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Month: February 2010

390. cat care

Cats, Recoleta Cemetery

One of the most common —& perhaps surprising— sites at Recoleta Cemetery is the large number of cats that wander around, relax in the sunshine & allow visitors to pet them. In the early morning or around 17:00, women with bags can be seen surrounded by cats who they call by name. These women form part of a volunteer group that feeds the cats, spays or neuters them, & whenever necessary takes them to a local veterinarian.

One woman from Recoleta neighborhood coordinates all cat care & does not want her identity revealed “because I am a well-known person.” She says that for the past 12 years she has done this so “the cats are provided for, & above all, so that there are no rats in the cemetery.” The food is prepared in her home & consists of rice with liver or heart, among other preparations. In addition, once per month all cats are inoculated with an anti-flea injection & given any other veterinary care they may need.

There are around 40 cats at present, & it is prohibited to take one home. “The police will stop you,” she says.

She affirms that all this care “comes out of our own pockets”… although she would be happy to receive donations. See the alert box below for more details.

The last thing we asked about was why she does this. The answer was very simple: “for love of the cats.”

As mentioned, the cat caretakers value their privacy. If any reader would like to make a donation, please leave a comment in this post, & we can put you in contact with the volunteers.


389. ascasubi

Hilario Ascasubi, Recoleta Cemetery

The fabulous life of the gaucho poet Hilario Ascasubi seems to have come directly from the pen of a 19th-century Romantic writer.

The story goes that Ascasubi was born in Córdoba in 1807 aboard a covered wagon. At the age of 5, he rode alongside the then Coronel José de San Martín. And when he turned 14, on a whim Hilario embarked on “La Rosa Argentina” & sailed for over two years around the world.

In 1825, he enlisted as a recruit in General José María Paz’s forces to fight against the Spanish. It was there where Ascasubi began to compose verses to entertain his companions. Shortly after, he met Facundo Quiroga in Tucumán.

Hilario Ascasubi, Recoleta Cemetery

When Rosas came to power, Ascasubi wrote satires against the “Restorer” which got him two years in prison. After his release, he lived in exile in Montevideo for the next two decades… the time when his literary expertise would make him famous. Ascasubi returned to Buenos Aires in 1852, & the following year edited the satirical newspaper “Aniceto el Gallo.” A few years later he spent almost his entire fortune in building the first Teatro Colón on Plaza de Mayo.

In 1872, his complete works were published in Paris & “Santos Vega” appeared for the first time —about a storyteller who defies the Devil himself & is regarded as one of the best works of Latin American literature. In Recoleta Cemetery, his most recognized works are listed on the left side of the tomb while his military actions are named on the right:

Hilario Ascasubi, Recoleta Cemetery

Ascasubi —friend of Sarmiento, Florencio Varela, & Valentín Alsina— passed away in Buenos Aires in 1875. His crypt was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946. The tree stump is unique to the cemetery… a symbol of death of something which once lived, something which can never be recovered:

Hilario Ascasubi, Recoleta Cemetery


388. rain damage

Entrance gate rain damage, Recoleta Cemetery

Due to heavy rains in Buenos Aires over the past week—the city received more than a normal month’s rainfall in just a few days—the entrance gate to Recoleta Cemetery suffered serious damage. Large portions of stucco crashed down last Saturday, & city engineers were on site Monday to figure out a course of repair.

Surprisingly enough, the ceiling is not made of brick like most buildings in Buenos Aires but merely a hollow, wooden frame. Architect Buschiazzo’s budget must have been tight in 1881:

Entrance gate rain damage, Recoleta Cemetery

Update (06 Mar 2010): It seems like city officials are taking advantage of the damage in order to make other improvements. The women’s restroom is currently gutted… perhaps a new one is on the way. For the moment, the men’s restroom is for the ladies. This is probably the only time to see the ceiling structure:

