Rufina Cambaceres dies twice in Buenos Aires- a tragic, yet beautiful tale

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.

Rufina Cambaceros
Rufina Camberos
Rufina Camberos

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.

Eva Peron
Eva Peron

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.

San Augustine

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

Here is Cecilia’s translation:
Oh, you, who are crying to us,
Don’t let pain defeat you,
Look at the life that is beginning
And not to the one that just have 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.

hot chocolate at La Biela

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.

Clementine Helene Dufau “Chant a la Beaute-1909”

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

The Possibility of Everything

Hope Edelman, best selling author of five books including the New York Times Motherless Daughters read from The Possibility of Everything at Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica. Not expecting to see me there, she greeted me with a warm, open-armed “Hannah” with so much enthusiasm she’s hard to ignore.

Hope’s engrossing, magical memoir takes us on the journey of a pragmatic woman who goes from conventional, traditional beliefs to someone willing to spend a week in Central America to delve into what can’t always be seen by the human eye. She’s a woman open to exploration, discovery, and not staying in the box of what our western culture prescribes. It’s an expressive, beautifully written story where, her marriage strained by a husband working sixteen hours a day launching a dot-com company, we see an honest, observant woman searching for answers. Her passages of reflection helped me to understand a mother driven to do anything to help her daughter.

Edelman’s daughter Maya is having violent outbursts that are being caused by her imaginary friend Dodo. Many mothers would be quick to put their child on medication for temper tantrums. That Edelman was willing to go to another country, be open to another culture to find an unorthodox remedy, which she does, brought tears to my eyes. As someone who has always traveled trying to find questions about who I am, Hope’s story deeply resonated. For anyone who’s tried to find answers about who they are by going outside the box, this book is buried treasure as she goes deeper. She’s self aware, not blaming, probing and questioning everything while sharing her insights on marriage, motherhood and faith. Her book makes you feel as if you are her friend.

She describes her cushy life with a lovely home and a nanny but “Despite the unbridled affluence of the late 1990s, or perhaps because of it, people were deeply dissatisfied. They’d begun the decade as devotees at the altar of secular materialism, only to discover that the tasks of acquiring and the responsibilities of having were a hollow substitute for authentic experience, and they were left feeling unmoored. They had everything they could possibly need and in many cases more, yet they were nonetheless ravaged by ennui. They were clinically depressed”. Hope’s story was more than the story of the adventure of seeking a cure for their daughter. It is the story of a well educated woman that “had it all” but is unfulfilled because she no longer takes part in the modern belief of materialism and the duties of being a good wife.  This is her deep spiritual journey and as we go along on Edelman’s ride we are able to see ourselves, if we’re willing to do so. She shares her private thoughts outloud, which takes a courageous person. Her honesty about her inner conflict, instead of hiding her true self, is what makes this book such a revelatory journey. A vivid description of her feelings was present throughout.

“I still have no idea how it’s possible to believe in the potential of something while simultaneously refusing it the right to exist, but it is.” This is Hope. Not defining people or places with a box. Everything is not.

Hope has written numerous memoirs about being a motherless daughter. Early mother loss left her emotionally crippled and in a continuous state of healing. The loss has made Edelman a mother who will go to any length to be the best mother she can.

Edelman’s honest, self deprecating sense of humor had me laughing out loud in Motherless Daughters and it’s here as well. She doesn’t have to try to be funny. She just is. Where she describes her attempt to figure out what is going on with Maya and says “That’s weird. There’s no entry for imaginary friends”. I can see Edelman down on the carpet, flipping through books to find the answer and I laugh at her candor.

Hope’s ability to not judge is a breath of fresh air. At a three-day writing workshop with Hope earlier this year, I shared with her my deepest secrets and she didn’t bat an eye. I thanked her for not judging me later. Her reply? “Judgment? Pleh. You should see some of the stories that have come my way. I stopped judging anyone long ago.” I wasn’t ready to go deep to write an authentic piece but because of Hope’s accessibility and caring, I now feel free to do so. I feel guided with her as my writing instructor.  She didn’t blink at my request to “Please print out my pages on paper and use a red pen to address all issues”. Early mother loss sometimes produces quirkiness which Hope understands all too well. Falling off buildings was easy compared to being honest about my past. Hope’s accepting me for who I am has taught me not to be scared to write it down.

