Copyright Eve Anderson

El Ciudad de los Muertes     Recolleto, Buenos Aires
About the music
"Love Tanguedia"

[She, Evita] had been buried in a crypt in Milan, Italy, under the name "María Maggi". In 1971, the body was exhumed and flown to Spain, where Juan Perón maintained the corpse in his home. In 1973, Juan Perón came out of exile and returned to Argentina, becoming president for the third time. Perón died in office in 1974. Isabel Perón, who had been elected vice-president, thus became the first female president in the world. It was Isabel who had Evita's body returned to Argentina and (briefly) displayed beside Juan Perón's. The body was later buried in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.Extra measures were taken by the government to secure Evita's tomb. There is a trapdoor in the tomb's marble floor, which leads to a compartment that contains two coffins. Under the first compartment is a second trapdoor and a second compartment. That is where Evita's coffin rests

The Plate River empties mud to the Atlantic

Click for a history of Evita
Click for a history of Juan
Canopy of le grand Park de St Martin
The Marriott
Photos from our balcony

Buenos Aires

Feeling better but still a little under the weather—Trish is getting my stomach flu, I’m getting her cold—we fly over the Andes from Santiago to Buenos Aires, Argentina, land of the gauchos, land of the tango, land of style and machismo. The flight over the mountains, their altitude about 5000 meters, was beautiful and they are, of course, topped with snow. I read in a travel book that there is a road from Santiago, Chile, over the mountains, to Mendoza, Argentina. The road is so high that one must take oxygen along in the car in order to breath. Making this trip by airplane seems somehow too easy, and I think, casually, between bites of fancy French food—finally, something good; we’re on Air France which, unaccountably, has the best fare from Santiago to Buenos Aires—of the effort it would take to cross these National Geographic mountains on foot.

We land in a very modern airport and are picked up by a car sent by the agent we rented our apartment from. This not having to hassle with cabs, luggage, language and money immediately on getting to a new city is quite an underrated luxury. We have an uneventful drive to our apartment in the center of the city. The driver can speak some English, we can speak some Spanish, so we get on alright. We are met at the apartment by our agent, Olga Esperanza. Energetic, entrepreneurial, somewhat plain but quite stylishly dressed and perfumed, a Bolivian that has lived in Argentina and New York City and speaks flawless English, walks us through the apartment, a small but beautiful unit on the tenth floor of a rather nice elevator building with a doorman. We will stay here a month.

One enters directly into the living room-dining room. The floor is parquet, the real kind where small sticks of wood of various shades our cemented directly to the concrete sub-floor and then sanded to a fine and uniform finish; then it is varnished. In the apartment the muebles (furniture) is rather elegant and stylish compared to what we’ve been used to, and there are lots of knick knacks, fancy dishes and vases. We find out later that this apartment belongs to Olga’s mother who lives in New York. To the left of the living room is an alley-like kitchen with all the essentials, but were two people in this room at the same time they could not easily pass one another. Beyond the entrance to the kitchen—back in the living room again—is the entrance to a very small bathroom, and to a small, utilitarian bedroom. Small as is the bathroom, it contains a bidet next to the toilet.  Though understanding its basic function, Trish and I, looking at it, take a moment to try to figure out just exactly which of our parts might go with which of its parts; it has an intriguing number of chromium handles and orifices and looks very spa-ish and utilitarian. Ah, those French! It will stare at us all the while we are here, asking itself why we are so crude. Cantilevered out from the living room itself, high over the street, is a miniscule little glassed-in terrace that you can see in the picture. It’s the part with the small tree. It has a tile floor and potted plants, and windows on three sides, windows that open. It’s a pretty adjunct to the living room since the glass door to it is always open. I was a little nervous going out on it at first and looking down ten floors to the street, but the feeling gradually wore off, yet another triumph of desire over logic.  This will be our home for the next four weeks.

