Tag Archives | Tango in Marin

Adriana Varela – From rock star to tango singer

Tango singer Adriana VarelaBy Terence Clarke,  author,  journalist and Alma del Tango board member

Adriana Varela may not be for everyone. Her voice is not pretty. It seldom floats and will not ease you into dreamland. But I became a fan of her voice the moment I first heard it. I feel that, if you want to hear how Buenos Aires can sound when portrayed in song, you should go to Adriana Varela and listen closely.

Varela has been a best-selling recording artist of tango since the early 1990s. Starting out as a rock singer, she paid little attention to the at-that-time accepted notion, of traditional tangos of the 1930s through 50s being those most worth listening to. So…large string and bandoneón sections playing lyrical, even romantic, versions of tangos ad nauseum. They’re all very pretty, but we dance to them over and over at the milongas, no matter where the particular milonga may be held…in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, London, Istanbul, or wherever.

The voice of Buenos Aires

Varela’s voice, however, is pure porteño, which is to say, Buenos Aires!…rough, direct, and filled with irony, often humorous, often angry. When you walk down almost any street in that city, you hear this voice and that language. It is recognizable to anyone who has enough Spanish to understand what is being said, and especially how it is being said. There is no other accent in the Spanish language quite like it.

Early in her singing career, Varela made the acquaintance of the great Roberto Goyeneche. By now internationally famous, his voice was anything but soft and pleasing. When you hear it, you know that this man, too, knows the streets of Buenos Aires’s massive urban landscape and the difficulties it can present.

The circumstances of their first meeting have become famous. Varela was singing in a Buenos Aires club one evening, and she spotted Goyeneche sitting at the bar. It was known that he did not care for female tango singers, and he spent her entire set silently nursing the whiskey before him, his back turned to the stage. At the end of her set, beset by nerves, Varela stepped down from the bandstand and approached the great man. When Goyeneche realized that the young woman was trying to get his attention, he turned to her and, without provocation, said, “Che piba, (Hey, girl) you’ve got it!” From then on, they were fast friends.

For an example of Varela’s work, watch her studio performance of Mano a Mano (“Hand in Hand.”) It’s a tough-minded tango, one of Carlos Gardel’s greatest. The lyrics tell of the crazy love the speaker has for a very high-spirited young woman he knows, although one with questionable morals. She is sought after by the worst of the local two-bit gangsters…and she often gives into them. But the speaker loves her no matter what. As the singer puts it in the last verse:

“Y mañana, cuando seas descolado mueble viejo

y no tengas esperanzas en el pobre corazón,

si precisás una ayuda, si te hace falta un consejo,

acordate de este amigo que ha de jugarse el pellejo

p’ayudarte en lo que pueda cuando llegue la occasion.”

Sadly, I can’t translate the lyrics to include the rhymes they contain, which are terrific. But here’s the essence of what they say:

“And tomorrow, when you’re broken down, an old piece of furniture,

and there is no hope in your poor heart,

if you need a hand, if you need some advice,

remember this friend here who would risk his skin

to help you any way he can, whenever you need it.”

 

The Spanish translation of Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Splendid City, is currently seeking publication in South America.

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Paquita Bernardo… “La Flor de Villa Crespo”

Paquita Bernardo, first professional woman bandoneonistaBy Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

These days, women who play the bandoneón abound in Buenos Aires and around the world. This was not so in the 1920s. But one who did so was Paquita Bernardo. By some accounts she was indeed the very first professional bandoneonista.

The daughter of Spanish immigrants to Argentina, she was famous for playing tango with verve and true porteño style while often wearing a man’s suit and tie.

In 1915, as a teenager, Paquita entered the music conservatory of a woman named Catalina Torres in Buenos Aires, as a pianist. There she met a young bandoneonista named José Servidio, who so impressed her with his ability and the instrument’s sonorous soulfulness, that she switched to the bandoneón. She never looked back. (Servidio, incidentally, went on to a distinguished career as a tango musician on the Buenos Aires scene.)

Problem – she was a girl

Initially the trouble for Paquita was that she was a girl, which could have made her professional advancement an impossibility. (For an interesting novel about just such a situation in turn-of-the-20th-century Buenos Aires, see The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis.)

At the time, women appearing on stage in tango boliches and clubs were thought to be of questionable morals. Playing bandoneón requires the instrumentalist to open and shut the legs, which was deemed entirely inappropriate for women. Paquita persisted, however, and persuaded her father to allow her to pursue her study of the instrument. He acceded to her request, and Paquita, whose talent was so obvious, went on to play with various bands on the Buenos Aires club scene throughout her teen-age years.

