Argentine Tango – The Line of Dance

Argentine tango, dancers following the line of dance

It’s important to honor the line of dance. In fact, it’s the first rule of tango.

by Terence Clark, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

 

The line of dance seems a reasonable enough idea. A number of couples dancing tango are asked, by custom, to dance in a more or less circular line that borders the edges of the dance floor, all in the same direction. This is done in order to keep collisions between couples at a minimum and to further the promise of dancing gracefully while at the same time cheek by jowl with numbers of other tangueros.

You would be surprised, however, at how often this custom is not observed. As a leader, you’re attempting to circle the floor in the line of dance, and some other leader in front of you is coming the other way. You take evasive action, ruining the moment that you and your partner have set up, and sometimes a bad stumble results, or a graceless, sudden stop, or an actual run-in with either that other leader and his partner, or with the poor people following behind you.

It’s even worse if you are a follower. (I’m speaking here of the traditional female role of the follower. But the same scenario exists no matter what the gender of the leader and follower may be.) If your leader knows what’s happening and is trying to follow custom despite the guy up ahead, or if your leader is a dolt and is taking you in the wrong direction, you may be stepped upon, angered, bruised, or worse. And if the collision includes the sharp heel of a woman’s shoe landing on the side of your foot and bruising or puncturing it, things are even worse.

The injured person is escorted, weeping, to a chair and ministered to. I wouldn’t be surprised if a hospital visit has occasionally been the result.

Why dancing in the middle of the circle is a no-no

As a less experienced dancer than I am now, I thought that the simple solution was to get out of the line of dance and head for the less crowded space in the middle of the circle. Two events relieved me of that opinion.

Bea, my partner, and I were once dancing at the Club Español in Buenos Aires. It was a very crowded night, and anything out of the ordinary or too showy in the dance was next to impossible. There was, however, one person who seemed oblivious of all this. About sixty, with a gut, he was dressed in a T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, and running shoes. His partner was similarly poorly frocked and porcine. He danced up and down in the middle of the floor, all the while instructing his partner on how to do tango. At least, I think that’s what he was saying, although I don’t have enough German to have understood entirely what he was ordering her to do. The search for escape on his partner’s face, however, gave me a direct clue to what she thought of his advice.

Everyone in the line of dance found this fellow foolish and invasive, and there’s nothing to equal the sound of a bunch of Argentines agreeing that someone else is a…well, as they say in Buenos Aires, a boludo.

A few weeks later, when I mentioned to Nora Olivera what I had seen, she nodded and then shook her head. “The worst dancers are always in the middle of the floor,” she said. Since then, I’ve looked out for this, and found it to be true.

It’s important to honor the line of dance. In fact, I think it’s the first rule of tango. Leave the line of dance, and you will be, so to speak, up a creek and, if she has her head on straight, without a partner.

Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Splendid City, is available in book stores and on Amazon

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Students of the Month ~ Marti Sukoski and Scott Adams

by Lanny Udell

Couple dancing tango at Alma del Tango in MarinDancing tango since: Marti started dancing tango in the late 1990’s when the tango craze was just getting under way in the Bay Area. Before that she had danced ballroom and salsa. Scott discovered tango in 2006.

Back story: Scott started studying with Mayumi Fujio. In 2007, he was taking classes with Luz Castiñeiras and as luck would have it, Marti dropped in to a class. She was a more experienced tango dancer than he, but what he lacked in experience he made up for with enthusiasm. He invited her for an evening of dinner and dancing.

At that time, Marti was about to leave for a month in Buenos Aires to study Spanish and tango. When she got back, Scott contacted her and asked, “Do you remember me? Do you want to dance together?” She did. Fast forward—the tangueros got married last year and, of course, danced a tango at their wedding.

Traveling tangueros: “We try to dance wherever we travel,” says Scott. Destinations have included Barcelona, Spain; San Miguel de Allende, Puerta Vallarta and Morelia, Mexico, with a visit to Patzcuaro, a small indigenous town where an Argentine woman had a restaurant and taught tango. “It was very serenpiditous,” recalls Marti. The couple is currently dancing through Europe.

