Recoleta’s City of the Dead

Good morning everybody!  Wake up, let your Light shine, and brush away all those dusty cobwebs!  On a beautiful Buenos Aires day we decided to explore the Recoleta Cemetery. The portal to the Recoleta Cemetery is Nuestra Señora del Pilar, built in 1732 by the friars of the order of Recoletos Descalzos.

When the order was dissolved a hundred years later, the convent garden became the first public cemetery of the city of Buenos Aires. The portal to the cemetery is imposing:

Portals can be rather overpowering, and the giant “REQUIESCAT IN PACE” was no different. But at least it wasn’t that portal… you know, Dante’s portal. The one that says “Abandon all Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

Somebody pulled his hoodie down over his arms! Juxtaposed here with symbols of religion, servitude, and the possibility of immortality, the image with two kneeling figures is quite stunning.

a watchful presence

Though you might find sadness here, there is also a feeling of lightness, a sense of reconciliation. Things lighten up, as you are taken on a visual tour of last resting places for your earthly body, if not your immortal soul. My favorite movie on the theme of death is Ingmar Bergman’s classic The Seventh Seal, filmed in 1957. The knight plays chess with death, hoping to win some extra time. He’s depressed, disillusioned, and trying to make it home from the crusades to see his family again. Will he really cheat death?

But the knight does cheat death: the hooded reaper is so intent upon their game he doesn’t notice the innocent young couple and baby slip away. The knight has traded his life for theirs.

beautiful

These art deco tombs are streamlined and modern. Looking at them gave me a more detached perspective on death and dying. But this one pulls on your heartstrings: a young girl.  There she is, immortalized in marble.  If you step inside and look up, there is a blue stained glass skylight, and the light shining through is rapturously blue, the bluest blue, a celestial blue.

young girl's tomb

The viewer feels the anguish of losing a child. The more beautiful the sculpture is, the more heartbreaking!

see the cats?

a dead end

The crowded streets of the city of death, busy with stone saints, angels and likenesses of the dwellers below, do lend a certain spirit of solidarity. Even if your bones are resting 6 feet below, you’re not alone!

gothic spire

And you’re in the exalted company of the old guard: generals, presidents, statesmen, doctors.  Rich dead guys.  And their families.  The previous couple of centuries’ most esteemed citizens.

Ben at the chapel

The sculptures and statuary abound with angels, wise ones, laurel wreaths and holy palms.

three guardians

This intersection practically needs a stoplight!  Do angels ever have mid-air collisions?

City of the Dead

So many guardian spirits!  Amongst depictions of life’s toils, struggles, rewards and recognition.

busy neighborhood

I find this very personal interaction visually compelling.

conversation with an angel

Eva Duarte Perón found her final resting place here, though Perón is buried elsewhere.  Evita’s body took the long, scenic and wierd trip home. You will find the longest lines and prettiest offerings at her tomb.

Evita's tomb

But Kristina, la Presidenta, in her efforts to be placed upon the same cloud, consciously and opportunistically evokes Eva’s image daily. So I’m not sure how rested Evita is feeling!

Tomás Guido's cave

This rocky cave-tomb reminded me of the 49ers (NOT the team! please!). I mean the gold panning whisky drinkin’ ones! Those raucous, smelly, flapjack flippin’ miners who married mules and coined the phrase “Whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’ over!”

Fandango in Alta California!

church street

You see many colors of marble in the cemetery, though black and white seem to be the most common.  I get the feeling this guy left someone behind who really missed him:

pensative

I haven’t quite figured out what this angel is signaling; let’s go? your time’s up? c’mon? Andale!

solitary angel

This one with the palm fronds is hard to decipher:

palm doors

But the lock on the doors is no mystery. Keep out! This means you!

uncared for & crumbling

These neglected tombs make me think about what might have happened to the relatives. Are they all dead? Live in another country? Too poor to spend money on restorations? How sAD.

uncared for & overgrown

When will your time be up?

Our fear of death keeps us from living, not from dying.

a spirit emerging, free at last!

If you were to die today, would you be happy with your life?

Not to worry, eternity will be so relaxing!

