I finished the book, Santa Evita, just as the trains were crashing. Being that the book was so intense and dark, this was a little creepy. The trains piled up and they looked like coffins. And of course, the news cycle went into overdrive in the same way it does back home…endless footage of the carnage and wreckage, mourning relatives, eyewitnesses recounting the event…but it quickly veered Argentine within a day….finger-pointing and people’s frustration with the shoddiness of government (the railroads were privatized under Menem, but are dependent on government subsidies so as to keep fares low/affordable…and they’re like a concession, owned and operated by a family with close ties to Cristina…so you can fingerpoint in all directions: neoliberalism, socialism, cronyism, Peronism, etc., and/or all of the above). Cristina announced two days of mourning. There she was dressed in mourning black, as she is forever dressed in black in honor of her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner…and here’s where death sort of took over from rationality, along the lines of Evita…..flags at halfmast, the widowed president, Nestor’s body somewhere stage left …and the obsession in the news became about the body of Lucas….
His smiling photo holding the little girl…with the caption El Cuerpo de Lucas…El Cuerpo de Lucas….But who is Lucas? Lucas was a young man who’d apparently been on the train and hadn’t come home. They kept showing his crying mother. He continued to not appear. Where was the body of Lucas?…it was really strange as I was reading about ‘where is the body of Evita’ which also disappeared—for a bit longer, about 20 years. Endlessly the news cycle repeated itself with the picture of Lucas and his little daughter…handsome Lucas, a young father…where is he? How could it not touch you? El cuerpo de Lucas, el cuerpo de lucas…it was weird, because he hadn’t appeared but they kept talking about his body like he wasn’t the subject, his body was, as if he were dead already although there was no real evidence either way. I mean, in the US, it would be Where is Lucas? Back home, he’d be assumed alive until he was found. But here it’s where is the body of Lucas? Looking for his body is making the assumption he’s dead. And yet why would it be so hard to find a dead body when you knew pretty specifically where it was? It’s as if, as if….had his body been kidnapped like Evita’s? In the end, his body was found, deeply buried in the iron wreckage where two parts of the train had compacted violently as they folded in on themselves like an accordion. There was no time for grief as the protests started, the tear gas, the train station shut down. Very, very weird—people reacted as if they’d been hiding him, holding out. Pictures of Lucas on placards. Lucas’s body had become a symbol of the body politic much as Evita’s had. I’m not making this up though it feels like I must be …how could life imitate art so explicitly? And yet that is Evita’s story, and more and more, I’m beginning to think, it’s Argentina’s. Saint Lucas. There’s an unreality here….I mean, yeah, it looks like Paris, but it’s not Paris, yet people live here like it is.
I’m not saying people don’t live in unrealities back home, and I had an interesting discussion the other day with an Argentine about how Argentina is obsessed with the past and the dead, while America is obsessed with the present and the living. A lot of Americans know nothing about their history or anyone else’s. They consider the past bad or negative or to be forgotten. In California they literally surgically remove it or nostalg-ify it into Disneyland-type renderings—except for San Miguel, my fave, they’ve done this to all the missions. Faulkner, and in many ways, the South are in some weird way the conscience of America because they are still about the past, though I suppose less so with time in any real way, and more so in the nostalgic way that capitalism likes to repackage the past….Krispy Kreme donuts, Paula Dean, etc. In the end, neither way of life is healthy. You have to remember the past and know it and you have to let it go also and move on (while keeping an eye on it), so you can deal with the present. But you can’t just do one or the other. It takes intelligence to deal with the past…there is a lot of intelligence here, but it’s sort of contained in the intellectual class…the masses just behave with this weird catholic hysteria...they understand the past in a certain primal way, but it’s kind of insane. Of course, they’ve been repeatedly abused and traumatized by authority here. In America, the past seems heavily rationalized, almost into complete abstraction, which easily lends itself to denial. I often feel the only people who really understand/feel America’s past are Native Americans who I’ve gotten to know. I always feel like I’m in a different place when I’m with them at sweats, etc.
So to wrap this into one poetic statement: America often seems like the naïve, uneducated child of history with no past, while Argentina is like the corpse of Europe with too much past. Enter Starbucks at the site of a famous old Buenos Aires café, named, appropriately enough, L’Aglion, which is French for The Eagle:
Speaking of corpses, I’ve always found plastic surgery macabre, sort of like the walking dead and this culture embraces it in spades.
….so here you go, some cuerpos de Argentina:
Showgirl forever, Moria Casan
(I do like her quote on the cover of a Marijuana magazine: 'when I'm stoned, I feel like a geisha.')
Establishment talkshow host, Mirtha LeGrand, who is 85
Hipper talkshow host, Susana Gimenez
Drag queen Oggi Junco
Reality show TV personalities Guido Suller y Ricardo Fort
First lady, saint and myth forever, Evita Duarte Peron
We finally got to the tomb of Evita up in Recoleta cemetery. She got the last laugh on the rich who vigilantly denied her entrance into their world while she was alive. She’s buried in THE cemetery in the center of power and wealth in her father’s family’s crypt (Duarte).
Evita was illegitimate and her father never acknowledged her though he’d taken some interest in her brothers and sisters, supporting the family on the side at one of his many properties.
In the well-known story, the ‘legit’ family tried to drive her mother and brood of 5 small children away when they came to their father’s funeral but eventually they let them view the body briefly. For Evita to be buried in this crypt is quite an existential feat on some level. Again, you go girl.
Evita’s story illustrates a very ugly side of this society where men are generally kind of shamelessly irresponsible sexually…the gay guys have a similar rep, though like all stereotypes, there are plenty of exceptions. It was sort of comic to listen to the other tourists around the tomb…one guy said to his girlfriend… "who is this woman, what did she do?” I suppose a foreigner could do the same at the Lincoln Monument, but sheesh, even your Lonely Planet will give you a page or two to brush up on a country’s 10 greatest hits, no? I’m assuming everyone is at least familiar with the opera, although that’s a whole nother can of worms and a pretty shallow one. But it’s a start, it’s not all bad.
A big group of Europeans and Japanese arrived while we were looking at the tomb, which is protected by bulletproof glass—apparently Evita’s body is far in the depths under several steel barriers. The Argentina tour guide explained to the throng that Eva’s maiden name was Duarte and that this is her family’s crypt, and no her husband wasn’t buried here because his family was from somewhere else….wow, that’s sort of brushing over the facts a bit…but how could she begin to tell the real story, not only because it would take forever, but because much of her audience doesn’t even have a rudimentary knowledge to help her begin. I wondered about someone asking who was Jesus? Um, well he was a carpenter, used to like belt out epigrams, was pretty good at it. Important Jewish family, House of David, yada, yada, yada.
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Evita, or at least some empathy, even though she was dangerously egotistical and ambitious, and her enabling of her husband’s thuggery, as well as her letting people deify her, is pretty unforgiveable and ultimately abusive of the very people she claimed to represent. She was not a wise or bright woman, and seemingly in way over her head (or not, all things Evita being enigmatic), but she did redistribute wealth with a sense of justice and she got women the vote....ultimately she was the shadow of this country’s false self image in the same way Vietnam was for America’s false self image. After her death, the way her body was desecrated makes it hard to feel nothing. It’s Maggie Thatcher all over again, sympathy for the devil…and ultimately that’s a good thing if you’re working on growing your heart and soul.