 

We’re both feeling better now, and as always in a new city we walk for blocks and blocks just looking at what is different and unusual. The first thing we notice here is the beautiful park across from our apartment. It is large park, covering an area perhaps two blocks by two blocks.  It has the usual tile walks and statuary commemorating long-dead warriors and—this being Buenos Aires—populist politicians. But the most striking feature of the park is the huge trees that cover virtually the entire plaza.

Now you might ask what is so unusual about a park with trees, but these are not normal trees; their black trunks are very tall, reaching up perhaps sixty feet before really beginning to branch out.  At that elevation their branches then spread grandly and meet each other forming a nearly complete ceiling, thus giving the park the feel of a dimly lit, and hushed, cathedral. Here and there, in what otherwise would be a hole in the solid, black-green canopy, an immense palm tree has arced up and precisely filled the offending space with its lacy yellow fronds, like a circular Venetian blind that allows relatively more light into the church-like whole than do the predominant deciduous trees.

There is also a very large and undoubtedly very old “ombu” tree. I have never seen anything like these trees. The trunk is irregular, made up of what seem to be separate stalks that have grown together into one massive trunk easily 25 feet or more in diameter. From this massive trunk, low, straight, almost horizontal branches are sent, the lowest ones only 12 or 15 feet from the ground. These branches themselves are also very large, elliptical in cross section with a vertical diameter of perhaps five feet and a horizontal diameter of about three feet. These branches are long, very long, extending from the trunk perhaps—I don’t exaggerate—100 feet, so long in fact that they are propped up on stout poles toward their ends, as otherwise they would certainly sag to the ground, or perhaps break off, obviously a revered old fellow who requires assistance and receives it. This makes the outer diameter of the tree as a whole well over 200 feet!

Taken altogether this park is almost religious in its grandeur. Coexisting with the well-dressed gentry, homeless people, snoozing boozers, beggars, and people just walking dogs and children, all live in this church, harmonious and at peace with their God.

 

Avenida Florida is a commercial avenue that is near the street on which we live.  It begins only a half block from our hotel. It is unusual because it is a pedestrian street, completely tiled over and closed to traffic. It begins at the park and extends well over twenty blocks to the south, lined with one shop after another. Small cross streets, which do carry traffic, intersect it at every block, usually with no stop light.

Here, when walking down Florida avenue, as in Peru, the pedestrian mass-momentum theory of crossing streets is operative, and on Avenida Florida there are great numbers of people. Periodically they collect in vast clusters at the cross streets and then, to cross the street, they collectively get up their nerve and overwhelm the drivers zipping down the cross streets. Once bested, the drivers give up with a good grace and sit back to watch the girls in miniskirts and high heels strut in front of them on show.

The street, as I said, is flanked continuously by shops of all kinds: ropas (clothing stores), joyerias (jewelry shops), cafés de Interneto (internet cafes), leatherwear, surprisingly many book stores, sex shops, confiterias (coffee and pastries), banks, two McDonald’s, gellatarias (ice cream shops), and on and on. In the very middle of what would have been quite a wide “street” had it not been tiled over, are large magazine kiosks, telephones, and shoe shiners with little portable chairs all set up for business.

Here on this street the selling is not merely passive: just looking in store windows and entering if one chooses to. No, here store people come right out and aggressively hustle the walkers into their stores for promos and liquidaciones (sales). People are paid just to walk around carrying signs for various commercial enterprises. 

Some huge gallerias (indoor malls) front onto Avenida Florida, and from what seems a modest entrance they lead inside and up and down and around—huge and very artfully decorated department stores with escalators, food galleries and kiosks of small items. One of these stores contained, in addition to the wares on sale, an entire art museum. The way the Porteños (the people of Buenos Aires), seamlessly blend commercial and public spaces is interesting.

Walking like a country boy down this energetic street, gawking at all the merchandise in the fancy stores, I noticed a particularly busy confiteria. Its customers seemed mainly to be business men in double-breasted suits, colored handkerchief neatly folded into breast pocket, and with stylish and expensive-looking shoes. Inside there are tables but most of these men seemed just to stand at a bar having café and perhaps a sweet. I mark the place down in my head, deciding to come back sometime.