Ciao from Buenos Aires!

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Colonia: Love and Struggle

We took a day trip across the Río Plata to Uruguay.

Why must we torture ourselves?  Yes, riding the slow boat to Colonia is not for everyone. But we have to get our visas renewed every 90 days or Argentina might banish us! Perish the thought!

Seriously, if you don’t renew your visa before your 90 days are up, you could be charged a hefty fine when you exit the country. Apparently, this fine used to be so laughable (about 30 bucks) that it was actually cheaper to pay it when you leave the country, cause you can spend a lot of plata going across the river and back, especially if you stay in Uruguay for a few days. But with all the expats thumbing their noses at migración, guess what? Last I heard, they upped the ante to $400… who’s laughing now? No prob, we’ve learned there’s always a financial solution to every bureaucratic problem in Argentina.

Show me the money, honey!

We took the slowest, cheapest ferry (about 3 hours and 40 bucks each way) to Colonia. You can relax, read, walk around; the seating area is the size of a movie theatre, with comfy, wide reclining chairs, a snack bar and café, and the best part is…. you can go upstairs for fresh air in your face!  I won’t bore you with a photo, just use your imagination… white boat, blue sky, brown water, multi-colored tourists. The best part was on the way back: we had an astronomer on board. The lights of Puerto Madero sparkled across the water  as we craned our necks on the upper deck looking at visible planets in the inky sky – Jupiter, Mars, Venus – and constellations: the Southern Cross, Orion, the Pleïades. Beautiful!

The tall guy and I find Colonia relaxing: small town, cobblestone streets, outdoor cafés, and plenty of shops selling tourist trinkets and locally made items. We know a great steak sandwich place, and there’s some pretty nice restaurants as well. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse, walk on the wharf, kick back on the waterfront…

he likes a shady spot and a cold one

I told him about an old Italian ritual where you toss salt over your left shoulder to keep evil spirits away, and he figured it couldn’t hurt!

a salty dog ritual

the pier

We came across this barely standing old stone bodega, right across the road from the rocky part of the beach, around the point from all the tourist hangouts. A big rock is holding the roof down, and a spider’s web of what looks like baling wire keeps it more or less anchored to the walls. No code violations here: this is Uruguay! Around the side is a pretty tiled name:

Rancho Don Antonio

The lovely tiles on another stone cottage (below) were installed on the 300th anniversary of the founding of Colonia (1680), dedicated by Colonia’s sister city San Fernando Maldonado. Nothing like a poet to remind us that the basic themes of human existence really haven’t changed: “COLONIA: 300 years of Love and Struggle… Over Your Rooftops Time Stood Still.”

LUCHAS Y AMOR

Does all that water flowing under the bridge lead back to the same source? Some call it karma. Like, paybacks. Those with highly-tuned survival instincts have developed impenetrable armor to protect us from the sharp spears of love and the oppressive chains of the daily grind… like this tree: Ouch!

I have NO idea what kind of tree this is!

OK, no more philosophizing. You can work it all out on the dance floor, anyway. Isn’t that where tango takes us? To each of us, from each of us, your own particular place of harmony? Polishing that diamond in the rough? Here’s an example of letting go of stuff you don’t need anymore:

a vacant lot for sale

 Some stuff just gets better with time, if it’s taken care of:

like this adorable red Fiat!

Vauxhall 12 - 1946

I’m not really sure about the production date of this vintage ride, but definitely before 1947… anybody out there have a clue? Let me know! Meantime you can pull up a chair here in Colonia, relax, and…

reprioritize your priorities!

I did!

Last minute thoughts and updates:

Friday night we were at Sin Rumbo with some friends and in walked in some awesome Bay Area milongueros: Marcelo Solis and his lovely wife Olga.

We hadn’t seen them since the workshop and milonga at Val and Mary’s last year in Pismo Beach. Great dancers and good people. We spent a few minutes catching up. And I finally got a smartphone snapshot of our friends from Villa Urquiza: Ytalo and Mercedes. This couple lives around the corner from Sin Rumbo, and have been dancing tango since they met and married 60+ years ago. They can still cut a rug!

