I’m told most tourists come to visit Eva Peron’s tomb but I was more interested in Rufina Cambaceros; “ the girl who died twice.” Eva Duarte de Peron’s tomb is the most famous in Recoleta Cemetary but Rufina Cambaceres’s story is the most disturbing. Rufina came from a wealthy family, heirs to a large cattle fortune. She had discovered her fiancé was having an affair. Three doctors pronounced her dead and she was buried alive on her 19th birthday. The explanation doctors gave later is that Rufina suffered from catalepsy which is characterized by rigidity and low vital signs. Catalepsy is the classic buried-alive diagnosis, and the one used in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial.” BTW, Rufina is buried three blocks south of Eva Peron.
I’m thinking it was her worst birthday ever. A few days after the funeral, a cemetery worker was concerned about grave robbery when he found that her coffin had moved within the crypt and the lid was broken in place. Rufina, woke up days later after her burial to find herself trapped, tried desperately to escape, then died of a heart attack. Scratches were on her face and covered the inside of her coffin which was opened after her screams were heard. Her father rebuilt the grave site so she is seen opening her own doors. I was in front of her tomb for so long that people started to ask me questions and I found myself explaining Rufina’s story in Spanish, as if I was a tour guide. Rufina’s story should cheer up anyone having a bad break up and yes, a broken heart and sadness can kill or transform.
The profundity of sadness is not easy for me to articulate. When I saw paintings by Suzan Woodruff, I saw sadness. Art work by Cecilia Mandrile moved me to write to her (hence a large part of why I am in Argentina) to help me to understand her sadness. The death of Lucrecia Urbano’s father began her creative process with glass. Hope Edelman’s experience of losing her mother created a sadness that planted the seeds for her Motherless Daughter’s book. I believe my grandmother’s experience of sadness at watching my mother being abused is why she became sick with leukemia. I truly believe Michael Jackson dealt with his sadness with his expressions of music & dance. Feelings of something being incomplete or something lacking stirred a need to create & to help people cope with and understand their sadness.
Eva Peron’s tomb is the most visited grave in Recoleta Cemetary. You can always find it as there are hoardes of tourists and flowers. It was not so interesting to me after the story of Ruffina Camberos. It is a little ironic that Evita was supposed to be buried under a monument which would represent the ‘Descamisados’, the poor working class, but she ended up in a cemetery which represents the wealthiest of Buenos Aires. Recoleta Cemetery is the most expensive real estate in the city.
St. Augustine, after a personal crisis, went through a profound change in his life. He quit his teaching job, gave up any idea of marriage, devoted himself totally to G-d. He said he heard a childlike voice telling him in a sing-song voice, “tolle, lege” -“take up and read.” He gave all his money to the poor, just like St. Francis of Assisi and converted his home into a place where all his friends could live. He was one of the most prolific Latin authors.
oh vosotros que nos llorais
no os dejeis abatir por el dolor
mirad la vida que comienza
y no la que ha concluido
Here’s my translation:
Oh, we should not cry
Do not let yourselves be discouraged by the pain
Look at the life that begins
And not at what has ended
En frente del cementario es una esquina donde hay un café llamado La Biela donde Borges, el escritor solia pasar la tardes. Borges nacio en Buenos Aires. In front of the cemetery is a street where there’s a café called La Biela where the writer, essayist, poet and translator Borges would hang out in the afternoons. Borges was born in Buenos Aires.
In describing himself, he said, “I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors.”
La Biela was born as Viridita, a sidewalk Café with 18 tables on a narrow sidewalk. Viridita is a mispronunciation of Veredita, a diminutive of sidewalk in Argentine Spanish. It stands in the shade of the mythical 18th C tree, in front of the church of Nuestra Señora del Ria. It’s a landmark and a connecting rod in the social life of La Recoleta’s neighborhood. From there, I walked to Museo Nacional Bella Artes; one of the most important fine arts museums in Buenos Aires.
Upon exiting I was excited to get to my next stop. I made some mistakes. I was tired and should have listened to my gut that said “go back to your apartment.” The next one was getting into a cab to make my way to a different part of the city. I broke too many of my own traveling guides to myself: never get in a cab outside a museum, don’t carry cash after changing money and don’t walk around tired. All lessons. When I went to Puerto Madera and paid to go into the museum, I was told my money was “falso”. A cab driver outside Bella Artes had taken my real money and traded it for fake, a recent con in the city that taxi drivers are playing. I was going to go to Coleccion de arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat. I paid to go in and started to look at the Argentinian art. I was too upset to enjoy the museum. I headed back to my apartment to ponder why. If this is a world where we are all infinitely connected, then why would someone do this? I was left with gratitude that he didn’t have a gun or knife. The truth is there is tremendous crime in Buenos Aires but that doesn’t color the city for me at all. How about the fact that I’ve traveled in places with tremendous poverty like Peru, Bolivia… and I’m robbed in the chic neighborhood of Recoleta? What I came to understand is that instead of listening to the voice inside of me that told me to go back to my apartment, I pushed myself to see more.
Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.
Jorge Luis Borges
For Hope – “What if Brussat quoted Brussai in Brunei?”- Hope Edelman
Spiritual literacy is the ability to read the text of your own lives for spiritual meaning. That means looking at the things you encounter, the animals you encounter, the people, the places where you are, looking at your relationships, looking at all your activities and seeing that within them there is a significance and meaning. The medieval monks used to say that the world was liber mundi, a book to be read. In Islamic tradition, they will say that everything is a letter from God that you’re supposed to read. If you’re Native American and you walk through the wilderness, they talk about “reading sign.” So if a bird appears, it has meaning. That bird is a sign. So spiritual literacy is recognizing that everything you encounter in your daily life is a sign that can be read.
Mary Ann Brussat