Friday, October 29, 2010

Attended an Argentine President's Wake (with a Mohawk)

It's been an odd couple of days here in Buenos Aires. Wednesday was Census Day, where basically the city shuts down and everyone is told to remain at home until they are counted by door to door census workers. Then, to flip Wednesday upside down even more, former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, a man who some believe was running the country through his wife who is the current President, died of a heart attack at the age of 60 an hour after the census started. The whole of it made for a somewhat surreal day of government math and mourning.

One of the unique cultural events that occurs here in Argentina when a President dies is a public wake is held in their honor. Going to a presidential wake in a foreign country was not on my bucket list, and I don't take any particular interest in Argentine politics or have any special affinity for those in power here, however I figured I might as well add it to the list and check it off while I had the chance.

The wake was held at 10 a.m. Thursday morning at the government building, Casa Rosada. Knowing that the line of people wanting to pay respects would extend blocks and blocks, my friend Linda and I arrived there two hours early thoroughly covered in sunblock. Even with our early arrival there were still two blocks of people ahead of us. Visually there was much to take in. For the most part those attending wore their normal everyday clothes. All of the buildings that surrounded the plaza in front of Casa Rosada were covered with fresh graffiti canonizing the former president and bestowing his wife, the current President, with support. Banners and memorials hung everywhere, while vendors walked up and down the line selling roses and flags.

The sun-drenched line around us was mostly upbeat, often bolstered by people chanting the Peronist March in support of the fallen former Peronist Party leader. Once we passed the final police barricade and were within 50 meters of the entrance, the mood became much more somber. Flowers, police and camera crews were along each side of the line. Upon entering the building the silence grew heavy. We made our way past marble columns, grand stair cases, presidential portraits and a plethora of flower arrangements. The hall eventually opened up to an area where the coffin sat and behind stood dozens of family members and dignitaries.

Being at the front of the line was an intense moment. Not because I had an emotional attachment to any of it, or because I was standing in front of the coffin of one of the most influential people in present day Argentina, but rather because all of the people who were important to him stood behind his polished wooden box in half circle staring back at me. The mohawk and I gave them a nod and moved on down the line. Three hours after first jumping in the queue outside we were exiting the building and on our way home. All in all a pretty crazy way to start to a Thursday morning.

Photo via La Nación

Currently Listening To:
Song: The Funeral (listen)
Artist: Band of Horses (official website)

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