Ytalo and Mercedes Sánchez

Last wednesday we also had the pleasure of seeing Facundo Posadas and his beautiful dance partner Ching-Ping. They took a table next to us at La Nacional; we visited.  We have taken classes with Facundo in Buenos Aires, New York, San Francisco, LA, and Sacramento. The guy gets around! (Hey! So do we!) He’s a living legend fabulous milonguero!

Tangueros from all over planet earth are in Buenos Aires this week for CITA: Congreso Internacional de Tango Argentino. What does that mean to you?  Well, if you’re here, you know that milongas which are always crowded become absolutely impenetrable! Let’s hope you’ve been practicing dancing with your partner in less than one square meter!

Ciao from Sueño Porteño in BsAs!

BA FLAT FOR RENT: a friend of mine from Italian class has a 2 bdrm 2 bath apartment for rent in Buenos Aires, a very nice flat in the neighborhood of Caballito, for a year or more, he and his wife and young daughter are taking an extended vacation with his wife’s family in Andalusía. Gustavo can be reached at: gustavogonzalezboccia@hotmail.com.

Living in Tango Paradise

Who is this guy?

I predict that Leonel Messi will be the first official consecrated and sanctified SAINT OF SOCCER!!  I don’t mean a hundred years from now, I mean, LIKE SOON! Within his and our lifetimes! Because he has a gift straight from that upstairs-place, you know, HEAVEN!!  You heard it here first! 

If you’re addicted to Tango, you’re probably interested in all things Argentine, and no doubt you already know about Leonel Messi, Argentine soccer star. Messi, currently playing for Barcelona, is golden. This kid has already made more goals than just about every soccer player in the history of the sport and, at 24, is likely to top that list before 30. Messi is not just a great player, he’s magical. He moves the ball effortlessly around, under, over and through the other team’s defenders, like Clint Eastwood shooting down 5 outlaws before they even have a chance to draw. He’s famously unpretentious, not a showoff, not a bully, just a super nice guy. Once he has the ball and is closing in on the goal, he’s not a one-man show.  He always kicks the ball to his teammates, setting them up for their own goals, but ready to take over and slide one in, and those poor goalies, they just can’t read him, and are always caught off guard. Some people have a sixth sense, others are just barely managing five, but Messi has a soccer sense! We love watching him play with his favorite toy, a soccer ball.

Uh-oh!  It’s back to that old story for a moment, yes, the ashes from volcano Puyehue, just across the border in Chile. Before we left Patagonia we took a day to drive the 7 Lakes Circuit, starting in Bariloche heading northwest. And we did drive part of it, but due to the volume of ash in the air, not to mention the bumpy dusty gravel roads, we only drove through Villa Traful, so shrouded in ash you could barely see the lake, and on to Villa Angosturas, the epicenter of volcanic fallout. Villa Angosturas is still struggling to clean up. They hauled away several feet of ash, but it’s hard to finish the job when the volcano burps and spits out another ash plume every few weeks. Tourists, the area’s main cash crop, are still visiting the lakes but their numbers are way down from previous years. In the above photo you can see for yourself. Ashy landscape en route to Villa Traful: visibility almost nil!

Hotel Llao Llao with volcanic plume

In this photo Hotel Llao Llao is to the far left on a hill. Looking across Lake Nahuel Huapi you can see a giant plume of ash. It looks like fog, but it’s not! We watched this particular plume move in our direction for about 24 hours before it enveloped us. The following day it moved on, the sky cleared, and just a trace of ash remained.

Patagonian ducks at Lago Moreno

Wild ducks were still playing house on the lakeshore, and we  took a nice walk through the Arrayanes forest to the lake pictured above. The sky was clear!

Ben in the Bosque Arrayanes

The tall guy was playing around with growing a beard, and he tried several versions which were unusual, distinctive, and even playful. Wondering how he looks now?

happy and beardless: it was collecting too much ash!

