Mothers of the disappeared

Transcribed from travel journal Yesterday, we had the rare treat of a late start to the day since we weren’t scheduled for anything before 1 pm, so after sleeping like logs until nearly 11 am, Chris and I had the luxury of strolling up the street for a late breakfast at the Café de Liberdad. We dined on medialunas, jugo de naranja and drank the first of many, many cafes con leche before doing a little window shopping in some of the many tiendas that surround our hotel.

Cortado con lecheIt was our first introduction to BA in the day time and the barren streets of the day before did not prepare us for the crowded hustle and bustle of the city streets, nor the congested and intimidating traffic. Returning to the hotel to meet back up with the group, we then boarded the buses that would become our second homes, driven by our faithful friends Leo and Peco, and went to lunch at Brasserie Petanque, a French restaurant in San Telmo.

Service was a tad slow, inspiring Luis to make one of many quotable pronouncements during the coming week: “Whoever chose this restaurant, he is our enemy.” I thought the food was lovely, however – a chilly and refreshing gazpacho, a simple buttered sole that would be the last non-red meat we’d see for days, and a truly outstanding chocolate mousse dotted with chips of the dark stuff. From there we went to what would prove one of the most memorable stops on the trip, at least for me – a visit to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Linea Foundation. I confess to knowing little of the Madres before our arrival and I still know frighteningly little about the circumstances surrounding their plight. What I can say is that this is an organization of mothers and other relatives of the desperacios – the “disappeared.”

In 1974, a military junta under General Jorge Rafael Videla took control in Argentina and began a reign of terror during which an estimated 30,000 people were "disappeared" by the regime. Many of these were young people who were considered politicos or had attachments - often tenuous - to an offshoot of the Peronista party.

PaintingIn 1977, a group of 14 mothers united in their determination to find out what happened to their disappeared children and staged the first protest at the Plaza de Mayo, directly in front of the Presidential palace. For the past three decades, these women - now far larger in numbers and joined by fathers, brothers, sisters and other relatives of the disappeared - to seek truth and justice.

Three of these mothers - including two of the original fourteen - met with us and, through a translator, shared with us the stories of their personal journeys. At the beginning, their quest was naive - they didn't yet understand that their children had already been killed, that they would not be returning home. Nor did they realize that they would still be fighting for answers three decades later.

The details of their stories are heart-wrenching and shocking. Their sons and daughters were taken from their homes when they were betwee the ages of 18-21. It's now known that most of them were drugged then dropped from airplanes into the ocean. Young women who were pregnant were kept alive long enough to give birth before their children were given or sold to supporters of the military regime. Only one of the mothers we spoke with has been able to locate the remains of her son and give him a proper burial.

Because the meeting was, of course, off the record, I can't share with you the exact pleas of these women to remember and share their story with the world. I can tell you, however, that I don't know of another instance where a group of women - not backed by any political group or entity - worked so relentlessly to change history and fight governmental corruption. They are the true heroes, a title they refuse (as, I am learning, do all true heroes).

They reminded us that while there is a name for those who have lost a spouse or a child who has lost a parent, there is no name for their specific pain. They credit their vision and relentlessness to the particular pain of a mother robbed of her child. And if the current Argentine president follows through on his promises to meet with them, he will be the first president in three decades to do so.


After the Madres, Leo took us to one of his favorite cuero shops, Antelope, where Chris found a beautiful black leather jacket ($450/$150 US) – and even agreed to buy it for himself. And I embarked upon what I thought was the unbelievable luxury of ordering a custom made leather jacket in a gorgeous lemony-green color. Now would be a good time to note that BA doesn’t sell clothes for the curvier set. The women here are tall and alarmingly thin and, apparently, most stores cater to them. Even the smaller women among us fit into larger sizes here and there wasn’t a chance in hell that they’d have something for me. Thus, when I admired a beautiful but too-small jacket, I was told that I could have it made to fit me perfectly, delivered to my hotel within 48 hours – for a mere $390/US $130.

It was a deal too fantastic to pass up. I’d read a New York Times article by a reporter who also had a jacket custom made and it seemed like the most decadent thing on earth! Yes! I must have it! My measurements were taken and I was promised a perfect jacket delivered to my hotel, no less, by Monday evening. I couldn't wait!

But wait I must and after a brief respite at the Dazzler, we embarked upon that evening’s entertainment - a wine tasting and dinner at Red (insert your own umlaut over the e) Resto & Lounge in the Hotel Madero in Puerto Madero. The wine tasting was probably fun for those who drink wine, but just a tad dull for those playing spectator.

Gail & KimWe had dinner in the restaurant, under low light and seated on these soft fawn-colored over-stuffed sofas and chairs. The hotel is a stunning work of modern design, straight from the glossy pages of a magazine or the backdrop for a sleek film. The sort of place my people usually only enter through the service entrance. When the bathroom has you gasping at its stark beauty, you know to count your blessings.

The chef prepared for us some raw oysters covered in some additional slimy stuff (as though they needed the extra sludge). I've always felt that if you were going to force me to eat the damn things, then the least you could do is cook them. But not everyone feels this way. At our table - Chris, me, Min-Ah and Thomas - I had no trouble finding takers for my extra oysters. We were then a served lamb so tender it fell to pieces and some beautiful little bombs of strawberry ice cream. Have I mentioned Argentina seems to be all about the food?

Originally, the group was scheduled to go to tango after dinner at a milonga (a low-key dance club where locals hang and dance). However, we got started (and finished) with dinner so late that it was no longer an obligation for the fellows and Chris and I caught the bus back to hotel and promptly collapsed. Around here, if you're in bed by 1, you're an early bird.