 

The next morning the confiteria is still on my mind and I want to check it out. So as not to seem too much the tourist, I dress in the best clothes that I have with me, and I wear my leather shoes, not soft shoes like a gringo; Porteños, men and women, are sharp dressers and know and love fine leather. I’m on my own for this adventure; this is a man thing.

It is a large restaurant. The walls are large slabs of a pinkish marble, the floor, as always, tile. The ceiling is very high, the noise level even higher, the buzz of the people inside bouncing off the six hard surfaces of the nearly cubical room. A stairway sheathed in copper curves delicately up to a mezzanine with more tables. Along one wall is the café bar, my destination. There is another bar in the back for liquor, but it’s largely abandoned in the morning; at this time of day the café bar has the focus. 

Some distance behind the café bar is a work-platform raised about three feet, and on this is a counter with two very large, ornate espresso machines, each manned by a distinguished-looking gentleman in a white jacket, black trousers and black bow tie. It is obvious that the platform is intended to give prominence to these elegant machines which are the focus of the whole restaurant. Behind the bar, at floor level, are two equally distinguished-looking waiters, similarly attired. This seems a serious business. These are serious people. The oddity of employing grown men merely to serve coffee is arresting; an American wonders, Where are the college kids?

The clientele stand in front of the glass topped bar—there are no stools—and sip café with a little foam on the top out of little demitasse cups. Tiny spoons are often used to stir sugar into the dark, black coffee. When you order a café, you are automatically served a small—double shot glass—of agua mineral, con gas (sparkling water), as a “chaser”. Under the glass of the bar top are little cubby holes, each with a different type of sweet pastry that you can order to have with your cafe. I confess to a love of the shiny mechanisms, the precision and style of the ritual.

So I walk right up to the bar and say to the waiter, “Café por favor,” as though I knew what I was talking about, and nearly at the limit of my Spanish portfolio. The waiter mutters some mumbo jumbo back at me at about five miles a minute and then, when he sees I don’t understand, simply points to something I had not noticed before, a cashier sitting in the corner. You pay first! So much for my suavé.

Somewhat abashed, I walk over to the cashier and say, “Café.” She understands me. I wanted a pastry too but there are many, many kinds and I don’t know their names in Spanish—or for that matter in English—so the hell with that; another day; let’s go with the flow. I give the Argentine money to the cashier, and she gives me a ticket for the server. 

Fortunately Argentinean money is pretty much the same as our money, since their pesos are pegged to the dollar—they’re actually worth about 98 cents, but everybody ignores the difference.  One can use American bills anywhere here, as though they were pesos.

I go back to the bar with my receipt and hand it to the waiter. “Café por favor,” I say again to the bartender, confident now. He’s already moved off; he knows what I want; he read the cash slip I handed him. “Café,” he says gutturally to one of the men on the coffee machine platform. After some clanking and banging and hissing behind the machine, out comes this little cup of very strong espresso. It tastes great. I know I will be back, and more suavé next time.

I come back many times to the café and each time I learn a little more about what’s what. I like the small cups of black café and occasionally I enjoy a café con leche—hot milk into which a double shot of espresso has been poured. But what I want more than anything else is a small espresso with just a little steamed milk added after it is poured. I see them make it often but I don’t know how to call for it. I could say: “café con chico leche caliente,” but in my experience so far here this sort of literal translation gets you nowhere—they would pick up immediately on the significant, “café con leche” part, which they recognize, and just consider the rest to be gringo gibberish.

For several days I listen carefully as the bartenders call out to the machine operators for what they want, then I look at what gets made. Sometimes this will get you somewhere; here no, the speech is too quick and guttural. I could try to see one fast enough as it went by, catch the bartenders eye, point to it and then point to my mouth. I have sunk this low at other times and places, but here I cannot, it seems a point of honor to do it properly—the sense of style is catching. Finally, after days of listening I think I have it, “portado”. That’s what I want, a portado. Since I can’t try it out immediately—one espresso here is plenty; two could be deadly—I go back to the apartment where I announce the successful end to the search.

