We kept wandering and gaping, turning down alleys that were perfectly perpendicular to the main aisle, always knowing approximately where we were in relation to the Duarte mausoleum.
We marveled at mausoleums of dull concrete, white marble and shiny black granite, looked in through glass doors webbed with fancy ironwork, saw altars of fine Italian marble. Then, as we talked about the grandeur of the architecture and sculpture, we would come across broken glass or doors barely held together by rusted padlocks and see coffins strung with cobwebs and dusty silk flowers, a reminder that this was a place of death.
The further we got from the entrance, the fewer people we encountered. We barely noticed, but the back boundaries of the cemetery were not squared off, and the alleys were increasingly skewed. Finally we realized that we could no longer tell east from south.
The mausoleums rose on either side of us, creating canyons just high enough to block our view of landmarks. Around us was silence; we were no longer within earshot of the other visitors. We were lost in el cementerio.
I had assumed that we could find Evita’s tomb without even looking at a map, that we would recognize it by the presence of a crowd, much like the way a sudden traffic jam in Yellowstone National Park tells you where someone has spotted a bear, or at least a moose. We hadn’t counted on the canyon effect.
Finally we came upon a wide cross street and spotted people milling about, some distance away. We joined the small crowd of people, determined that they were in line to visit Evita’s tomb down a narrow side street, and went to the back of the queue. One man there held back. “You’re not in line?” I asked. He said he was waiting for his wife. “You see one tomb, you’ve seen them all,” he answered.
About 30 people who apparently disagreed with him were ahead of us, but the line moved quickly. At one point, two people squeezed past us, going to the front of the line. A woman’s Spanish-accented English cut through the crowd noise: “We are all waiting in line here.” The two people looked around, shrugged, and walked back the way they came.
The Duarte mausoleum was modest compared to many others. Fashioned in Art Deco style, the crypt had no sculptures, but a bronze door elaborately crafted with flowers, a large cross and ornate plaques on both sides. A few carnations and roses, wilted by now, had been stuck in the door or laid at its base.
None of the people in this group lingered long. They paused for a few seconds, perhaps took a photo, and moved on. Having turned our in-and-out visit to Evita’s tomb into a 2 1/2-hour exploration of architecture, sculpture and Argentine history — and having once again gotten our bearings in the “city of the dead” — so did we.