We did more than look at animals in Buenos Aires! We also decided to check out some of the museums that we’ve been hearing so much about.
We had a disappointing moment at Museo de los Artes Decorativos (Decorative Art Museum) as only the first floor was open, and that floor was filled with a temporary exhibition of Italian paintings. The paintings were nice, but I wanted to see luxurious housewares! A bit of a disappointment, and I think we only spent about 30 minutes there.
Instead, we decided to hoof it over to Museo Evita, the museum all about Eva Peron, who is still referred to on Wikipedia as the Eternal Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Argentina.
For those of you who missed the movie starring Madonna, Eva Peron was born in the rural pampas of Argentina, became an actress and moved to Buenos Aires, and married Col. Juan Peron, who became president in 1946. She was the first woman to appear with her husband on the campaign trail, and she was a tireless crusader for women’s suffrage.
She was a stylish lady, with many of the exhibitions including her outfits. She embarked on a “Rainbow Tour” of Europe in 1947, meeting many dignitaries and heads of state, wearing an extravagant wardrobe. She was well received in Franco’s Spain, and had mixed reviews in the rest of Europe. I loved the black evening gown on display with feather trim. It would not have looked out of place in a red carpet lineup today.
She was very philanthropic, and created her own Eva Peron foundation to focus her efforts on women, children, and the elderly. Through it, she established halfway houses (such as the one the museum is housed in), payments for single mothers, and a nursing school.
By 1951, Evita’s popularity had reached such a fevered pitch that the population called on her to run for Vice President–something that was frowned upon by the military. The Cabildo Abierto was a giant rally in Buenos Aires held where the approximately two million Argentines attended to support the Peron ticket. However, ultimately, she decided to not pursue the Vice Presidency–which furthered her image as a selfless saint and upheld the strong belief in marianismo (another post for another day–where I’ll actually get to use some of the Spanish degree I earned!).
By 1950, she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer, and she underwent a radical hysterectomy in an attempt to stop the spread of the cancer and was the first Argentine to try chemotherapy. By 1952, she was in a parade with her husband where she had to be supported to standing with a frame of plaster and wire. She ultimately succumbed to the disease on July 26, 2952. All official government activities were suspended for two days, and her funeral was attended by over three million people. She was 33.
Evita is a a contentious figure, particularly in Argentina. Her father was a wealthy rancher with multiple families–of which Eva’s was not the main one, so thus she wasn’t a “legitimate” child. She didn’t have much of a formal education, and was an actress–putting her on the outs with the traditional Argentine high society. Her Rainbow Tour of Europe was criticized as having been an expensive cover for her depositing vast amounts of Argentine money for the Peron’s personal use in a Swiss bank account. She gained more expensive tastes in clothing after her European tour, preferring skirt suits made by Dior and jewels by Cartier. Some have said that even her foundation was just a means to funnel money to the Peron’s personal bank accounts. Even in her death, critics said that the outpouring of grief by the average Argentine was less of a real feeling of grief, and more of a reflection of how well the Peronist “passion plays” were distributed to the public. One thing that is true beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Evita forged some of her documents. She forged a birth certificate that listed her as the child of two legitimate parents, and also changed her birth year to make her three years younger. She was possibly a fascist, and indeed the time when her husband was in power (either in the military or as president) was the time when Nazis were escaping to Argentina–although there has been some discussion that she was less fascist and more the victim of her husband’s influence and went along with his views.
I was surprised that the museum did address some of these criticism, despite its benefactors–it was created by her niece and is funded by her foundation. Although it didn’t reflect all of the criticisms, it did address her illegitimacy, and her “other-ness” within established Argentinian society. The museum noted that she could be incredibly brash and brusque, and that tended to put her at odds with others in power, particularly in the military. It didn’t address the later issues of Juan Peron (google “Dirty War” for a primer on that), but focused only on Evita’s experience.
Evita’s legacy is an interesting one, and one that is wholly Argentinian. She combined radical leadership, spirituality, and femininity into a package that stirred the people to act. It was revolutionary that a woman held the power that she did in the very macho Argentinian society. She is featured on the Argentinian peso, and regardless of the political party, she is still considered an important part of Argentine history. In some portions of Argentine society, she is even considered a saint!
The museum itself was built in 2002, and is well-presented. There are videos of her speeches and appearances, and plenty of her stylish outfits on display, as well as some items that are related to either her or her works. I enjoyed how the museum told the story of the building’s role as a halfway house founded by Evita’s foundation. It only took about 2 hours to go through the entire museum, and I read everything. If you go, look on the wall near the doors for the plaques with the English translation of (most of) the written descriptions in the room.
Also, the restaurant attached to Museo Evita is excellent–it had a long line for the sunny patio seats that were pet-friendly, but we were too hungry to wait and took a table inside by a large window and got some vitamin D from in there. The menu was modern, tasteful, and full of variety. I enjoyed my chicken and vegetable ravioli, and T enjoyed his gnocchi, but we absolutely loved the bread best–warm, freshly baked, and filled with fresh herbs. The dipping sauce that came with it was very Argentinian–mayonnaise with sun-dried tomatoes and red pepper, which is not odd to the average mayo-obsessed Argentinian, but definitely was not what we were expecting!
We would highly recommend Museo Evita–it’s a short trip (and pretty close to Zoo Buenos Aires) that is presented in an interesting way with a good cafe to end the afternoon. However–definitely do some additional reading on Evita and, if you’re feeling ambitious, the Peron legacy, to understand how contentious a figure Evita can be. It’s more than “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina!”