed my first full day in BA.

I had problems getting the cell phone to work—even Mateo tried to help me. But we are going to return to Alto Palermo tomorrow to talk to the people at the kiosk again. We’ll see what happens.

I think I am supposed to study here.

On a language note, generally I don’t have a lot of problems getting around. Strangers on the street are hard for me to understand because of their thick Argentine accent, but its improving a little at a time. It is taking me quite a bit of time to think with the right past tense forms again. Preterite tense is kicking my butt once again. I always confuse the ‘I’ and ‘he/she/it’ forms. Though, I know it will improve since it is a recurring problem I have had since my second year of Spanish in high school.

Para ahora, ¡Chau!

Address for Asociatión Civil “Si a la Vida”:
Mar Dulce 385
Ciudad de Buenos Aires
Phone: 4268-1350
Ministry of Health Argentina


Steven said...

I liked your description of the cemetery. I see it on different shows from time to time. Just this weekend I saw a show about the tango and it's roots in Buenos Aires. If featured a visit to the grave of Carlos Gardel.

I'm enjoying your blog! Good luck with finding more yarn stores!

neagley said...

Thanks. I will have to show you my pictures from México's Cemetery some time. I might put them up on the blog. There's quite a contrast between the two types of cemetaries. I'm writing another piece on that in the future, i think.

I saw Tango this weekend in the streets of San Telmo! It was super exciting.

I will post some info about the Yarn stores soon. I'm a bit perplexed...

Anonymous said...

I'm loving your blog and am so envious of you! I wish I could be abroad and seeing new things again. It sounds like you're having a great time exploring the city. Keep up the great posts! I want to see some pictures soon too. You describe it all so vividly that it makes me want to see it!


neagley said...

Thanks for your comments Shandra. I will be posting pictures hopefully today. I need to get moving. I am just so busy right now that there's not a lot of time for anything. You would love some of the wonderful Architecture here.