Tricia says, “Yeh, I read something like that in the guide book.  It’s the BA standard drink.” She gets the book and after a moment announces, “cortado, what you want is a cortado.” Now I hate when this happens, as it frequently does. But the next day at the café the demand for a “cortado”—I pronounce it low and fast, rolling the R—at the Confiteria Florida brings instant success. Now, not only am I rewarded with the right stuff, but I seem to have come up a few notches in the hierarchy, lost a little of my gringo status as it were.

 

Porteños are generally tall and slim with light complexions, men and women alike, betraying the strong intermixing of Italian, German and other European roots with the indigenous peoples. They are fancy dressers, stylish. Women tend to be stylish everywhere; here, the men are stylish too. Of course we’re in the middle of a large, cosmopolitan city, but still…  In one shop I noticed a nice looking middle-aged man with a neatly trimmed goatee standing and talking to several acquaintances, forearm casually raised with a cigarette fuming between two fingers, his suit jacket comfortably hanging from his shoulders, neatly folded red handkerchief in the breast pocket, arms not in the sleeves. Just like in the movies, and no one seemed to be laughing. Buenos Aires does seem to be somewhat like a movie set to me.

Men’s shoes are invariably well shined, and why not since there are shoe shine stands every half block. But here’s the thing that tells you that something is different about Porteños: the shoe shine guy himself has on a nicely pressed shirt, and a tie! That, I decide, is the essential difference between here and home: in the States, business people are more or less well dressed everywhere—except for programmers of course, who have their own sort of style—but here in BA even the peons are well dressed.

Olga, our apartment agent, says that Porteños will be stylish even if they’re broke. It’s just part of the Tango culture. What is the tango culture? Well, it’s hard to explain, but it is more than just a dance, it is a way of looking at life. The tango is an expression of macho. It’s like the cowboy thing, but urban: strong, silent, guns, hats, knives. The only modern equivalent that I can think of is hip-hop music which, unaccountably, seems to have morphed into something rather grandly termed the “hip-hop world”.

 

The internet is pervasive in Latin America, for reasons I’ve speculated on before, but here in BA it is everywhere. There are more out-and-out coffee shops than internet places, but just barely. I counted six places in an area two blocks square. Some Internet places are cafes, with pop and beer, coffee and sweets, perhaps sandwiches and a few machines. Others are plain-vanilla, hardcore, internet-only shops with rows of machines and a cashier, prominent on an elevated podium, though I don’t doubt that you could also obtain coffee. You go to the cashier, get a machine assigned, and go sit down. They enter your start time into a database. You pay when you leave. The cost here is $3/hour, or so. If you make an account first and pay twenty bucks or so up front, the cost might go down to $2/hour, then. Then you work-off a tarjeta (ticket), like a bus pass.

The machines vary widely from shop to shop, but tend toward the low-end. Internet speed is generally slow so it doesn’t much matter much what the machine’s speed is. Screens are usually 14” to 15”; resolution is probably 800 x 600. The machines will be on a local area network. We weren’t able to figure out what kind of communications line they used.

You will frequently see employees on the sidewalk outside carrying a sandwich board and handing out flyers to passersby. The board might say, “384K Connexion”, or “Large Screen”—for computer stuff English and Spanish have roughly equal billing here—or “Aire Condicionado”. 

Although we have a phone in our apartment we were unable to figure out how to get a local ISP that would give us a one month contract, thus we needed to find a good internet place, and we did, two blocks away, one that had good machines, a fast connection and air conditioning. A winner, in other words. Once this gem was located, Trish—my language maven—was able to say that we wanted to connect our laptop to their network and didn’t want to use one of their machines. They very much admired our fancy, lightweight portable and helped us configure it for their network. Together, in a combination of Spanglish and computerease—“netbui” having by now passed into the global flux of common understanding—Trish and one of their people worked out the protocols and switches. This let me get on to our server in Pittsburgh and monitor our apartment-rental business. We subsequently returned many times to that place and became very friendly with the people there.

