She was a bastard child whose rags to riches story enthralled the entire world. At the tender age of 15, Eva Duarte moved to Buenos Aires to make a name in showbiz. She sang, she acted. She saved all she could to move into a flat in fashionable Recoleta. It was her way of telling the elite that she had arrived.
She had escaped the misery of life in the provinces for one of comfort.
But none of it would have been noted had she not met and fallen in love with Juan Peron and become the first lady of Argentina. The soul of the country. Standing up for the working man, even while she dressed in her furs and pearls.
Whether you believe in her purpose or whether history has deemed her disingenuous, Evita was iconic in life — and death. She succumbed to cervical cancer at the young age of 33.
After a massive funeral, her embalmed body was to be placed at a monument in her honor. But a military dictatorship ousted Peron. The names Juan and Evita became taboo; it was illegal even to possess a photo of them. Evita’s body was taken out of the country.
It took 16 years for it to be relocated. Many say her corpse had been mutilated.
Juan Peron returned to power in the early 1970s; his wife Isabel, who succeeded him as president, brought Evita home. She now rests in the Recoleta Cemetery in the Duarte family crypt. Every day, tourists visiting the cemetery flock straight to her grave, much like they do to see Jim Morrison at Pere Lachaise in Paris.
It’s an unassuming memorial to a woman who lived so grandly. A bigger tribute to her is at the Eva Peron museum, which has a collection of photos, film footage and her things, including her elegant gowns, suits and shoes.
Ironically, I returned from the museum to my flat in San Telmo only to see the movie “Evita” with Madonna and Antonio Banderas playing on television. Well, not so ironic, perhaps. Argentine TV probably shows that film quite often.
I had never seen the Andrew LLoyd Webber musical. I tuned in in time to hear Madonna sing: “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”
The next day, I stood before the pink government house, where so many years ago Evita had stood in victory on the balcony. Where her husband had propped her up when she was too weak form cancer to even stand up. I imagined the roar of the crowds chanting her name. What a time it must have been.