Why tango: For Scott, it’s the music. “It fits my personality,” he says. Piazzola is a favorite. Marti says, “It’s hard to explain, it’s a feeling. The interaction between leader and follower. You can have a tango moment with a complete stranger.” She likes the improvisational aspect of tango, “with your partner, you create something together.”

Marti and Scott at their wedding receptio n

The tango bride and groom

Like Scott, Marti loves Piazzola.  A cello player, she loves both playing the music and dancing to it. Last year she played Oblivion with a small chamber group at College of Marin.

About Debbie & John: “I love their focus on the form of tango and I’m understanding more about myself and my body from studying with them,” says Marti. They give so much of themselves through their teaching, besides being welcoming and warm people.” What Scott likes most about Alma del Tango is the community:  “it’s nice to go there, see people we know and dance with everybody,” he says.

Anything else? To prepare for their Europe trip, Scott researched milongas in every city they’re visiting. “It’s special when you dance in another country with people in another culture, whether it’s in a little village in Mexico or a big city like Barcelona.”

Tango couple sightseeing in Mexico

Marti and Scott on holiday in Mexico.

When asked why they continue taking classes they agree, “Like any art form it’s a constant learning process.”

Last word: “Isn’t it great that in sleepy Marin county there’s a place to go on Friday night where it’s hopping?” muses Marti.

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The sweet voice of tango: Ignacio Corsini

by Terence Clark, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

Argentine Tango singer Ignacio CorsiniYou may never have heard of Ignacio Corsini. But in his day, he was one of the most popular singers of tango in Buenos Aires. Noted for his sweet, high falsetto voice, he recorded for RCA Victor and other labels over a career that lasted from 1912 to 1961.

Known as “el caballero cantor” (“The gentleman singer”), Corsini also had the pleasure of being a close friend of Carlos Gardel during Gardel’s great years of world stardom. Indeed, they frequently played cards together in Gardel’s home at Jean Jaurès 735 in Buenos Aires. (If you visit this humble abode, which I hope you will, you’ll easily imagine the two maestros, sitting in shirt sleeves at a table on a warm day in the sunlit center patio of the house, trumping one another with humorous back and forth, laughter, and enjoyment of the game.)

It happens that the two men shared the experience of how they arrived in Buenos Aires. Born in Toulouse, France in December 1890, Charles Gardès was brought to Argentina at the age of three by his mother Berthe. She raised her boy on the wages she got from pressing clothes. He grew up speaking Spanish, his friends referring to him as Carlitos, and eventually was to become a street singer, Carlos Gardel, a calling that led finally to his amazing career as a stage and recording artist and film star. Throughout his adulthood, Gardel lived in the Jean Jaurès house with his mother.

Corsini: from Sicily to Argentina

Ignacio Corsini was named Andrea as a small child. Born in Agira, a Sicilian village, in 1891, he was brought by his mother to Buenos Aires in 1901, part of the enormous Italian immigration to Argentina during that time. When the boy came of age, he got jobs as a herdsman and an ox-cart driver.

These rugged occupations were not to last, though, because Ignacio could sing, and his high voice was sought after by porteños who valued folkloric music and the songs of the pampas and the gauchos. Asked once why his voice was so high, he replied,

birds taught me the spontaneity of their singing, without witnesses, and in the great scenery of nature.”

Living in Buenos Aires, you could not escape tango, however, and Corsini eventually became interested. His recorded tangos of the 1920s were instantly popular, and his recording career lasted for many years thereafter. He may have suffered from the great overshadowing fame of Carlos Gardel. But you’d never know it, listening to his voice. Corsini’s singing is a marvel, and his popularity was justified.

My personal favorite Corsini recording is the one he made of La pulpera de Santa Lucía, a kind of folkloric waltz, eminently danceable as tango. The song has been recorded many times by countless others, and it remains a signature element in the history of tango and song in Argentina.

“Era rubia y sus ojos celestes
reflejaban la gloria del día
y cantaba como una calandria
la pulpera de Santa Lucía.

Era flor de la vieja parroquia.
¿Quien fue el gaucho que no la quería?
Los soldados de cuatro cuarteles
suspiraban en la pulpería.”

“She was light-haired, and her heavenly eyes
Reflected the glory of the day,
And she sang like a lark,
The grocery-girl of Santa Lucía.