 

We Go To Montevideo

We left early this morning for a “vacation”, a three-day excursion to Montevideo, Uruguay. The Uruguayan Atlantic shore angles northeast from Montevideo, which is just across the Plate river from Buenos Aires. They call this shore the southern Riviera. (They call Buenos Aires the Paris of the south too, I think the South must be having an identity crisis.) Anyway, this Uruguayan shore is where the Argentines go in the summer to get out of the city, when they’re not going to Chile.

Our destination is the Hotel Argentino, a spa-like hotel on the Atlantic beach in a city called Piriopolis. To get there one simply crosses the river Plate, which separates Argentina from Uruguay. This doesn’t sound like much but it actually involves a 2-1/2 hour trip on a boat. Like the Amazon, or some other large rivers, the Plate, here at its delta—the point where it empties into the Atlantic ocean—is over 100 kilometers across and one cannot see from one side to the other. It looks like the ocean—only brown.

Once in Montevideo one takes a one hour bus ride northeast to Piriopolis. The company providing this wrap around, multi-modal travel is named Buquebus, or “Boat-bus”.

Complicating this simple trip further is the need, at the port, to pass through both Argentine and Uruguayan Customs and when we get down to the port for some reason I (not surprising) and Trish (surprising) have completely forgotten to think about passports. Hey, we’re not just going across the river here, we’re going to another country! And the boat is leaving very soon. Trish hops into another taxi, hightails it back to the hotel, has the driver wait, and then zooms, back to the port. Try this quick and en Espanol.

We pass through customs. Here, in Argentina, the Uruguayan customs agent sits next to her Argentine counterpart. This is an efficient operation as then, in Uruguay, you have no formalities whatsoever. 

People all over Latin America like stamps. Not passive stamps like postage stamps, active stamps with ink pads with which to stamp tickets, invoices, bills-of-lading, receipts, restaurant checks and … passport documents. (BA is full of Librios, stores where you can buy fancy pens, pads of paper with nice covers, paper clips, diaries, appointment books, and of course self-inking rubber stamps made to order. No Office Maxes here. This is the real thing here, the old time thing, right out of colonial America, out of centuries of clerics—hey, they’re not called clerics for nothing.) We turn over our passports: bam, bam … bam, bam, bam. That’s it for Argentina. Pass the stuff to Uruguay at the next desk. Bam, bam … bam, bam, bam. That’s Uruguay. We’re out of here.

 

The boat we were to take was to have been a hydrofoil.  I had always wanted to experience a hydrofoil and see how they work. I knew that they were boats that could rise up out of the water and plane on horizontal underwater fins, thus reducing the drag of the water so that they could go much faster than otherwise. So I was surprised, and a little disappointed, when we were herded onto what can only be described as a large ship-ferry, perhaps 80 feet wide and 250 feet long, with cars on the bottom deck and people on the upper. But we’re finally on board, and we’re not arguing. We’re going to Uruguay.

We left the dock as the sun was coming up and moved slowly out of the harbor, ships of all sizes going here and there, the skyline of BA in the background. We sat in the rear of the ship looking out an immense array of fixed windows that enclosed the entire fantail. Above, the ship’s decks were entirely enclosed in glass and there was built-in airplane-type seating for several hundred people. After the ship slowly left the harbor and left the other traffic behind, it began to move faster and faster and, to my great surprise, two huge—I mean huge—“rooster tails” of water jetted up out of the back of the ship arcing up twenty feet in the air, and turning this behemoth into a jet-ski. It was a hydrofoil, a big mother! We accelerated up to—I found out later—50 knots per hour (about 56 mph).

I couldn’t notice the ship actually rise up out of the water but I could tell it was moving very fast propelled by its twin gas turbine engines. All the other traffic seemed to be standing still.  If one thinks of the engines as pumps, which is essentially what these are, and one judges by the size of the plumes jetting out the back, I would guess that one engine alone could fill up an Olympic-sized swimming pool in about a second and a half. The two huge plumes widened out as they jetted from the turbines in the aft, then they collided with each other maybe thirty feet to the rear. Oddly, this collision caused a third, minor plume to form in the center, above the two main ones. The strong wind, now that we were of the harbour, whipped the spray off the tops of these plumes as they crashed together causing a vivid rainbow to arc among them in the morning sun. To me, snug inside the ship, with the subdued, deep throb of the obviously very powerful engines, it brought back to my old brain the memory of a rainbow-hued hyper-drive of an interstellar space ship out of some science fiction novel I must have read in my youth.

