For class, week one: Respect for the dead

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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For me, the Recoleta cemetery experience was a bit surreal.  Monumental marble, granite and bronze structures, appearing as scaled-down church facades or ancient government edifices are jammed nearly one atop the next and assume a city block arrangement.  

I think part of the strangeness of this place for me arises from the notion that the modern society, and particularly secular America, lacks this degree of respect for the dead.  Maybe saying lack of respect is too harsh, and instead could be called a steady indifference to the legacy left at the gravesite.  Certainly the religious segments of the population perform various rights and maintain a reverent fear of final judgment in the afterlife, but the tombs are small and leave little other than the dates of their stay here and possibly an adage.   While there are certain places in America that are frequently visited and adorned with flowers, most of these are military or presidential resting places.  It just seems that in the U.S. there are no overriding cultural pressures driving a grand postmortem affair, and the stories and visits to the burial site are contained to the smaller family.

The tombs in Recoleta do contain some heads of state, generals, and other figureheads of their times, but they also contain real people, whose stories and ideals are maintained and propagated here: corrupt police chiefs, feuding husbands and wives, immigrants, businessmen, masons, priests, and of course, Evita.  Over time this cemetery became a prestigious resting place for high society in Buenos Aires (the equivalent of hundreds of Carnegies and Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts all concentrated in one town); however, the remaining diversity still provides striking insight into the lives of the people and the city’s past, and also speaks to the priorities of the people.  Many exhibit not religious adornment but instead speak to the ideals of the republic, harking back to the days of Greece and Rome.  Among these elaborate tombs is even another parallel to a separate culture with a high degree of infatuation with afterlife preparation and burials: the small pyramidal monument recalling the style of the Egyptians.  These tombs were a way to preserve artfully the stories of those buried there.  Also, the tombs then were perhaps a sign of wealth similar to today’s high-end luxury cars, as an extension of the wealth of the home.  

 I wonder if our indifference towards what happens after we go hampers the preservation of the stories.  While it’s not necessary or practical everywhere, it certainly seems to help to have them all laid out in stone in the middle of town, and it adds a bit of color to the cultural landscape.  

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