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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

Somber virus news, surprising custom and the odyssey of Evita's body

Today Argentina passed the bar of 5000 Covid-19 related deaths since the beginning of the epidemic. Similar to most countries, funeral attendance is extremely limited in number nowadays because of lock-down but there is also something unusual about funerals in Argentina, at least in my experience: they are extremely fast!

They almost always happen in the 24 (or max. 48) hours after the person dies. There is often a wake the same evening and the next day the person is already laid to rest. In addition, the ceremony itself is also very short: a quick mass (frequently organized by the cemetery and given by their priest, who did not know the deceased), followed by a swift burial or send-off for cremation, and then everyone goes back home. It is all very informal: anyone who has been notified in time by family and friends is welcome to visit the wake or attend the send-off ceremony.

This is a sharp contrast with what I have seen in Europe or the US, where funerals tend to be a social event (with formal invitations etc... ) which requires planning and therefore time. It is not rare that funerals takes place a week or more after the person dies, I have even heard of funerals that were planned 3 weeks in advance. And these "lead times" are not only for famous people, like John Lewis who died on July 16th, lied in State on July 27th and 28th and was buried on the 30th, or Gisele Halimi who died on July 28th and was buried on August 6th.

There is one notorious exception though in Argentina, the facts surrounding Eva Peron's death. You might know this already but I did not when I moved here and only found out a few years ago.

Evita died on July 26th 1952 and lied in State at the Ministry of Labour for 2 weeks. On August 9th, her body was transferred to the Congress Building for an additional day of public viewing, and a memorial service. The body was then embalmed and displayed for almost 2 years. But after the military coup in 1955, President Juan Peron fled the country, the new authorities banned peronism and removed Evita's body from display. Its whereabouts were a mystery for 16 years! In 1971, the military revealed that Evita's body was buried in a crypt in Milan, it was exhumed and flown to Spain, where Juan Perón maintained the corpse in his home there (allegedly on the dining room table!). 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 and his third wife, Isabel Perón, who had been elected vice-president, succeeded him. Isabel had Eva Perón's body returned to Argentina and some time later, it was buried in her family's tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, under her birth name: Eva Duarte.

Very many tourists visit her tomb today, which is actually not easy to find because it is in a side-alley of this beautiful cemetery which is world famous because it is so different. It looks like a city with little houses in which you can see coffins on display through the often curtained windows. Apparently they are all vacuum sealed to keep better above ground. Really very unique and I highly recommend a visit when borders will be open again!

Recoleta cemetery, a city within a city, also known as "the city of the dead"

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