 

Montevideo is a city of about a million people. It seemed quite poor, almost as poor as Lima, and without the marvelous colonial structures that, in Lima, contrast and offset the makeshift buildings of the present day. Though there is a downtown area with a few skyscrapers that we could see far off, our bus traveled through mile after mile of old, old and broken down, two to four story buildings intermixed with, here and there, newer, very modest brick buildings.

People here use the small and beat-up cars omnipresent in all poor countries, and they mixed with every manner of two-wheel vehicle imaginable: bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles.

In the bus, moving through suburb after suburb, it was smoggy and hot and we were glad to get out in the country where one could see horses, occasional brushfires, and large stands of very straight, thin deciduous trees of a kind unknown to me, perhaps a relative of the white birch. They were planted in neat rows and may have been a reforestation project.

We arrived at Piriopolis, a small seaside village with a strip of beach on the Atlantic and the faded look of a 1930s’ New Jersey shore town.

 

Located at one end of this sleepy town’s beach, anchoring and easily dominating its brothers and sisters, the Hotel Argentino is monumental. Monumental in both size and grandeur. The hotel itself is perhaps 400 feet long and four or five stories high. At the front of the hotel is a grand and formal stairway leading through a covered portico into a large, cathedral-like foyer and reception hall: gothic columns, elaborate terrazzo and tile floors, 20 foot high ceilings painted with figures, and with moldings of gold and colors, opera arias playing softly in the background. In the rear of the reception hall is a large, curved, double staircase, massive yet graceful, giving access to the upper guest floors. Behind this grand staircase, and framing it, are very large stained glass windows of intricate design and with beautiful colors. These windows, unlike any others I have seen, have had their basic glass pattern enhanced with translucent oils that blend with and elaborate the leaded colored glass itself. You might suppose that this would detract from the “pure” stained glass, which alone would be very beautiful but, on the contrary, it is very restrained, merely adding, for example, petals to a flower, or vines around a birdbath. Standing back, looking at the window with the light behind it one cannot tell what parts are formed by glass and what parts the artist added with oil. It forms a beautiful whole.

You don’t have to climb these stairs to get to your room; there are elevators, two of them, probably the oldest surviving Otis elevators on earth. Think of a 1930s French movie where the elevators move in a wire mesh cage and the doors scissor open by hand. And don’t forget to close them when you get to your floor. On the trip up you get to watch the floors go by—literally. In the European manner, one pushes 3 to get to the fourth floor, 2 to get to the third floor, etc., the ground floor being designated floor 0.

Once upstairs you walk through great, echoing tiled hallways 15 feet wide (and high) to get to your room. It would easily be possible, and quite elegant, to host a cocktail party for 200 people where two of the halls intersect.

In one’s room the Spanish monk theory continues to apply, only perhaps we are now up to archbishop. The room itself is spare with high ceilings and straight, dark, furniture and small, rather hard beds. A large window splits vertically like a double door opening to the inside of the room. This exposes a set of white, painted louvers that can likewise be opened to the outside offering a lovely framed picture of the sea. (We have encountered very few bugs or mosquitoes in Latin America, despite a complete lack of screened windows or doors.)

What is missing from this description of the hotel is age, or rather “era”. With the hot baths and grandeur of the Hotel Argentino, one might think of Bath, or Baden-Baden. Unfortunately the amenities are also from a hundred years ago: there is no air-conditioning, there is one electric plug per room and there are no closets; one uses an armoire.

