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Author: Marcelo

384. machinandiarena

Armando Bo, Recoleta Cemetery

María Teresa has laid in the Machinandiarena family vault since 1985, but her husband arrived a few years earlier. Producer, director & actor Armando Bó, one of the most interesting personalities of Argentine cinema due to his symbiotic union with —it’s impossible to speak about one without mentioning the other— the unrivaled Argentine erotic  diva, Isabel “Coca” Sarli.

Armando Bo, Recoleta Cemetery

Armando was already famous for producing & acting in “Pelota de trapo” (1948), a master work which can be compared to the best in the Italian Neorealism genre. But he discovered Isabel Sarli —Miss Argentina 1955— & created an  amazing 27 films where cheap melodrama & syrupy love ballads mix with fantastic landscapes & exotic tropical locales. It all served as a backdrop for the voluptuous body of Isabel, who in spite of her professed shyness filmed some of the most steamy scenes ever in Argentine cinema… often in the nude, bathing in every river or lagoon appearing the movie. Armando Bó & his son, Victor, were the men in her movies, making for a strange, incestuous love triangle. But despite his well-known affair, Armando never left his wife, María Teresa.

Who better to explain that strange relationship than John Waters? The video clip below contains his introduction to the movie “Fuego” (1969) as part of his television series “John Waters presents movies that will corrupt you.” Following the intro are selected scenes from movies containing the Bó-Sarli duo… ending with the phrase which has turned into Coca’s trademark: “¿Qué pretende de mí?” meaning “What do you want from me?” It’s pretty obvious.

Armando Bó had numerous problems with censorship in Argentina, & all of his movies were shown with entire sections cut. He passed away three years before the end of the last military dictatorship & its oppressive censorship. One important detail about the Machinandiarena family vault… it is not common to see a side door like this one, used to place caskets inside without having to navigate the narrow main door:

Armando Bo, Recoleta Cemetery

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383. tombs for sale

Mercado Libre ad

Something perhaps not all visitors realize is that Recoleta Cemetery is not a museum with permanent exhibits. Burials & ceremonies still occur & although there is something built on every square meter, it remains possible to find a burial spot there. According to real estate agents in the area, between 10-20% of the cemetery’s vaults are always for sale at any given time. In other words between 500-1,000 lots… quite a large number.

But Recoleta is not cheap… not the neighborhood nor its famous cemetery. An easy way to understand its relative cost is by looking at the rates charged by the city government for a burial niche. In Chacarita & Flores, the other large cementeries in Buenos Aires [also administered by the city], a first row niche costs 55 pesos per year & in Recoleta they charge 398 pesos… 720% more!

The same kind of price scheme applies to vaults. The majority are discreetly sold by real estate agencies in the area —obviously a “for sale” sign would never appear on a vault— but they can be purchased online through sites like Mercado Libre [the Argentine equivalent of eBay], & a greater price difference between cemeteries can be seen. A vault with 18 coffin beds costs US$ 16,000 in Chacarita & US$ 39,000 in Recoleta. The ads get your attention: “wrought-iron door, chapel with double altar, stained glass, marble staircase.” Luxurious. Although even that is not as expensive as it gets. There are vaults for sale which cost up to US$ 150,000.

Of course the largest & most famous vaults are priceless… & in those cases the family usually does everything possible to hold on to them. If anyone dreams about ending their days in Recoleta Cemetery, the only available option is to find a mid- to lower price range vault.


375. cuidadores

Vista, Recoleta Cemetery

In spite of its grandeur, Recoleta Cemetery is not very large. It is only as big as four city blocks, but more than 4,700 tombs & mausoleums can be found among its narrow walkways. Smaller plots have only one coffin while larger ones can have more than 50. To maintain them all —checking drainage pipes, fixing floors, trimming trees & an endless list of other chores— there are some 65 caretakers… very nice people, passionate about the cemetery & who in several occasions act as guides for the unavoidable tourist who wants to know the quickest way to the tomb of Eva Perón.

