Saturday, September 24, 2005

Gayle & Roberto Visit Sin Palace

The gorgeous classic Mediterranean-style mansion pictured is the Palacio San Jose, a treasured national monument and former home of President Justo Jose Urquiza. (It is also my dream house—well, perhaps four entire dream houses.) Some might consider it a Victorian Era palace of sin!

In the middle Entre Rios, of a now-backwater province that makes Kansas look like a downhill skier´s paradise, Urquiza decided to impress international visitors with an Argentine version of Versailles. So he constructed a gorgeous mansion, double anything else here, with all rooms opening up to one of two immense central patios with trees, fountains, and flowers. Then he added a stately personal chapel (with a secret balcony in case of bad hair days), stocked an enormous artificial lake, filled fancy wrought-iron aviaries, and designed extensive formal gardens. Of course servants’ quarters, blacksmith shop, stables, etc., completed the self-sufficient community within.

Urquiza, a general who equaled Napoleon’s height but not ego, earned a double reputation. There are street names every where honoring this hero who defeated the nasty dictator Rosas and convened an assembly to write the national Constitution in 1851 (inspired by the USA). He then retired to country life where he confined his conquests to the boudoir. Regularly cruising the adjoining pueblos in his fancy carriage, he selected the most beautiful (and apparently willing) young girls to take home to savor for the evening.

The enormous gold-leaf, framed family tree at his museum home lists proudly not only his children by his wife but also another 20 of his children and their various mothers. Everyone says he had another 80—EIGHTY--children that he never acknowledged!! Mind you, Urquiza personally fought to change the law so that he could legally recognize selected children born out of wedlock. (Can we assume that justice was sometimes one of his Signature Strengths?) At the age of 67 he was assassinated in his reading room. And no, not by his wife or a lover, nor even a furious father or suitor of one of the maidens, just some boring old political rival. All this well happened over a century ago of course.

Even so, with such a national heritage, the Bill-Monica US scandal during the Clinton Presidency puzzled Argentinians. "What's the big deal?" many asked me (as if I knew!). Do you think that the infamous blue dress will ever be on display at the Clinton Museum? In a hundred years?

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