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Steaks, wine and Evita Peron

Written on: Sunday March 9th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Author: Julie


Today was our last in Buenos Aires, a city that had allowed us to slow down for a week, make new friends and share in its passions for living, food and dancing.

We walked along streets that were becoming familiar to us to the central plaza. We were on a mission to try to visit Casa Rosada one more time; they say the third time is the charm. Approaching the entrance with our passports (photo ID), we were allowed through as long as we left our bags and camera with the entrance guard. Unfortunately, after such a long build up of trying to get in, the museum was completely underwhelming with a few small displays of sashes and walking canes owned by previous Presidents as well as some of their personal items such as monogrammed cufflinks, letterheads, dinner ware, and undershirts. There were definitely some beautiful antique items with gold-leafed chairs and china plates but not more than that. We spent less than 30 minutes before leaving again, laughing at our determination to only be surprised with the little collection.

Walking along the Plaza de Mayo, we decided to visit the Metropolitain Cathedral of Buenos Aires. During the founding of Buenos Aires in 1580, part of a block facing the main square was reserved for the major church of the town. This is still the location of the current Cathedral, which is the last building in a series of previous churches that occupied the site, all destroyed due to shoddy workmanship. The Cathedral of Buenos Aires is a Latin cross building with transept and three-aisles with side chapels connected by corridors. In 1880, the remains of General José de San Martín were brought from France and placed in a mausoleum, reachable from the right aisle of the church, with marble of various colours. The black sarcophagh is guarded by three life-size female figures that represent Argentina, Chile and Peru, three of the regions freed by the General.

Originally the interior was only decorated with altarpieces, but at the end of the 19th century the walls and ceilings of the church were decorated with frescoes depicting biblical scenes and in 1907, the floor of the cathedral was covered with Venetian-style mosaics designed.

Next was a visit the Eva Peron Museum, opened on July 26, 2002, the 50th anniversary of Eva Perón's death. The museum, which was created by her great-niece Cristina Alvarez Rodriquez, houses many of Eva Perón's clothes, portraits, and artistic renderings of her life. It has become a popular tourist attraction. The museum was opened in a building that was once used by the Eva Perón Foundation, to house orphaned children. There is much to say about this woman, she died at the height of her popularity at the age of 33. Her influence over the country could be simplified as the wife of the President Peron but her work for the poor of the country extends much further, bringing about changes in the social political order of the country. The following history has been taken from Wikipedia and explains the life of Eva Peron as described and demonstrated in photos, videos, and artefacts we saw within the museum.

After our visit, we returned to the hostel to pack for the next day's bus ride and to have one last supper with friends. We decided to visit a popular parrilla restaurant in the San Telmo district, known for its great Argentinean steaks. Restaurants in Buenos Aires only open at 9 PM and service begins to be busy around 10 PM. Locals usually meet up at 10:30, eat around 11-11:30, then spend a couple of hours over drinks before heading home at 2:00 AM, to repeat the same the next evening. This is a city that never sleeps. We, along with Edan, Inbar, Lisa and Louise, were the first in the restaurant. It was a traditional restaurant with little tables, covered in linen, the yellowed-walls covered in black and white photos, a bar filled with rows upon rows of wine bottles and tables covered in chunky glassware and large baskets of bread. In one corner is the large roasting area. Red embers are slowly kept burning during the day while large haunches of chicken, pork and beef are slow roasted. We spent a while drinking wine and munching on bread dipped in oil while the staff performed their last minute chores before declaring the restaurant open for business. Once the waiter gave us the signal, we all ordered from the large menu with a range covering beef, chicken, pork, sausage, and pastas. They are serious about their meat and no sides are included, they have to be ordered separately, including vegetables and salads. I ordered the beef steak with mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes while Kevin ordered the butterflied T-Bone steak (imagine an inch thick T-bone steak that fills your plate with the meat the same size on either side of the bone, huge!). We had a great time with everyone and spent quite a few hours eating, laughing and ordering more wine. We would miss everyone incredibly once we were gone.

