Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kirchnerville: The Necropolis of Patagonia

The late Tomás Eloy Martínez’s sardonic comment that his fellow Argentines are “cadaver cultists” who honor their greatest figures not on the date of their birth but on the date of their death never grows old. Last February, when I visited the Argentine city of Río Gallegos, the canonization of former President Néstor Kirchner, who died suddenly last October 27, was already well underway. Barely three months after his death, artificial floral tributes and banners that looked more suitable to a political rally surrounded the Kirchner family crypt (pictured below).

Apparently, though, the family sepulcher is not good enough for San Néstor. Next Thursday. October 27, on the first anniversary of his death, he will move to a new custom-designed crypt. Fifteen meters wide, 13 meters deep and 11 meters high, it will be by far the largest in the cemetery, with a single armored door entrance in the shape of a cross.

It might seem extreme to install an armored door on the tomb of a popular president, but remember that this is a country in which, in 1987, thieves entered the Chacarita tomb of General Juan Domingo Perón and literally stole his hands (pictured above, while still attached to Perón). The culprits then demanded a US$8 million ransom for returning the hands; the head of the Peronist party refused to pay the ransom, and the whereabouts of the stray body parts are still unknown.

Occurring four days after Sunday’s presidential elections, which Kirchner’s widow Cristina Fernández is likely to win the dedication of the tomb will not be part of the campaign, but neither will it be apolitical. Guests of honor will include ex-President Ignacio Lula de Silva of Brazil, and current presidents Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (presuming his very public battle with cancer does not affect his travel schedule).

Moon Handbooks Patagonia on the Road
Continuing tomorrow, my promotion tour for the new third edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia will feature a series of digital slide presentations on southernmost South America. In addition to covering the capitals of Buenos Aires and Santiago, the gateway cities to Patagonia, I will offer a visual tour of the Chilean and Argentine lakes districts, Argentina's wildlife-rich coastline and Chile's forested fjords, the magnificent Andean peaks of the Fitz Roy range and Torres del Paine, and the uttermost part of the Earth in Tierra del Fuego. I will also include the Falkland Islands, with their abundant sub-Antarctic wildlife.

The next event will take place tomorrow, October 21, at 6:30 p.m., at the San Mateo County Library, 620 Correas Street, Half Moon Bay, California 94019, tel. 650/726-2316. On Saturday the 22nd, at 5 p.m., I will be at the Travel Bug, 839 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, tel. 505/992-0418.

On Monday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. I will at Distant Lands, 56 S. Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91105, tel. 800/310-3220. The following day, Tuesday October 25 at 7 p.m., I will be back in Northern California at REI Berkeley, 1338 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley CA 94702, tel. 510/527-4140. On Wednesday, October 26, I will be at REI San Francisco, 840 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, tel. 415/934-1938.

For those planning trips to the south, there be will be ample time for questions and answers. Books, including my other titles on Argentina, Chile and Buenos Aires, will be on sale at all the events. Admission is free but seating is limited, so it’s a good idea to get there early. REI Berkeley takes reservations online and will hold your seat for you.

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