To the commercially aware, there are numerous signs that the owners, having purchased such a grand property, are having money trouble. The beautiful, tiled, hall floors for example, have a tacky, rumpled up indoor/outdoor carpet runner. The carpet in the rooms is of the poorest quality. The beautiful wooden windows on the first floor have been replaced by aluminum windows. Everything is on such a grand scale, and so finely and tastefully detailed that merely to paint the building’s interior would certainly be a very expensive proposition. Worse, people now want air conditioning (especially when they are paying $300+ per night in a rather seedy country), yet there is no conceivable way that this monument could be air conditioned without destroying it, irrespective of the cost. Thinking of this hotel as a business proposition gives me the shivers. The only thing making it remotely feasible is the low cost of labor here.

The business model for operating the hotel is similar to that of a cruise ship. Guests sign on for a set number of days, meals are usually included and lots of activities are provided: aerobics classes, cultural talks—couldn’t get my culture allotment as here it’s in Spanish—dance lessons, paintings for sale, a “card” room with dozens of round tables with green baize coverings.

The food, as on a cruise, is good. Certainly the best food we have had on this trip. We are now, both of us, nearly over every kind of illness. At this point too, we are a little gun-shy and think pretty carefully about the kind of food we eat, passing up items we think might have been prepared some time ago, and rich, spicy food too. Yet this place is very charming and it gives you a delightful taste of what it was like to travel internationally years ago—if you had money.

 

Back to Buenos Aires

Girls in Buenos Aires are almost uniformly slim, and with mainly light skins with dark hair and eyes. Most are pretty, some beautiful. Being Argentineans, and more importantly, Porteños, they are required to dress stylishly, not merely to attract men—no, it’s more serious than that—the national honor must be upheld. These are not cloistered Spanish girls chaperoned by their Madres; think American-casual and New York-chic.

The clothing of choice for girls here—it’s summer here—is very short skirts or jeans. But, you see, there was a problem that had to be solved: their skirts, now shortened to the absolute minimum, their tops as low as would maintain some shred of Latin decency (the sort that seems to be decent even when it is not), even their footwear as strappy and open as possible while still managing to stay attached to the foot, there was seemingly no place else to go, no way for a girl to differentiate herself while still maintaining her dignity. The answer was not easy. Since so little was left to work with above or below, there was no obvious solution. But I can now report that the difficulty is surmounted: belly buttons.

The trick was to shorten skirts and blouses the other way: skirts from the top down, blouses from the bottom up, permitting the navel to at last see the light of day. The style has ignited a hot war to see now who dares to put the most bare space around the navel.

On the surface, the allure of the belly button is hard to understand; closely observed they are unpretty little curlicues that lead nowhere and have no useful function, they remain merely the twisted knot of a long lost attachment. But after giving this some deep thought I believe I can now illuminate this mystery: having been the ugly sister all these millennia, hidden away in the attic so to speak, the ugly sister has now come, blinking at the light of day, out of the closet—to employ an odd metaphor. It is ready now to fetishistically redefine beauty and to take its place in the sunlight.

Obviously now is not too soon to require all women to cover their left elbows in public so that this body part, a millennium hence, can, in its turn, come into service.

 

Like all big cities, BA is divided into districts, and beyond districts, suburbs. BA itself with over 6 millions of people is a very large city. It is also the capital of the country. It is, like Paris and London a city that is also a state, with its own state government as well as a city government. Recolleto (Rrr-ay-ko-lay-toe) is a district in BA only a mile or two (a $4 cab ride) from the downtown area. It is a lovely place that reminded us of Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro, with beautiful streets of tall apartment buildings coolly framed in tall trees.

Unlike most large cities in the United States, BA actually has people living in it, not just working there in the daytime. This district is one place they live, and it is a very pleasant one. Most of the streets in Recolleto are narrow and solidly lined with classy five- to ten-story apartments buildings with brass, chrome and wrought iron doors and gates. Each apartment has an overhanging balcony facing the street. Flowers and shrubbery trail from all the balconies. As a composite picture it is a grand array of gray stone and white stucco and greenery studded with vivid colors. A few monumental buildings, some of them museums, some embassies, others of unknown utility, leaven the mix of apartment buildings.