On the walk back to the hostel, we found the Plaza Dorrego filled with hundreds of couple dancing in the starry-night to the sounds of Tango music. They each had their own style with the older couples barely moving, cheek to cheek, inching along as if they were one unit, while the younger couples danced a more intricate style. Women in gorgeous heels would wrap their legs around their male partners, standing proud and still, before dipping into a twirl and into the next dance move. It was beautiful to watch and we stood still as a group for a while, before being awaken from our reveries by a couple of older gentlemen asking the women in group for a dance. We begged off with humility and the explanation that we all had left-feet and returned to the hostel for our last night.

Eva Peron

María Eva Duarte de Perón was born out of wedlock in rural Argentina in 1919. At the age 15, Eva Duarte made her way to the nation's capital of Buenos Aires where she pursued a career as a stage, radio, and film actress. Eva met Colonel Juan Perón in 1944 at a charity event in San Juan. The two were married the following year. In 1946, Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina..

In 1948, she created the Eva Peron Foundation, funded by the government, which employed 14,000 workers, of which 6,000 were construction workers, and 26 priests. It purchased and distributed annually 400,000 pairs of shoes, 500,000 sewing machines, 200,000 cooking pots. The foundation also gave scholarships, built homes, hospitals, and other charitable institutions. Every aspect of the foundation was under Evita's supervision. For the first time in Argentine history, there was no inequality in health care. Toward the end of her life, Evita was working as many as 20 and 22 hours per day in her foundation, often ignoring her husband's request that she cut back on her workload and take the weekends off. The more she worked with the poor in her foundation, the more she adopted an outraged attitude toward the existence of poverty, saying, "Sometimes I have wished my insults were slaps or lashes. I've wanted to hit people in the face to make them see, if only for a day, what I see each day I help the people."

In 1951, Evita set her sights on earning a place on the ballot as candidate for vice-president. This move angered many military leaders who despised Evita and her increasing powers within the government. According to the Argentine Constitution, the Vice President automatically succeeds the President in the event of the President's death. The possibility of Evita becoming president in the event of Juan Perón's death was not something the military could accept. She did, however, receive great support from the working class, the unions, and the Peronist Women's Party. The intensity of the support she drew from these groups is said to have surprised even Juan Perón himself. On August 22, 1951 the unions held a mass rally of two million people called "Cabildo Abierto". (The name "Cabildo Abierto" was a reference and tribute to the first local Argentine government of the May Revolution, in 1810.) The Peróns addressed the crowd from the balcony of a huge scaffolding set up on the Avenida Nueve de Julio, several blocks away from the Casa Rosada, the official government house of Argentina. Overhead were two large portraits of Eva and Juan Perón. It has been claimed that "Cabildo Abierto" was the largest public display of support in history for a female political figure. At the mass rally, the crowd demanded that Evita publicly announce her official candidacy as vice president. She pleaded for more time to make her decision. The exchange between Evita and the crowd of two million became, for a time, a genuine and spontaneous dialogue, with the crowd chanting, "¡Evita, Vice-Presidente!". When Evita asked for more time so she could make up her mind, the crowd demanded, "¡Ahora, Evita, ahora!" ("Now, Evita, now!"). Eventually, they came to a compromise. Evita told the audience that she would announce her decision over the radio a few days later. She declined the invitation to run for vice-president, saying her only ambition was that in the large chapter of history that would be written about her husband, she hoped that in the footnotes there would be mention of a woman who brought the "hopes and dreams of the people to the president", who eventually turned those hopes and dreams into "glorious reality". Most biographers, however, postulate that Evita did not so much renounce her ambition as bow out due to pressure from her husband, the military, and the Argentine upper class, who preferred that she not enter the race.