Entrance gate, former women's restroom, Recoleta Cemetery

Entrance gate, former women's restroom, Recoleta Cemetery


387. sánchez de mendeville

María Sánchez de Mendeville, Recoleta Cemetery

As the only heir to her family’s fortune, María Josepha Patrona de Todos los Santos Sánchez de Velasco Trillo —Mariquita, for short— would have been a bride many sought after. But Mariquita, born in 1786, lived during the Spanish Viceroyalty & arranged marriages were commonplace among the upper class. Her fate was sealed. Unfortunately she had already fallen in love with her first cousin, Martín Thompson. To discourage the couple, Mariquita was confined inside the Santa Casa de los Ejercicios Espirituales for her own good:

Santa Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales, Constitución

Santa Casa de los Ejercicios Espirituales, Constitución

It didn’t work… Martín used to enter secretly & visit Mariquita. Eventually they both pleaded with the Vicerroy to annul the arranged marriage, & the couple happily married in 1805. Five children later, Martín was sent on a diplomatic mission to the US & died soon after his return.

Mariquita Sánchez de Thompson did not remain single for long. She soon married the French embassador, Jean Baptiste Washington de Mendeville. Although the couple had three children, the marriage was not a happy one. With divorce illegal, their only recourse was separation. Mendeville left Buenos Aires & never returned.

During the government of Rosas, Mariquita Sánchez de Mendeville lived in exile in Montevideo. After the defeat of Rosas & returning to Buenos Aires, she worked tirelessly for the largest benefit organization in the city & even came to know President Sarmiento. Mariquita was always involved in politics. In fact, history credits her as being one of the first people to hear the Argentine national anthem written by Vicente López y Planes in 1813… performed at her home on Calle Florida. Mariquita passed away at the age of 82 in 1868.

María Sánchez de Mendeville, Recoleta Cemetery

Someone else is buried in Recoleta Cemetery with Mariquita. With strong connections to France thanks to her last husband, she was named godmother of Isabelle Colonna-Walewski, granddaughter of Napoleón Bonaparte. Born in Buenos Aires in 1847, Isabel only lived 50 days. Latin on the tombstone sums up Mariquita’s life: “She loved charity.”

Her crypt was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946.


386. luz maría garcía velloso ◊

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Close to the entrance gate, the Art Nouveau effigy of Luz María García Velloso draws a lot of attention. Beautiful & in a highly visible location, it only seems natural that an urban legend would develop around her death.

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Supposedly a victim of leukemia at the age of 15, Luz María’s mom spent several night vigils at the cemetery… actually sleeping inside the vault. Much later, men walking near Recoleta Cemetery reported an encounter with a young woman dressed completely in white. The most common version claims this woman would accompany them to a bar, get a chill then ask to borrow her date’s jacket. Next she would accidentally stain it with whatever they were drinking & take the jacket with her when they said goodnight.

The following day the man somehow contacts her mother to get the jacket back, & she explains that the young woman is already dead! In desperation, he goes to the cemetery & finds his jacket draped over the effigy. While none of the above has been confirmed, it makes for an interesting story… probably one of the most common urban legends in the world.

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Fortunately some factual information about the rest of the family —also buried here— is available. Luz María’s father, Enrique García Velloso, was of Basque descent & heavily involved in the arts at the beginning of the 20th century in Buenos Aires. He directed the first movie version of Amália by José Marmol in 1914. Two years later he wrote Mamá Culepina about the barracks following the troops of Lucio V. Mansilla.

Enrique García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

All this artistic activity led Enrique to be named the first President of the Casa del Teatro—an actors association/retirement organization based on Avenida Santa Fe. Still possessing a popular theater,  the fantastic Art Deco building was designed by Alejandro Virasoro… the same architect who built the Defferrari family vault.

Enrique’s cultural connections expressed their sorrow for the death of Luz María with poetic plaques on the left side of the family vault:

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Unfortunately the elaborate interior painting is missing these days, but the ceiling’s stained glass remains intact:

Luz María García Velloso, Recoleta Cemetery

Second to last photo courtesy of the Archivo General de la Nación. Like Art Nouveau? Learn about the architects of the era, their individual styles & what makes Art Nouveau in Buenos Aires so unique with a 33-page guide from our sister site, Endless Mile.