At each turn a pane of broken glass, a twist of rusted iron or the dust of crumbled stone greets me. The patterns of their demise are unique and yet each of their stories ends here, in La Recoleta. The universal tale of this cemetery, like all others, is loss. Resting here, however, are the rich, the powerful, the famous, the mysterious, and of course, the forgotten. I am not the first to be captivated by the rows of sepulchers and maze of mausoleums here. In fact, La Recoleta is one of Buenos Aires’ top attractions for visitors, and our afternoon walk there was not a solitary one. Still, how was it that a place filled with so much death brings in so much life?
For me, La Recoleta was simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen—that alone will draw me back again. From above the cemetery looks like a city itself, though miniature in stature. Each resting place juts up to its neighbor, leaving space only for the occasional tree and a few small open areas. Some of the paths between the tombs are wide enough for a car, others are mere alleyways. The mausoleums of this particular neighborhood are as varied as their inhabitants. Some are marble homes adorned with columns and statutes, eerily reminiscent of palatial splendor and immaculately kept. Others are forged of iron and glass and plain stone, showing the familiar markings that time and weather and neglect bestow. I stopped at many of these crumbling sepulchers, sometimes simply because the glass was broken and I had a window into their life and death. Inside these tombs were the normal tokens of faith and remembrance - a cross or a bouquet of flowers, a bible or a family photo. In many of them you can see the caskets themselves, stacked up to the ceiling in neat rows. But naturally on the subject of death we look down too, and in La Recoleta I often found an opening in the floor and a staircase into the dark, where more family members found their resting place. The mausoleums that gave me greatest pause, though, were those whose ceiling had fallen through. Places that were never meant to see light from above were suddenly exposed to the elements, their place of everlasting peace now strewn with broken stone. It was clear no one was coming to tend to their home. But sometimes the crumbled ceiling let in the right amount of sun and rain, and instead of a floor covered in pieces of a tomb, there were plants - what most of us call weeds, really - but it was life. Life that not even death could stop.