She was the flower of the old parish.
Who was the gaucho who didn’t love her?
The soldiers from four barracks
Sighed in her grocery store.”

Visit Terence Clarke’s website at www.terenceclarke.org

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Student of the Month ~ Matthew Plan

by Lanny Udell

 

Tango dancer Matt Plan, Alma del Tango student of the monthDancing tango since: Matt started taking tango classes in the East Bay (he lives in Albany) about 1 ½ years ago. But after a few months, he began looking for another studio. A web search brought up Alma del Tango and he’s been dancing with us ever since.

Why tango: A salsa dancer, Matt was attracted to the music and the sophistication of tango. “It’s deeper, and more artful,” he says. “Salsa has a fun aspect. Tango is not about fun.”

Favorite part: He likes the connection with a partner. “It feels a bit tai chi-like.” He also likes the music, both the classic and the new. He listens to Piazzola every chance he gets.

About Debbie & John: “They’re informative, conscientious, friendly…just what you’d hope for in an ideal teacher,” says Matt. He likes that they have a syllabus, it’s not just whatever. “That’s part of being conscientious, and part of the reason I come here, despite the drive.” Matt appreciates that Debbie and John don’t just focus on steps. “It’s about technique, and the idea of lead and follow.”

Anything else? “Other classes have just one teacher; for me, that’s a drawback. With Debbie and John, you learn about lead and follow. Understanding what the follower does helps me lead. I can execute better if I know what my partner is doing,” says the tanguero. Matt is careful not to get too fancy on the dance floor. “Before I try a figure I ask myself, will this improve my dance? For example, ganchos, they’re like icing on a cake. No need to rush into it.”

Alma del Tango student of the month Matt Plan in the red rock country.

Matt likes to hike in Sedona, AZ red rock country

Last word: “It takes a long time to get proficient at Argentine tango. If you don’t have patience or persistence, you move on. You have to be willing to put in lots of time.”

Eli, 4 year old grandson of Alma del Tango's student of the month

The apple of Matt’s eye, his grandson Eli, going on 4.

 

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Student of the Month ~ Kelli Lightfoot

Alma del Tango Student of the Month Kelli Lightfootby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Kelli started dancing tango about a year ago and loved it, but when a friend became ill, she took a break to help him. After he passed, she decided to go back to what she loved—Argentine tango.

Why tango: As a child, Kelli used to listen to Gardel and other tango musicians with her grandmother. When she questioned grandma’s choice in music she was told it’s part of her heritage — Kelli is part Argentine.

As an adult she wanted to learn tango but living in L.A. she found it intimidating. So when she moved to the Bay Area, she Googled: Tango in Marin and Alma del Tango popped up.  “I had no more excuses,” says Kelli.

Favorite part: When Kelli is dancing tango, she tunes everything else out. “I’m so intent on focusing with my partner, I lose all concept of time. I become fully immersed in the music.” She loves the music of Francisco Canaro, “I listen as much as I can.”

Student of the Month Kelli Lightfoot dances at Alternative Milonga

Kelli dances with Chris Allis at Milonga Valentina

About Debbie & John. “They are lovely…the perfect teachers for me, not intimidating at all,” says the tanguera. “They are warm and welcoming, I feel like part of their tango family. I hope they can dance forever!”  The first time Kelli danced with Debbie she thought, “Oh, that’s what it’s supposed to be like.”

Anything else?  Kelli’s goal is to learn to lead and follow, “it’s the best way to understand the whole dance,” she explains.

Last word: A visit to Buenos Aires to trace her roots and get into the tango culture is on her bucket list. Her grandmother told her where to look for relatives. “I hope they all dance tango!”

Kelli and her nieces volunteered at the Tango Con*Fusion gala fundraiser

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What I Learned from Gavito

By Terry Clarke, author,  journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

Carlos Gavito, world famous tango dancerI believe it was in the Russian Samovar, a restaurant on West Fifty-second Street in New York City, that Carlos Gavito  placed a hand to his forehead, stared down into his drink (some sort of whisky concoction that was colored red and pink, and perhaps even had a little paper umbrella in it), and offered his opinion.