Finally back to the mecca of Tango,  we went dancing at Sunderland with good friends from San Luis Obispo!

me, Ben, Val & Mary

Do we miss our friends from the Central Coast? YES! Did we miss Buenos Aires when we were in the mountains? Yes, but we liked the quiet. Did we miss our apartment? No, not really. Did we miss a lot of tango classes? Yes. Did we miss dancing? YES!!! It’s tough to be a tango addict out in nature. Did we miss the lovely summer weather in Buenos Aires? Definitely! 80°F and humid, with frequent thunderstorms, is close to perfection. 85 – 105°F and dry with no rain for months (back home) is also very nice, but not as thirst-quenching. 65°F and windy (Bariloche) I can do without! But the cabin we stayed in was super nice: Balcón al Lago, Llao Llao.

Back in the city we have some great friends, and boy do they put on some great parties!

Dolores & Guilermo singing on a wabi-sabi guitar!

the girls are ready to go dancing!

Back in Tango paradise, we plugged into the city scene like a set of jumper cables suckin’ down juice from the Infinite Source of all Power: Tango. If you’re tired, stressed, lonely, got a headache, restless legs, whatever your issue, chances are Tango will set you straight. You know how sometimes you need to be around a crowd, even if you don’t know anybody, just to feel human again? Well I feel that way too! I prefer dancing at milongas that are not well lit. I don’t like to feel watched. There are some milongas in Buenos Aires where people dance to be seen: Salon Canning, Niño Bien, Confitería Ideal, Sunderland, Porteño y Bailarín. But I prefer the ones where you can be anonymous, like la Viruta, Sueño Porteño, Maldita Milonga, Café Vinilo, Círculo Trovador, Sin Rumbo, La Baldosa, El Tacuarí, Lo de Celia.  To name just a few. I prefer to dance with my partner, connect to my partner, connect to the music, the musicians, the floor, the community of dancers going ’round and ’round.  Then you can experience the bliss of joining the harmonious whole, the fantastic exotic universe that is Tango. You are just another pair of bodies moving around the dance floor, moving to the same beat and compás, that syncopated beat, the heart of Tango. It’s a healing, harmonious space where the music and your partner hold you close. You close your eyes and just dance.

••• Hey everybody! I hope you like my new web design, it will be even better when I figure out how to customize it. I plan to have 3 columns instead of 2. For now, baby steps!

••• Pretty soon I will no longer send out a notice to my readers. Just click the follow button to continue to receive an automatic notice when I post a new story.

••• And now you can post comments, they are visible on the home page, and I will reply! Va bene?

Ciao from Buenos Aires!

Patagonia: Estancia San Ramón

Patagonian cowgirl

The sun was shining and hot with no hint of wind the day I went riding with Carol Jones. Carol is a genuine gaucha who grew up on Estancia Nahuel Huapi, across the lake from Bariloche. She inherited the ranch from her grandpa, Jared Jones, who was the first white man to settle in the area. He arrived over a hundred years ago, whether heading towards Patagonia or running from Texas, I couldn’t say. But this sureña cowgirl is the real deal: a life lived from the back of a horse. Carol was ranch-raised and began riding and helping out with ranch chores when she was 5 or 6. Her grandpa Jared had seven sons; so she had plenty of aunties, uncles and cousins to play with.

Carol on the trail (note the volcanic dust)

On account of the still-present and very visible ashes from volcano Puyehue, Carol had to move her livestock to another ranch the family owns higher up in the mountains to the south, farther away from the volcano. She’s already lost one horse who colicked from a gut full of volcanic dust.

After we hit the trail, Carol was happy to talk to me about local medicinal plants and discuss their uses. She says none of her horses have had shots or medical treatments except for herbal remedies, and they’ve all had exceptionally long lives – well into their thirties. She built up her knowledge of local plants and herbs through conversations with the old women whose families have lived in the area for generations. She knows which plants are which, and how to collect, store and administer the herbs to treat equine problems, and human problems too. Unfortunately, her horse’s ingestion of volcanic dust (by foraging on dusty plants and ingesting the dust) was not something herbal remedies could fix.

gearing up

Carol and I drove east out of Bariloche to the estancia of a friend, Estancia San Ramón, where she keeps a few head of horse for these rides which bring in a few dollars, as she waits for the natural cycle to restore her pastures. On the way we picked up a young English couple that had signed up to go along.