A simple bit of math reveals that each caretaker has the responsiblity to maintain about 70 tombs, large or small.  Not all of those tombs are cleaned or cared for since some families do not pay the corresponding maintenance fee —according to the official Buenos Aires city government website currently 48 pesos or about US$ 12.50 per square meter. Tombs not paid for are neglected by caretakers. The reason, according to one of the cemetery workers, is simple: each caretaker receives as their salary a percentage of what the tomb owner pays to the city government. And in many cases, due to the number of mausoleums in any particular sector which pay no taxes, the money provided to caretakers per month is very little… less than 500 pesos or US$ 130 at the current exchange rate.

Tools of the trade, Recoleta Cemetery

Some of the biggest vaults, like that of the Familia Leloir, also pay the aguinaldo (a year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s salary) to the city which ends up going to the caretaker. In addition, some families give extra cash directly to the caretaker to ensure better maintenance… a tip of sorts.

Caretakers appear everywhere in the cemetery, visible at any time of day. They are easily recognized by their gray workclothes & their characteristic way of referring to the cemetery:  the capacity of a vault is measured in “beds,” not coffins, & the dead who occupy them are “tenants.”

What unites them, as mentioned in the beginning of this post, is their love for Recoleta Cemetery. And their dream, their personal utopia, might just be reaching the status of the most famous caretaker of them all: David Alleno, the only cemetery worker who is buried there.


368. dardo rocha

Dardo Rocha, Recoleta Cemetery

In Recoleta Cemetery, several tombs have been “vacated” by their former residents. Most, as with José de San Martín’s parents, have been returned to the place they were from. But that is not the case with Dardo Rocha, one of the most active politicians of the 19th century & founder of the city of La Plata.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1838, Rocha studied law & like almost all politicians of the era, first joined the military. He fought in the War of the Triple Alliance, where he was badly injured in the battle Curupaytí… the same skirmish where the adopted son of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento died. Rocha later occupied several government positions, but he is most remembered for his role in the foundation of the capital of Buenos Aires Province.

After the 1880 Revolution which officially separated the city of Buenos Aires from its province, Governor Rocha needed to create a new city to house provincial authorities. A commission began searching for different locations for the new city, prioritizing the terrain & easy connection to Buenos Aires. Dolores, Quilmes & Chascomús were options but in the end Ensenada was chosen for its proximity to the river & already having a rail line in service. The city would be built from scratch & Pedro Benoit, a personal friend of Rocha, was invited to design it.

With a big inauguration party, the foundation stone was placed on Novemeber 19, 1882… the birthday of Ponciano, youngest son of Dardo Rocha. The painting below, based on a photograph by Thomas Bradley, records the events of that day:

Foundation, La Plata, Thomas Bradley

President Julio Argentino Roca was absent with no explanation & was instead represented by Minister Victorino de La Plaza. The distance between Rocha & the President became evident in 1886, when Roca decided to support instead his brother-in-law Miguel Juárez Celman as presidential candidate.

Retired from public life & a widower since 1917, Rocha passed away in his Buenos Aires residence in 1921. After the home wake, his remains were taken to Recoleta Cemetery two days after his death. The Province of Buenos Aires governor sent a telegraph to Rocha’s son, stating that Dardo Rocha should be laid to rest in La Plata. But the request was denied since Rocha’s will expressly stated that he be buried in the family vault in Recoleta alongside his wife.

In 1940 it was decided to transfer Rocha’s remains to the city he founded more than half a century earlier… even though it was not his final wish. A commission composed of influential people & city institutions received the caskets of Dardo Rocha & his wife with great ceremony. Below is the funeral coach parading through the city center:

Transfer of remains of Dardo Rocha, La Plata

The caskets were later deposited in a crypt built beneath the La Plata cathedral:

Dardo Rocha, La Plata

Dardo Rocha, La Plata


Update (08 Dec 2011): Marcos Arana Panissal, who claims to be a direct descendant of Dardo Rocha, filed a request yesterday with the Archdiocese of La Plata to remove his ancestor’s remains (& those of his wife) from the cathedral crypt to a more prominent location. Panissal also claims that Rocha was not a practicing Catholic, so the current burial spot is inappropriate. While city officials check genealogy, Monsignor Raúl Gross finds the request odd… especially because every November 19th (the day La Plata was founded), many of Rocha’s descendants participate in a commemorative mass held in his honor. Stay tuned & click here to read the entire article (in Spanish).