The particularly nice streets in this area have tall old trees—as tall as the tops of the buildings. They arch gracefully together at their tops and completely cover the street far below, shading it and keeping it subdued, quiet and cool.  Recolleto also has a great number of cafes and restaurants, many with outdoor tables. It has numerous small parques, and some few very large ones. The outdoor cafes and shops are seamlessly integrated with the parks and the apartment buildings—it isn’t obvious what parts the city owns and what parts are privately owned—both being remarkably tasteful, clean and well maintained. This tends to make the whole district seem like one big park. One can stroll around casually, stop and have a café, or a beer, have lunch or just watch the hundreds of people flowing by, the skateboarders and the belly buttons. Altogether it is very pleasant on a nice day. If we were tempted to come back and live in BA, this is where it would be.

 

Next to one large park in Recolleto, almost part of it really, is a whole city block with a plain yet somehow imposing brick wall completely surrounding it. Statues, crosses and other ornamentation peek up above this high wall that seems to have no openings. Closer inspection reveals this to be a cemetery, a unique cemetery. It is El Ciudad de los Muertes (The city of the dead).

Near the single entrance a bronze plaque fastened to the brick wall tastefully chastens would be graffiti artists that they should have some respect for those who have preceded them on life’s journey, committed themselves well, and now rest within. The walls are full of graffiti. There are otherwise no doors and no windows in the simple, all-enclosing, brick wall. We enter. There is no fee.

This is a cemetery that is different than other cemeteries. There is no grass. There are no gravestones. Immediately on entering, what one sees is small little stone “houses”, mausoleums really, one right next to the other—no space between them, just like the apartment buildings in Recolleto, a little city of the dead, as can be seen in the title photo at the top of this page.  The mausoleums are arranged along quiet, narrow, tiled “streets”; there are smaller streets at right angles to the main street. Few trees or shrubs can be seen, and no blooms, only tile and stone, and statues and ornaments made of tile and stone.

Generally, each crypt belongs to a family. On the exterior wall of a family’s “house” are brass plaques enumerating the generations of dead inside and listing their vital statistics: at the bottom of the wall might be gran granpapa Perez; b. 1753, d. 1807, a historian at the Instituto de… such and such; great grandma’s plaque is to the side of his—she lasted a little longer; great aunt Maria’s and great uncle Carlos’s plaques are nearby; the children and grandchildren’s are listed above their parents. These children, now long dead had placed plaques at the time of death of their parents stating how much they were missed, and the good works they had performed in their lifetimes. Now these plaque-placers are inside themselves and honored in turn by their descendants.

One crypt—presumably paid for by the military—contains the remains of famous generals and, with commendable egalitarianismo, some Colonels and brigadiers rest with their commanders. Argentina is one of the few places in the world—and it is a measure in a way of the thinking in the country—where one can become a famous general without ever having won, or perhaps even fought in, a single battle. 

Some of the faces of the occupants of these crypts have been rendered as bas reliefs in stone on the outside of the wall. A statement of what service they had performed for their country is cast in brass, or carefully chiseled in the stone under their countenance. There are of course many statues on and around the crypts: mothers cradling their dead and fully grown sons on their laps, all manner of crucifixes, even the occasional bird, whose message is lost in time and mythology. You have to be pretty famous to get in here—though rich might do it too. It is a full cemetery.

Evita Peron—who’s worldwide fame after these many years (with the not inconsiderable aid of Andrew Lloyd Weber) has managed to eclipse her husband Juan’s—resides here now, subsequent to a vacation in Europe taken after she died, while Juan, who’s life blazed like a comet through another twenty two years and three wives, is buried elsewhere, in the National cemetery.  If you think that you’ve had a full and interesting life, compare yours to either of these two (see sidebar) who certainly deserve the world record for outré.

The mood that comes upon one while slowly walking in this quiet place, reading the histories on display, is a feeling of the cemetery as a village, a quiet village where people keep pretty much to themselves and don’t go out much. One feels voyeuristic in this closed little society, as though everyone knows everyone else, but none know you.