Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recoleta: "May they rest in peace"

The Recoleta Cemetery is one of the landmarks of Buenos Aires, and I was at first a little doubtful about visiting it. I am glad we decided to go take a look though. It is a fascinating place, and utterly different from anything I had imagined.

As you enter, it feels like you have entered a little city of miniature houses. The small, fenced property is full of crisscrossing, narrow, cobble stoned alleys, with what look like miniature houses stacked along the sides. The main alley is lined with trees, and looks very pleasant.

The story goes that in the mid 1700s, this location used to be a garden within The Monastery of Barefoot Franciscan Recoleto Monks, who found the area's tranquility ideal for "recollection". The monks were removed from there by the city governor in the 1800s, and this exclusive cemetery was created in the monastery's gardens instead.

There is a strangeness and beauty to this place that was very unexpected for me. Tourists cluster around the more famous of the tombs, but you always can find a few alleys that are empty. These look like the streets of an abandoned city, whose Lilliput inhabitants locked their homes and left long ago. It is strange to think that the inhabitants are in fact right in there. It is a little morbid, but very unique.

Various architectural styles are displayed here, and each grave is indicative of the fashions of the time when it was built. Yet they all exist side by side, creating a very jumbled canvas.

Several famous and influential personalities are buried here. The most popular of them being María Eva Duarte Perón (Evita), Argentina's former first lady. There was a crowd of tourists around this simple (compared to the others) tomb, so I rushed quickly past it, clicking a hurried photo.

This cemetery has inspired poets and writers over the years, such as Borges (poem La Recoleta, 1923), and writer Martin Caparros. And one can see why.

Even though there were many tourists walking about there, there was a certain romantic quality to the place that was undeniable. The mossy walls, intricate and beautiful architecture, graceful angels, and narrow alleys, with the light of the setting sun casting interesting shadows ... all made the place very interesting to photograph.

In a place like this, with layers of history visible at every turn in such a small plot, one is acutely aware of the transience of lives; even entire eras. Great wars are fought and entire lives are lived under violence. We can never really own land, expect perhaps a burial plot ... and it's a beautiful world out there. The futility of violence and conflict is all the more poignant in such a location ...

This picture below is my most favorite of this set. Just because I feel it has captured the mood of the place, the way I saw it.

To end on a more cheerful note, we saw several long-haired, lazy cats wandering around in the alleyways there, looking totally at home. We also saw one person put out some cat food for them, so it looks like they are well fed too!

I wished I could take an entire series of photographs just on "The cats of Recoleta!" But we were in a rush, so that will have to wait.


meb said...

Bindu, I appreciate so much how your blog takes us on those trips that I for one will never be able to make. This post is exceptional and I enjoyed it almost as much as having been there myself. Thanks.

bb mcclain said...

There's something about cemeteries that's tranquil. Very nice photos Bindu.

Srividya said...

Hi Bindu,

Your post reminded me of this scene from the movie "Before Sunset", where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphie are walking through a cemetery in Paris and she is pondering over questions of life and death. I always avoided such places in the past as being too morbid, but I don't anymore. Beautiful pictures and even more wonderful write up to go with it !

Blu said...

Your words.......The futility of violence and conflict is all the more poignant in such a location......more and more at the moment I feel this. I have mixed feelings about huge mausoleums, tombs etc, are the rich lording it over the poor even after death? However I enjoyed your post very much, and your favorite picture was mine too..excellent image.

Shayla said...

I wouldn't have gone in before I read this, but now I'm intrigued. Still a little uneasy, but intrigued. It does look like a little city... The photos are beautiful, and the sepia is very fitting.

pink dogwood said...

omg, these photos are amazing. I also feel like I have been there. Thanks for sharing Bindu.

Barbara Martin said...

Bindu, the photos and writing complimented each other very well. It was as if I was there in person. Thanks for sharing.

And thank you for commenting on my blog.

3rdEyeMuse said...

I love these wonderful journeys that you take us on ... either on its own (photos/words) would be sufficient, but together ... wow. I can almost feel what it felt like to be there and walk the alleys with you.

as always, thank you.

अविनाश said...

fantastic capture & good writting skills

Compassion Unlimitted said...

First timer here.glad to be here too.
Very nicely captured pics,led one thru the interesting place.
blog on cats,that would have been interesting too !

Vamsee said...

As I have said before - your blog literally walks people through the place.

Your favorite picture is my favorite too!

Jude said...

Thank you, sepia also helps evoke the atmosphere of this place. Weird, that some people believe that all this grandeur will, maybe, help them enter heaven?

painter girl said...

Oh so haunting and beautiful these photographs. I have always loved cemeteries because they seem to be so peaceful and haunting. This one is amazing. Thank you for taking us on your journey.

Nancy and the fatties said...

Bindu, these are beautiful! I love the cat image, too. What an amazing experience to visit a place like this with so much history.

bindu said...

Meb - I am glad you liked it.

bb, Shayla - Thanks! I'm still a novice at photography, so it's good to get feedback.

Vidya - I love that pair of movies! Thanks.

Blu - you are right. I was thinking about it, and really, most of what we know in history has been shaped by the rich and powerful. They were the only ones who were written about, their stories are the only ones that have been documented ... so little exists about the common people and how they really felt about things. I guess our generation is leaving more than enough information about our batch! :)

Bhavana, Barbara, 3rdEyeMuse, Avinash - glad you liked it.

Compassion Unlimited - thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

namaki said...

what a cemetary !

sweetmango said...

Bindu, first of all, your pictures are stunning, really very emotive and warm. Beautiful :)
Secondly, I really do enjoy going on holiday with you LOL!! It is so much fun!! :)

ArtSparker said...

Lovely post, both as to visuals and writing, in Paris one is forbidden to take photos in the graveyards, of course people do anyway...

ArtSparker said...

P.S. It seems to have some resemblance to the graveyard in New Orleans, but that one is more tattered. Though filmed many times.

bindu said...

Vamsee, Painter Girl - thanks, I'm glad you liked it.

Jude - I know! It seems so vain, doesn't it?

Nancy - thanks. Those cats did have so much attitude!

Namaki - it was interesting!

Sweetmango - glad you're coming along! :)

ArtSparker - I was doubtful at first too, and didn't take my camera out. But when I saw everyone else taking pictures, and the guards not minding, I guessed it was ok. Haven't seen the one in New Orleans though.

Robyn said...

Amazing!I like the sepia effect and I love the cat lazing there.
Thanks Bindu, the tour was really interesting. (I have a thing for cobbled alleyways)

Leslie said...

Bindu-what a peaceful place. I enjoyed reading about this and the photos take me there. Very somber and quiet. I'm sure that in person this place is amazing-all the detail-the angels all around and the stone-hard, cold and final.

Thanks for the journey.


megha punater said...

the photos are truly great,love the sepia tone.such an interesting place.
thank you for sharing.:)

Sydney said...

And I would be reading those posts on the cats! The thing I loved most about the roman ruins and the zig zaggy streets of Athens and the greek Islands (when my parents took me as a kid) where the zillions of feral cats that inhabited them. I spent all my postcard money instead on tins of sardines and fed them all even back then.

Buenos AIres is such a hot spot right now. I agree with meb in her thanks for taking us on trips we may never otherwise take. Your photos and words are, as usual, beautiful Bindu. So glad you are back!

~vagabond~ said...

The last two photos are my favorites from the series. Lovely architecture, and your narration gave me a chance to visit it too. :)