By 1951, it had also become evident that her health was rapidly deteriorating. In early 1950, Evita fainted in public and underwent surgery few days later. Although it was reported that she had undergone an appendectomy, she had actually developed advanced uterine cancer. Fainting continued through 1951 (including the evening after "Cabildo abierto"), with extreme weakness and severe vaginal bleeding. Although her diagnosis was withheld from her by Juan, she knew she was not well, and a bid for the vice-presidency was not practical in light of her condition. Only a few months after "the Renouncement," Evita underwent a secret radical hysterectomy in an attempt to cure her of her advanced cervical cancer. On June 4, 1952, Evita rode with Juan Perón in parade through Buenos Aires in celebration of his re-election as President of Argentina. (This was the first election in which Argentine women had been allowed to vote. Evita had organized women voters into the first truly powerful female political party in the country's history.) Evita was by this point so ill that she was unable to stand without support. Underneath her oversized fur coat was a frame made of plaster and wire that allowed her to stand. She took a triple dose of pain medication before the parade, and took another two doses when she returned home.

In an official ceremony a few days after Juan Perón's second inauguration, Evita was given the official title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation". Despite having undergone a hysterectomy, she developed lung metastasis and was the first Argentinian to undergo chemotherapy (a novel treatment at that time). Despite all available treatment, she became emaciated, weighing only 36 kg (about 79 lb.) by June 1952. Evita died at the age of 33, at 8:25 p.m. on July 26, 1952. The news was immediately broadcast throughout the country, and Argentina went into mourning: all activity in Argentina stopped: movies stopped playing, restaurants were closed and patrons were shown to the door. A radio broadcast interrupted the broadcasting schedule, with the announcer reading, "It is my sad duty to inform you that today at 8:25 p.m. Eva Perón, Spiritual Leader of the Nation, entered immortality". Eva Perón was granted an official state funeral.

Upon Eva Perón's death, the government suspended all official activities for two days, with all flags being flown at half-mast for ten days. It soon became apparent, however, that these measures fell short of reflecting popular grief. The crowd outside of the official presidential residence had grown dense, congesting the streets for ten blocks in each direction. Later, while Evita's body was being moved, eight people were crushed to death in the throngs. In the following 24 hours, over 2000 people would be treated in city hospitals for injuries sustained in the rush to be near Evita as her body was being transported from the presidential residence to the Ministry of Labour building. The streets of Buenos Aires overflowed with flowers that were stacked in huge piles, and within one day of Evita's death, all flower shops in Buenos Aires had run out of flowers. Despite the fact that Eva Perón never held an official political office, she was eventually given an official funeral usually reserved for a head of state.

Shortly after her death, plans were made to construct a monument in Evita's honor. The monument, which was to be a statue of a man representing the "descamisados", was projected to be larger than the Statue of Liberty. Evita's body was to be stored in the base of the monument and, in the tradition of Lenin's corpse, to be displayed for the public. While waiting for the monument to be constructed, Evita's embalmed body was displayed in her former office at the union building for almost two years. Before the monument to Evita was completed, Juan Perón was overthrown in a military coup, by the Revolución Libertadora, in 1955. Perón hastily fled the country and did not make arrangements to secure Evita's body.

A military dictatorship took power in Argentina. The new authorities removed Evita's body from display and its whereabouts remained a mystery for 16 years. From 1955 until 1971, the military dictatorship of Argentina issued a ban on Peronism. It became illegal not only to possess pictures of Juan and Eva Perón even in one's home, but to even speak their names. After sixteen years, the military finally revealed the location of Evita's body. It had been buried in a crypt in Milan, Italy under the name "María Maggi". In 1995, Tomás Eloy Martínez published "Santa Evita", which detailed many previously unknown facts about the escapades of Evita's corpse, such as the fact that many wax copies of the corpse were made. Martínez claimed that the corpse was damaged with a hammer and that one officer even committed sexual acts on one of the copies of the corpse.

In 1971, Evita's body was exhumed and flown to Spain, where Juan Perón maintained the corpse in his home. In 1973, Juan Perón came out of exile and returned to Argentina, where he became president for the third time. Perón died in office in 1974. Isabel Perón, Peron's third wife, who had been elected vice-president, succeeded him, thus became the first female president in the world. It was Isabel who had Evita's body returned to Argentina and (briefly) displayed beside Juan Perón's. The body was later buried in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery. Extensive measures were taken by the Argentinian government to secure Evita's tomb. There is a trapdoor in the tomb's marble floor, which leads to a compartment that contains two coffins. Under the first compartment is a second trapdoor and a second compartment. That is where Evita's coffin rests.