My journey to writing this novel began in the summer of 2001. I had just gotten out of junior high and began to prepare for high school, and I checked out a book from the library called "Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and what the Neighbors Thought). This was a brief, beautifully illustrated book that had short biographies of 20 women who had wielded power in governments over the years, either as queens, presidents, prime ministers, First Ladies, or revolutionaries. It was the chapters on Cleopatra and Eva Peron that most impressed me, and led me to begin a parallel journey of discovering both women.
That summer I checked out all I could on both women respectively. Being a small town library, there was much more available on Cleopatra than Eva Peron, but my journey began with the movie with Madonna and the A and E biography Evita: The Woman Behind the Myth, as well as the Dujone Ortiz biography Eva Peron.
2001 was a momentous year. It began simply, and the summer I was reading about Evita and Cleopatra I had no idea that my world would change forever on 9/11. Before this date I had assumed my life would be simple-- I would grow up, marry, become an astronaut, and nothing would ever change. 9/11 shattered my life. 2001 was also the year the economy in Argentina crashed. These events occurred within 3 months of each other, 9/11 in September, and the Argentine economy in 2001. Being a freshman in high school and really loving my Introductory Spanish course, I was curious. I even took the name Evita in Spanish class.
Cleopatra! When this name is spoken almost immediately one conjures the image of a beautiful femme fatale, sailing down the Nile with her snakes, her lovers, her perfumes and her wiles. “The most beautiful woman to live, right?”
However, many modern ideals of Cleopatra have stated that she was actually ugly. What’s the truth here?
The truth is we may never actually know. After Cleopatra’s suicide and Octavian’s defeat of Egypt in 30 BC, most, if not all, of Cleopatra’s portraits were destroyed by Octavian, along with accounts of her life written by her supporters. Many statues have been found, along with coins of her, but none have been proven to be authentic with the exception of a coin minted in 34 B.C. Since these coins were made of bronze,and have decayed significantly since 2050 years ago, they create a profile of the queen that is not, to modern eyes, pleasing
However, therein lies the ideal. Modern ideas of beauty are vastly different from ancient ones. In the 20th century, Cleopatra was portrayed by Liz Taylor and Vivien Leigh, Hollywood bombshells. However, in the ancient and medieval world, ideals of beauty were quite different. Both ancient and medieval men preferred wives who were plumper than today’s standards, since this showed that they were wealthy and also showed that the wife could bear children.
Evita passed away on July 26th 1952 at 8:25 PM. Argentina immediately went into deep, heartfelt mourning, although the news of her death was greeted with joy by her enemies. However, to quote Eva’s family on their website evitaperon.org ‘The mourning was done in public, the champagne glasses were raised in private.’
Her funeral lasted almost 2 weeks and at the end, Eva was given a 21-gun salute. This has the same implication in Argentine culture as it does in my native United States– a presidential burial. After her death and funeral, Peron began a long process of embalming her corpse. It was done by Pedro Ara, a Spanish pathologist who had studied in Madrid and in Vienna, Austria. Plans were meanwhile being made for a monument to her. However, post Evita-Peronism had lost its nerve, and Peron remained in power only 3 more years and when he was overthrown in August of 1955, Eva’s body was kidnapped and hidden away for over 20 years by her political enemies. I recommend Santa Evita, which I have previously reviewed on this blog, to get a more fascinating overview of this tragic aspect of Evita’s story.
Juan Peron spent the next five years wandering Latin America, hopping from home to home in exile, the more famous of his sojourns being in the Dominican Republic and one in Panama where he met Isabel Peron, his third wife, whom I have briefly covered on this blog as well. Back in Argentina, the succeeding Peronist governments tried to erase all traces of Peron and Evita. The emphasis here is tried. For all Peron’s flaws, the memory of Evita shined brighter than ever and in the eyes of the poor she remained a saint. To quote a kindly woman I met in Argentina ‘She was a saint for me. I do not know for others, but for me, yes.’
In the 1960s a real and persistent cult of Evita began. Many outside observers have compared it to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. Mexican culture is not my specialty so I do not wish to get into that here, however, touring Buenos Aires there was a strange feeling that the Perons did still live.