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The Thirteenth Time Is the Charm

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I’m not someone who runs to see the sights of any new city to which I travel.  Sure, I’ll hit a museum or two but my greatest joy is sitting in restaurants, wandering around and getting a feel of what it might be like to live there.   My second greatest joy is reading the guidebooks.  I tend to skim through the overall history of the place.  Sure, there were some riots, Evita was beloved and be-hated, they can never get the economy off the ground, etc.  But, it’s the little stories tucked in that can make an entire trip worthwhile.  On our third day in Buenos Aires, after my master class was missed (more about that on another day), we went to Ricoleta.  This is a beautiful part of the city, with great shopping, a huge park and the famous cemetery.  There were wonderful parts about that day, from seeing the huge gum tree where I had a picture taken of me at the age of 6, to the dogs (which, by the way, take themselves very seriously in the capital city….don’t laugh at them) but I loved the cemetery.

The Ricoleta cemetery is one of those beautiful and yet creepy and questionably sanitary mini-city of above-ground mausoleums.  Much like above-ground pools, they call into question the judgment of their owners.  At first, there is the shock of seeing some rotting coffins just behind a gap in the marble.  Then there is the gross factor of seeing that they have an impressive drainage system that must mean that seepage must occur.    Then you realize that each mausoleum has an underground area to keep the majority of the family that begs the question: “who ranks highest in the family to get the above-ground digs?”.  Then you see the coffin gourneys strewn about which implies recent additions.   Then you pet the “death kitties” which roam around before you realize that they can get into the mausoleums and probably do some mean ratting down there.  But none of these activities were my favorite part.

There is a mausoleum in Ricoleta dedicated to Ruffina Something.  Stop if you’ve heard this story before.  Ruffina had a cataplectic fit and was buried at the age of 19.  At some point after the initial burial, or as I like to call it “Death.1”, she woke up and realized she was in a bad situation.  She attempted to claw her way out but was unsuccessful.  “Death.2” occurred as a result of some serious splinters under her fingers, anoxia and a heart attack.  There are many questions I have about this scenario.  Did they not check pulses in the 18th century?  How long did they wait after the fit before they threw her in the box…thirty minutes?  An hour?  How did they know that she had not died before they tossed her into the ground?  I’m imagining a few possibilities.  “Antonio? Did you hear something?”  “No, I just have a little gas”.  “Has that coffin lid always been askew?”.

But this isn’t the best part of the story.  Apparently, some well-meaning friend of the family, or neighbor, heard about poor Ruffina and made a vow to never allow something this tragic to ever happen again.  So, he set to work, designing a coffin with an alarm system and a release.  Now, this gentleman was tenacious and he wanted to make absolutely sure that his new contraption would work.   So, like any good engineer, he tested it….12 times.  Not satisfied with a mere 12, he decided to give it another go and, on the thirteenth time, his design failed him and he died inside the coffin, of finger splinters, anoxia and a heart attack.   I don’t know about you, but I have more questions now.   Were twelve attempts not enough to reassure him that his product was safe?  Did he not tell anyone what he was working on?   Why on earth would he do this by himself?  It would be a simple favor…”Hi Antonio, I’m going to be testing a new coffin, would you mind hanging out in case it doesn’t work?”  Maybe they did hang out for a while but got bored after test #8 and decided to head to Cabreras for a glass of Malbec and a tenderloin.

When you stand in front of Ruffina’s grave (a substantial upgrade as only guilt can buy), you are struck by the statue of the young woman with her hand on the door handle.  It’s as if she is saying in a bored tone, “Hi.  Come on in.  I’ve got a story to tell you.”



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Written by composthaste

May 24, 2010 at 12:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Great post!!! I felt like I was back in La Recoleta when I read through.

    Marc

    May 24, 2010 at 4:04 pm


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