At first, I thought it was a sad observation, an effort at covering over the comedy of what he had just seen. As it turned out, though, Gavito was in the first moment of an offer to me that changed my understanding of tango and milonga. I would leave New York a year later with knowledge that has stayed with me ever since.

Gavito was one of the best-known tango dancers of his generation. Born in 1942 in Buenos Aires, he was noted for perhaps the most svelte dancing style anyone had ever seen. When he moved, you watched him. He had many wonderful partners throughout his stellar career…extraordinary women all of them. But really, you watched him. He was world famous, the lead dancer among that group of performers who toured the world with Forever Tango in the 1990s.

That evening, we had been sitting together at the bar. It was 1998, and I had been studying tango for four years. I had only a meager understanding of how tango is an expression of the national consciousness of Argentina. As such, if you really want to understand the dance, you have to know the history of that country (and particularly of Buenos Aires.) You must be able to speak Spanish and understand at least to some degree the unusual manner in which the language is spoken in that city.

I had not at that time visited Buenos Aires, although I had a good command of the kind of generic Spanish that is taught in schools. But I knew little of the slang spoken in Buenos Aires and the very unusual accents you hear everywhere on the streets. You should know those things if you wish to understand the color that makes tango lyrics so earthy, humorous and often desperately sad. Also, at the time I did not know the history of tango’s many rhythms and how they had arrived in Buenos Aires. A study of that requires an understanding of the enormous immigration to the port city of peoples from almost everywhere in the world during the nineteenth century. I can think only of New York City for a similar example.

In any case, I was dancing tango at the Russian Samovar (a weekly milonga hosted by the inimitable couple, Carolina Zokalski and Diego Di Falco, with whom I was studying at the time.) All was well, as far as I could tell, especially in view of the fact that Gavito was at the bar, conversing with a woman companion, and occasionally turning away to watch me. I was studying with him, too. So, his opinion of what I was doing was important to me.

The tanda came to an end, and in a moment, a fast milonga came on. I asked the person I was dancing with whether she would like to do some milongas with me. Her answer was “Yes,” and off we went.

After that tanda, I joined Gavito and asked his opinion of what he had observed. He laid his forehead onto the palm of his right hand. Slowly, with kindness and not a little chagrin, he said “Che, the tango was all right. But…” He sighed with despondency. “My God!” he whispered, shaking his head. “My God, the milonga was bad.”

I now know that what I had been dancing was simply a very fast version of the tango that I knew. I did not realize then that the milonga is a different creature altogether and requires way different talents than does tango itself.

But Gavito allowed me to recover from my own unhappiness with his pronouncement:

“Listen, Terry. You give me two hours, and I will give you milonga.”

I took him up on his offer a few weeks later and have never forgotten what he taught me.

Terence Clarke’s story collection, New York, is available in bookstores and on Amazon.

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The story of tango singer El Polaco Roberto Goyeneche

by Terry Clarke, author, journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

ango singer Roberto Goyeneche

Tango singer Roberto Goyeneche supported himself as a bus driver until he was “discovered.”

Roberto Goyeneche is not everyone’s cup of tea as a singer of tango. Although to this day one of the most famous singers of the genre, his arrangements and delivery are sometimes thought to be so unusual and innovative that the general public, especially the dancing public, doesn’t pay the kind of attention to him that I believe he deserves.

Born into a working-class family in the Saavedra neighborhood of Buenos Aires in 1926, Goyeneche’s voice was discovered through one of those chance occurrences that sometimes take place, which usher the newcomer into immediate stardom.

The singing bus driver

As a young performer, Goyeneche had to work as a municipal bus driver in Buenos Aires, to support himself while trying to make a name in show business. He had gigs. He was singing for a band here and there. But he wasn’t making a living wage as a cantor. He was definitely an oddity as bus drivers go, though, because of his constant singing of tangos, solo, while driving.

One day, a man named José Otero was riding on Goyeneche’s bus and heard the voice coming from the man at the wheel. Otero was the manager of Horacio Salgan’s orchestra. Salgan, an accomplished pianist whose star had been rising during the 1940s, had already attained a certain fame in the music and recording industries. Otero offered to introduce Goyeneche to Salgan and suggested that the young man sing a couple tangos for him.

