On one of my many visits to Buenos Aires, I visited the famous La Recoleta cemetery, final resting place of so many of that country’s great and good.
When Evita Perón died in 1952, her husband, Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón, ordered her body to be embalmed and exhibited to the nation in a glass case. Three years later, when Perón fell from power, Evita’s corpse became a heavy burden for the subsequent regime that wished to prevent her place of burial in La Recoleta from becoming a cult place of pilgrimage.
Kidnapped by the Army Intelligence Service, for weeks the body was secretly driven around the streets of Buenos Aires, and was later hidden for months in the back room of a cinema. At one stage the body was allegedly subjected to all sorts of passions when it was stored at the home of a captain who had lost his mind. The true location of Evita’s body became the subject of much speculation following the publication in 1995 of a best-selling novel, Santa Evita, by Tomás Eloy Martínez, which propounded many new stories and myths about the posthumous escapades of Evita’s body.
the body of Eva Perón
or so they say, in a low key grave
that lacks the pomp and circumstance
of her new neighbours, some of whom
to sit our their time until the day
of judgment, in ornate mausoleums
lined with grey granite slabs; some with
tiny windows looking out on the streets
at the frenzied sweep of doomed human traffic;
some with en suite bathrooms
from which dull rusty piss seeps, endlessly.
Wealth and illustrious military power
here, the owners of a past Buenos Aires
and a long gone Argentina. In this dusty
city of death, laid out in monotonously meti-
culous streets and avenues, tourists
stroll through a gaping emptiness that awaits
us all; and with a shudder they quicken
their pace as they exit once more through
the huge entrance gates, taking large gulps
And on the white external wall an unknown wit
has scrawled in huge red letters
DULCE ETERNIDAD (sweet eternity)
and whatever we believe, we are
to know, whether in hope or in despair
whether in faith or simply fatigue.
Here lies the body of Eva Perón, though some
say not. Here lies the truth, or a lie.
2 August 2005