Thursday, October 21, 2010

Graveyards, Opera & Bubbles

As briefly mentioned in an earlier posting, visiting the La Recoleta Cemetery was one of Boo's most anticipated moments for the entire trip - and today was the day.

Established in 1822, La Recoleta Cemetery was the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires and it houses the final resting places for many of the city's greatest families - including presidents, generals, sportsmen and cultural figures. The cemetery is designed almost as a small city where the quiet, but crowded, avenues can house approximately 4700 tombs and mausoleums. There's even a map of the cemetery that highlights the location of many of the most notable inhabitants. The tombs themselves range from the most elaborate and richly decorated to the simple and even the unkempt.

We knew very little Argentine history and the various family names meant little to us. All the same, there are few art galleries that feature such a varied array of statements on life and world viewpoints - with styles ranging from Neoclassical, Neogothic, Art Deco and modern. Luckily, we had a guide book that pointed out a few tombs of interest - such as the one above where a 19 year old girl was buried. Legend has it that she was merely in a coma - and not dead - when she was laid to rest. Shortly thereafter, she came out of the coma and security guards heard her screaming. By the time anyone could reach her, she had died of a heart attack. The story tells of scratches on the coffin and her face. The mother was so racked with guilt that she had the coffin and tomb completely rebuilt. Her daughter now rests behind a pane of glass so that, if she wakes up, she can be rescued this time.

Considering the endless time that Boo had accorded my wine tours, he was allowed to stay as long as he wanted to. A couple hours of wandering the alleys proved to be even overwhelming for him. It's unfortunate that we didn't time our visit such that we were able to take one of the English tours that are available. I think we managed to satiate his desires though. Although we'd seen hundreds of tombs and taken even more pictures, we still had to locate the biggest "draw" in the cemetery - the tomb of Evita Peron and the Duarte family.

This was not the original resting place of Eva Peron. Indeed, there's an entire history of how her embalmed body had been stolen when her husband, Juan Peron, had been overthrown by a military coup. The body had been secretly buried in Italy for years. Her body was eventually returned to Argentina and buried in the family crypt at La Recoleta. The Argentine government has taken such extensive measures to secure the tomb that it is often told that the Duarte tomb could withstand a nuclear bomb.

Our original plan had been to open a bottle of bubbly and toast Evita while in the cemetery. We rethought that activity upon finding that Evita's tomb is perpetually crowded with visitors and a steady stream of picture taking and tour groups. We were just going to have to postpone our little toast to history.

Calling out to us - almost as much as La Recoleta - were the choripan carts located down by the river and the ecological reserve. We'd seen them on the tour bus but didn't stop. We'd been told that, if you wanted to experience chorizo heaven, this would be the place to do so. There were dozens of carts and picking the right one seemed a bit like trying to decide which bottle of wine to buy. We went with one of the most crowded and had one of the most filling and well-priced meals of the trip.

Fully sated, with aching feet, we grabbed the first cab we could find and made our way back to the apartment to sit back with our bottle of wine.

624. Domaine St. Diego Brut Xero - Cuvee Dogma (Mendoza - Argentina)

This was one of the bottles that we'd picked up while visiting the winery in Mendoza - and I'd really been looking forward to popping the cork. A bubbly made using the classic, and labour intensive, Methode Champenoise, it's very non-classic in the fact that it's made of 70% Malbec Blanc de Noir and 30% Chardonnay. I don't think this is wine that you'll find at many other wineries - at least outside of Argentina.

When posting our visit to Domaine St. Diego, I'd mentioned that some of their vineyard has rows of grapes alternating with grand olive trees. As you might expect, the trees tend to shade the vines, in turn delaying the ripening process. This results in higher acidity levels in the grapes than would normally be found in the warm Mendoza climate, but this is exactly what is wanted in the production of sparkling wine - where most winemakers don't want ripe fruit overwhelming the subtlety of the bubbles.

I honestly hate to admit that I didn't enjoy this wine nearly as much as I'd wanted to. I loved the winery so much and I wanted this to be a feather in the cap of Argentine wine. The flavour profile did nothing for me though. It neither reminded me of a good Champagne nor of a fruitier Prosseco or the like. It might have been that we needed to drink it with something more substantial than a bit of fruit and some pastry, but I likely won't get the chance to test that theory since I'm not too likely to find another bottle back home in Vancouver.

Maybe, it's simply because we didn't open it at Evita's tomb as we'd planned. Or maybe we should have taken it along with us for the evening's activities.

We didn't have long to dwell on - or drown - our sorrows though. We were off to take in yet another highlight in Buenos Aires - an opera at the Teatro Colon. Neither Boo nor I are true opera buffs. I can't speak for him but I've only seen one fully mounted opera in my life and that was back in 1986 as part of Vancouver's Expo '86.

I'd read that Teatro Colon is a stunning venue and that, acousticly, it is considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the world. We were lucky in that we were able to find some last-minute tickets. That was probably because the program consisted of two operas that I've never heard of before. Despite the fact that I'm not a regular at the opera, even I've heard of the big ones like La Traviata, Madama Butterfly and La Boheme - but Una Tragedia Florentina and Violanta, I don't think so. I don't even recognize the composer von Zemlinsky.

Of all things, the libretto was apparently written by Oscar Wilde but that didn't help me much since it was being performed in German - with Spanish sur-titles. Good thing you don't really need to understand all the words to catch the point that there's bound to be someone who gets backstabbed and plenty of resulting death. Being able to follow the story a little bit might have helped somewhat though.

The venue was gorgeous though. We were particularly lucky in that the theatre only re-opened in May 2010 after four years' - and $100 million - worth of renovations. The fact that our seats were in one of the boxes made it all that more special. Had we known that we were in a box, I might have smuggled in a bottle of wine to enjoy during the show. Turns out that it would have been a piece of cake and that we could have sipped away until the "fat lady sang."

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