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Hope Edelman’s Creative Non Fiction Workshop

I spent the weekend in Hope Edelman’s Creative Non Fiction Memoir workshop. I met Hope in Guatemala at Joyce Maynard’s Write on the Lake Workshop. I immediately was drawn to Hope because of her openness and honesty.  G-d threw us together as we spent the first night in Guatemala bunking on Lake Atitlan.

Hope chose the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, an Art Deco style built in 1933 with a $2 million facelift to restore it. She provided a fresh fruit platter each morning with pineapple, strawberries, blueberries along with bagels and cream cheese and an assortment of mini muffins. She gifted each of us with a copy of Monica Holloway’s Driving with Dead People and planned a yummy Italian dinner to end the weekend on Sunday night. Not only did she graciously donate one spot in the course but she even made sure parking was included the entire weekend at the hotel.

Hope teaches in a clear, concise way how to first identify your storyline. The Set-Up, the Inciting Incident, Development and Complications, Dramatic High Point and The Resolution.  Once the storyline is developed, she puts everything together in eight parts of how to write in a way that made sense. Everyone has a story. Hope can teach you how to write yours. She kept to her schedule effortlessly (or so it seemed which shows how much work she puts into her teaching) and her attention to details made the workshop memorable.

Monica Holloway, author of the critically acclaimed Driving With Dead People and Cowboy & Wills was one of Hope’s writing students not long ago. Hope arranged for Monica as a guest speaker. Dead People paints a picture with surprises of what happens when you stuff down your past. I was laughing out loud line after line. Cowboy and Wills shares the story of a puppy that saved her autisic son. Haven’t read it yet.

If you are fortunate enough to have a writing workshop with Hope Edelman nearby, I highly recommend her. I’ve had fears about writing my story for years. With Hope’s infinite patience, caring and teaching, I am no longer scared to tell my truth.

Motherless Daughters

I started reading Hope Edelman’s Motherless Daughters. I began crying at the passage, “I want my mother. I want my mother. I want my mother now“. Okay, you may be thinking, “This Hannah broad is whiny and wimpy.” Truth is it took decades for me to be able to admit to feeling and crying. So there.

I was already feeling thoughts about my mother today as I was editing more photos I took of her. After seeing Hope, I went to the aging home where my mother lives to bring her tacos and the package of candy I did manage to bring from Guatemala. My sister pulled up at the exact moment I did, which was ironic because that has never happened there. Esther brought a protein shake and I had two steak tacos with guacamole, cheese and hot salsa for our mom.

I started to feed her outside at the table where the aides relieve stress by smoking. When it became too cold, I put my black sweater that Joyce gifted me in Guatemala, on my mother. We gave up and went inside because of the cold.

She was upset when my sister and I began to get ready to go. Her only regular visitors are my sister and I and when we get ready to leave, her energy changes.  She knows it’s back to her room with the two older women who have been there forever it seems. One of them used to sound like a choo choo train every 30 seconds. She has stopped that noise for now. The other one lets out a blood curdling scream now and then that I still shudder from when I hear it.

I realize today as I was editing my photos that looking at my mother through the safety of my camera lens is one step closer from where I used to be. In the past, I couldn’t see her at all. At least now after graduate school and my work with my healer, I visit my mom even though I am usually camera in hand.

Editing my photos tore me up today. But as Hope says, you cannot avoid pain as I did in the past.  “They know how much pain they can tolerate at any given moment, and when they reach their limit, they simply shut it off and do something else.”-Hope Edelman.  I did learn that from the work I did with my healer. Hope gave me a beautiful gift with Motherless Daughters.

I signed up for her writing workshop after seeing her yesterday. I always look for signs to see if I should do something. Her humble presence was my sign. Maybe it was the one egg on her plate with the toast and butter? “It keeps me for hours” she said. “Very mothering and nurturing” I thought to myself.  I’m looking forward to telling my story on paper and I think she will be the perfect teacher for me.