young English couple

We saddled up with the help of Miguel, the gaucho in charge of the posta, the section of ranch that’s his to take care of, and where he lives year round with his wife and family. Also riding with us was the ranch manager, an Aussie, and his two boys ages 8 and 10. The jefe grew up working on ranches in Australia before transplanting himself and family to Patagonia. The English couple and yours truly made up the rest of  the group. We hit the trail before ten am and rode till six. The Estancia San Ramón is huge – 75,000 acres – which explains its amazing variety of rock formations, creeks, canyons, and high rocky peaks. There’s an old graveyard, too.

awesome hills!

We saw red ochre Indian paintings on a rock overhang, and explored a cave.

Indian painted rocks

Carol and Miguel at the painted rocks site

Patagonian gauchos wear berets!  Takes some getting used to, I admit. Can’t turn it upside down and use it for a horse drinking fountain, either. The little flea-bitten grey mare Carol was riding had quite the personality. Don’t let the sleepy demeanor fool you: definitely a boss mare!

I'm head bitch, bitch!

We climbed up, down and around the rocky hills and steep arroyos. The sky was the bluest of blues. And the volcanic dust was, well… everywhere.

the young cowboys

We rode past a herd of goats that I might not have noticed but for the tinkle of their bells. They paid no attention to us.

goats same color as the ash

After a few hours in the saddle breathing trail dust we stopped by a creek in a lush little valley bottom. Miguel got the asado going. The horses were unsaddled and turned loose to graze the tall grass in the shade of the willows by the creek.

break time for the horses

Argentine barbecue

I loved the choripan; a piece of sausage hot and dripping grease straight off the fire, wrapped in a French roll. We fix it the same way back home, only we wrap the sausage in a hot tortilla. Mate was passed around, and I refilled my water bottle from the creek. This was my favorite time, I think, sitting around the fire enjoying good food and good company in a beautiful place.

Some more pix from the ride:

I'm really not a mule!

me and my trusty pony

dismounting to explore the cave

we saw strange looking green and white rocks

but no White Rock girl!

did the gods turn her into a rock?

here the trail descends sharply

my sturdy saddle tree and cinch

really comfy with the sheepskin!

Carol told me a story about how she saved a horse’s life with help from the ant people:  One time she had a horse that was seriously ill and two different vets told her there was no remedy and no hope. But she had heard about a treatment using ant-dirt. Ants collect seeds and whatever else they can find to eat, digest it, poop it out, and then, in true harmonic harmony and sisterhood carry the residuals outside the kiva-like hill, where they are strategically and reverently placed in the ongoing, never-ending task of renovating the community housing project. So Carol collected some ant dirt from a nearby anthill, made it into a watery paste, and fed it to her horse. She didn’t say if her horse liked the goop she poured down his throat. But guess who made a complete recovery! I had heard of using gopher dirt to make ceremonial altars, but this use of ant dirt is new to me. Blessings be upon the Horse Medicine Woman!

I wonder if Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer prize-winning author of On Human Nature, (famous ant behavioralist at Harvard) has heard of this use of ant dirt. “If all mankind were to disappear,” he wrote, “the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” Wow, this prof rocks the boat!

Edward Osborne Wilson

Now, I really don’t like ants, and if they invade my space I go on the warpath, but… maybe it’s time for me to renegotiate my relationship with the tiny critters. Should I be more ant-friendly? (except for the red fire ants?)

We finally reached the end of the trail. Miguel’s wife was waiting for us with maté and fresh hot Indian fry bread. I didn’t know they made that here! Made me feel quite at home. Served with honey and jam, it hit the spot!

the end of the trail is just a little ways...

And this post is almost over, too! But I must pause to wish my daughter Autumn a very happy birthday!

Happy Birthday Autumn!!

¡Felíz Cumple Autumn!  ¡¡¡Te quiero mucho!!!!

Ciao from Patagonia!

another day at Lago Moreno

Bariloche and Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Otto

CIAO FROM PATAGONIA!  Next week we’ll be back in Buenos Aires…. hasta la próxima!