His unique delivery of tango songs

The audition was a great success. No one had heard a voice like this, especially with the unusual manner in which Goyeneche essayed quite well-known tangos. There was a kind of lackadaisical-seeming precision in his delivery. He would start slightly behind the beat or before it, speed up, slow down, arrive at the end with the orchestra, right on time…or maybe not. Himself an adventurer musically, Salgan valued what Goyeneche could do. This was a style of singing that I believe was influenced somehow by the jazz idiom and its embrace of improvisation…as was Salgan’s music.

So, in 1952, Horacio Salgan hired Roberto Goyeneche. Success was immediate, and despite his Basque background, Goyeneche was quickly nicknamed “El Polaco” because of his skinniness and his light-colored hair. Goyeneche eventually won the attention of the very famous Aníbal Troilo, who hired him in 1956. Troilo himself had considerable daring as a musician. A legendary bandoneonista, he had hired a young musician named Astor Piazzolla in 1944, whose career as a performer and composer later sky-rocketed to the world stage.

Goyeneche’s career lasted almost to his dying day, in 1994. His last recordings reveal a singing voice almost destroyed, gargly, off-tune, way rough. But for me, that Goyeneche voice is simply the last iteration of a great talent that went through many innovative changes throughout his career. The recordings made by Goyeneche as an old man are some of my favorites. For an example, listen to his rendition, again with Piazzolla, of Astor’s famous Balada para un loco.

The Argentine journalist Ricardo García Blaya wrote “El Polaco Goyeneche appropriated to himself many of the classic tangos. Why do I say that? For the simple reason that he re-created innumerable tangos the versions of which had already made their own name…identified with other singers. But with Goyeneche’s interpretation, those tangos became emblems of his repertory.”

Book cover, The Splendid City, by Terence Clarke

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as its central character, was published on January 1. Find it on amazonsmile.com and designate Alma del Tango as your nonprofit of choice.

 

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Student of the Month ~ Catherine Layton

Catherine Layton, Alma del Tango student of the month by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Catherine’s tango path has been on again off again (until now). She had her first taste of Argentine Tango at City College in 2000. Then she took a detour into salsa, ballet and jazz, before finding her way back to tango.

Why tango: “I’ve always needed to dance in some way, and for some reason tango calls to me,” says Catherine.  A former salsa dancer, Catherine had performed in New York and the Bay Area, including a Raiders half time show. But, “there were a lot of changes going on in my life and I felt the need for a change,” she says. That’s when she turned to tango.

Favorite part:  What really hooked her was the need to be so present in tango. At a stressful time in her life she found it almost therapeutic. “When the music comes on, I’m totally involved in the moment. It’s almost like a meditation. What I learn in tango I’m able to carry out into the world.”

And while she finds salsa dynamic and fun, there’s a romance and sophistication — and challenge! — to tango that always allured her to the dance. “They’re both sexy dances but in different ways,” she explains.

About Debbie & John:  Catherine had been dancing at Bay West but when it closed, she found Alma del Tango. “As soon as I walked in, I felt at home. Debbie and John were so welcoming, it felt like a family,” says Catherine.  She loves watching Debbie: “it’s beautiful to see her settle into the role with her face and body. I should be looking at her feet but can’t stop looking at her face!”

She finds both Debbie and John encouraging and supportive, “they want you to be the best dancer you can be. They’re also very generous with their time, their knowledge, and themselves.”

In addition to group classes, Catherine takes privates with John. “He has the ability to push you to the edge of what you can do…then a little beyond,” she smiles.  

Anything else? Catherine volunteers at Alma del Tango, helping with marketing, posting classes online, and collaborating with Philip Benson on fundraising projects. “Debbie and John have created something so unique, a little gem, right here in Marin,” she says, “and I want to help them keep it going.”

Catherine Layton dances tango with Philip Benson at Alma del Tango in Marin

No more fear of milongas! Catherine dances with Philip Benson at Alma del Tango milonga.

Last word: Catherine went to her first milonga on New Year’s Eve. Before that, she didn’t have the nerve, didn’t feel she was good enough yet. “It turned out fine,” she reports, “a nice mix of levels and leaders.” Now she has no more fear of milongas!  

