Archive | December, 2018

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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