Left:My mother in Guatemala. A picture that my aunt just sent to my sister. I had never seen it before. The first time I saw it my eyes welled with tears.

Grief is not a passage but an ongoing journey“.- Hope Edelman -Motherless Daughters

More “Hope”

I believe in synchronicity (origin of word by Jung) and fate. It’s all part of facing me and my mom.In Guatemala, I shared on my blog that I roomed with Hope Edelman the first night we arrived because the vibe in her room was a bit off.

Watching my mother being abused from ages 9-14 molded part of who I am.Seeing her in intensive care at UCLA with brain damage forever changed me. Meeting someone in graduate school who held my hand as we went to visit my mom helped bring about more change. Finally being able to go visit my mother after decades was another piece of the puzzle. It’s hard to believe now how long it took for me to accept where my mother was and is. My spiritual curriculum if you will.

Meeting Hope Edelman in Guatemala was a gift from G-d.Even though I am a voracious reader somehow her book Motherless Daughters slipped by me. Hope has gifted me with a copy this morning as she ate her single hard boiled egg with a piece of toast and butter and I had a green tea latte with a raisin scone in Topanga Canyon. The cafe is so sweet. Sure beats cookie cutter Starbucks.

I had ordered Motherless Daughters as soon as I returned from Guatemala. I’m going to gift it to my sister and keep the inscribed copy Hope gave me.

I’ve been struggling with a story for years. Trying,in my clumsy way, of getting it down on paper.  But it doesn’t make sense or read well. Hope is doing a creative non fiction writing workshop in Los Angeles April 30- May 2 at the historic Georgian Hotel. Besides being a New York Times best selling author, Hope is authentic, humble, accessible, quirky, non judgmental and kind. Check it out. I’m looking forward.

Hope Edelman, Francesco Sedita, Ann Hood

Hope at Joyce Maynard’s home in Lake Atitlan.

Last day on Lake Atitlan.

I started corresponding with writer Joyce Maynard over a year ago. I wanted to bring a group to Guatemala for a Kundalini Yoga retreat and she has a home here where she lives part of the year. Joyce was so accessible, answering all my questions. I tried to meet her at Lake Atitlan in 2009 but the lake was choppy, it was late in the day so I didn’t cross.

What struck me about Joyce was her humanity, her compassion for the condition of the lake and the children of Guatemala. I knew I would someday take her writing workshop on the lake.

I have finished a week workshop with Joyce and three faculty. I had the gift of Joyce’s thirty-eight years of writing and her passionate teaching. Hope Edelman published author of five books speciality is the effect of early mother loss. Hope added to the mix with her lovely smile. Author Ann Hood, whose essay on losing her daughter has forever touched me. Francesco Sedita was a student at Joyce’s workshop last year. He is the author of Little Miss Popularity and creative director at Penguin Book; children’s division. They’re all fun too!

Hope, Francesco, Ann

I sat in a circle of 26 women that came in from all over the U.S. At the top level of Joyce’s house, she has an area that is covered with palm fronds where she taught us about writing memoir and fiction. There are friendships made here that will last a lifetime.

As I left my hotel this morning one of the locals working at the hotel says “cuedese” “Take care of yourself “. I walked the dirt path to Joyce’s house one last day. I am greeted by each person that passes with “Buenos Dias”. There are three little children splashing and bathing by the lake with their father watching.

I can hear the birds singing.  Dogs barking in the background. Women pass in their clothing that is specific to this region. Breakfast is scrambled eggs with mushrooms and cheese, black beans, local white cheese, yogurt, granola, homemade brown tortillas, a platter of strawberries, pineapple, mango, orange, watermelon, a local berry. This morning I smell bread baking, hot mango mini muffins and there are three different homemade jellies. I drink orange juice I saw being squeezed this morning in Joyce’s kitchen.  I look at what Aldous Huxley called the most beautiful lake in the world.

I was enjoying each moment even when I was locked into my bathroom and my toilet handle broke and wouldn’t flush. Then there are always the complainers. You know, the Negative Nellies. Joyce kept saying “You don’t realize you are having fun” and as I get on the boat to head across the lake back to Antigua, I realize she was right.