 

 

 

 

 

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Carlos Gardel y Luigi Pirandello at the Cafe Tortoni

by Terence Clarke, author, journalist, and Alma del Tango board member

 

Cafe Tortoni, Buenos AiresTango is the blood with which Buenos Aires pulses, and great writing adds to that blood. The Café Tortoni has been a place for both, sometimes separately, sometimes in concert with each other.

One of the most famous meetings here took place in 1933 between the Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello and the legendary tango composer and singer Carlos Gardel. Pirandello, the author of Six Characters In Search Of An Author, and many other plays, was an intellectual.

One need only look at the sheer bulk of the work he produced to realize that this was a serious man, and according to eyewitness reports from the Tortoni on that evening, he was also distant and cheerless. He was being feted at the café by the local literati when the celebrated Gardel arrived.

Close up of tango singer Carlos Gardel

Carlos Gardel

Gardel was a very different sort of fellow. Like Pirandello, a man of the theater, but he was a performer, not a writer. He arrived in a Packard limousine dressed in his best, wearing one of the signature fedora hats that were specially made for him in London. He was accompanied by two of his guitarists, and, taking the three chairs immediately in front of the Italian playwright, they sat down and performed several of Gardel’s most popular tangos.

The hundreds of onlookers in the cafe burst into great, spontaneous applause upon the completion of each number, while Pirandello looked on, apparently bored.

When Gardel was finished, he grabbed Pirandello’s hand, shook it with great enthusiasm, and waved his guitarists out the door. The Packard disappeared into the night.

After the applause and shouting died down, Pirandello turned to one of the others at his table and asked, “Who was that?”

“Well, señor,” the man replied, a little nonplussed by the question. “It was Gardel!”

“Who’s he?”

“The greatest performer of tango in the world!”

“Ah!” Pirandello sighed. He sat back in his chair, waving a languid hand before his face. “Bravo,” he whispered.

Luckily, it is Gardel’s spirit, and not Pirandello’s, that breathes in the Café Tortoni. Perhaps the finest tribute to the place can be found in the words of the celebrated Argentine writer José Gobello, who observed that you can find in the Café Tortoni the entire city of Buenos Aires.

Cafe Tortoni, Buenos Aires, interior

The legendary Cafe Tortoni

If you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires, don’t miss this landmark cafe. Here’s a preview of what awaits you at Cafe Tortoni.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, will be published on February 1, 2019

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The Lost Love of Ada Falcón: Part 2

Argentine singer Ada Falcon

Argentine tango singer & film star, Ada Falcon

by Terence Clarke, journalist, author and Alma del Tango board member

In one of the most famous disappearances in the history of Latin American music, Ada Falcón, the great Argentine tanguera, left show business. Her retirement was sudden, completely unexpected and extremely strange.

She had begun to appear on the streets of Buenos Aires in disguise, her head swathed in scarves, multiple shawls hanging about her shoulders, her lovely eyes hidden behind slab-like sunglasses. She stopped recording. There were reports in the newspapers about strange nighttime peregrinations, about her odd dress, and her raving. Eventually her mother realized the depth of Ada’s distress, and took her to Cordoba, Argentina, where Ada entered the Molinari Convent of Franciscan nuns.

There is a great deal of speculation about the end of her career, the entertainment life she had known almost since birth, and the decision to enter the contemplative life under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Most center upon her love for the orchestra leader Francisco Canaro, because Canaro had a wife.

Evidently Falcón had been very guilt-ridden about her affair with a married man yet overwhelmed by the love she felt for him. She pleaded with Canaro to divorce his wife so that she could marry him. Canaro agreed but did not actually go through with the divorce action. He kept Falcón on one arm and his wife on the other, for years. There were family reasons, Canaro said. The Church. The need to wait for a while to keep it respectable. Careers. Obligations.

Falcón waited, until the day Canaro finally admitted to her that he would never leave his wife under any circumstances.

Falcón went to the streets and wandered, swathed in craziness. Eventually, in desperation, sheltered by her mother, she entered the convent. Ada Falcón died in 2002, at ninety-six, in the convent in Cordoba. She seldom left the place, she never recorded another song, and apparently never recovered her heart.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the central character, will be published in January.

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