A meteoric rise…and fall

In 1921, Paquita founded her own band, Orquesta Paquita, with her brother Arturo on drums and a very young pianist named Osvaldo Pugliese. They got a steady gig at the Bar Dominguez on Corrientes Street, and soon the traffic on Corrientes had to be diverted because of the sizable crowd waiting outside the club to see Paquita and her mates. To be sure, it was not just the novelty of seeing a woman playing the bandoneón that brought them to the club. By now Paquita was a master on the instrument and a star. In 1923, she appeared at a Grand Fiesta of Tango in the Coliseo Theater, a major Buenos Aires venue. It was a monumental event in which hundreds of noted musicians played, and Paquita was the only woman on the bill.   

Her fame rose meteorically. She played constantly through the next few years at most of the principal tango venues in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, clubs and ballrooms alike. She also became a regular in appearances on the newly established radio stations in both capitals.

Such constant appearances can take a toll on performers, and Paquita was no exception. In the fall of 1925, she contracted a difficult cold that turned quickly into pneumonia with other complications. It is thought that the treatment she received was not up to the seriousness of her affliction, and she died on April 14 of that year. She was just short of her twenty-fifth birthday.

Sadly, there are no recordings of Paquita’s playing. She also had talent, though, as a composer of tango, and none other than Carlos Gardel recorded two of her pieces: La enmascarada (“The Masked Woman”) and Soñando (“Dreaming”).

Terence Clarke’s novel about the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, The Splendid City, was published in March.

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Have We Lost the Confiteria Ideal?

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

Dancing tango at Confiteria Ideal, Buenos Aires

Confiteria Ideal, Buenos Aires

Tango is a child of the great immigrations to Argentina and Uruguay from everywhere in the world, from the very beginnings of the Spanish conquest to the present day. The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano writes in his Memory of Fire histories:

 “tango had been born in the corrals at the city’s edge and in tenement courtyards.  It came from gaucho tunes of the interior and came from the sea, the chanteys of sailors.  It came from the slaves of Africa and the gypsies of Andalusia.  Spain contributed its guitar, Germany its bandoneon, Italy its mandolin.  The driver of the horse-drawn streetcar contributed his trumpet, the immigrant worker his harmonica, comrade of lonely moments. With hesitant step, tango spanned barracks and dives, the midways of traveling circuses and the patios of slum brothels.” 

All those people who went to – or, in the case of black people, were taken to — Argentina brought their various kinds of music with them, and the result of all those rhythms and chords, instruments, ethnicities, cultures and sounds was a fine musical madness, from the moil of which tango came bubbling to the surface.

It was that most wonderful of cultural events, a bastardization from innumerable parents, a burst of musical languages and unusual couplings from which sprung a single, yet endlessly complicated, gorgeous flower: Tango.

The Confitería Ideal, at Suipacha 384 in Buenos Aires, is now closed for renovation. It was a grand barn of a place: musty, quite run-down, and world-famous for its tango.

There was a time, in 1912, when it was considered the cutting edge of Parisian style. Founded by don Manuel Rosendo Fernandez on the suggestion of his wife, who was French, it was a tea-room originally, and its clientele were among the most favored that Buenos Aires had to offer.  On two floors, it was one of the largest such establishments in the city and was famous for the airy aristocratic beauty of its high ceilings, marble columns, and grand chandeliers. If you were anybody in Buenos Aires in those years, you’d slide right off the social register if you didn’t pay a regular visit to the Ideal.

With time, it lost its luster for the well-to-do, and ultimately became the venue for, of all things, tango.  The dance that came from the poor and the immigrants, that is still disdained by the moneyed sort in Buenos Aires, became the very reason for going to this place.

For many years, almost every day of the week, tangueros gathered at the Ideal, starting in the afternoon and going on into the early morning.  The music was usually recorded and often memorable, although some of the disk jockeys, like many of their colleagues around the world, were stuck in the 1930s and 40s.  That aside, the opportunity to dance here – or, if you didn’t know tango, to watch here — was not to be missed.

I write in the past tense, as though the Ideal no longer exists. But that is not true.

“The Ideal never was intended to be a space specific to dancing tango,” says Alejandro Pereiro, architect of the current re-do. “It will come about as circumstances dictate, as the undertaking develops.”

This sounds like corporate architect-speak intended to prepare longtime tangueros for the Ideal’s disappearance as the singular most memorable space for tango in the world.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, The Splendid City, is being translated to Spanish by noted Chilean novelist Jaime Collyer.

 

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Students of the Month ~ Dart & Dottye Rinefort

by Lanny Udell

Editor’s note: Dottye and Dart were first profiled in 2012.  At that time, they’d only been dancing tango for three years. A lot has changed since then and we thought it would be fun to check in with Alma del Tango’s long-time devotees again. Most of you know Dottye and Dart as our friendly, loyal door managers. Here’s your chance to get to know more about them.

Dottye & Dart Rineford, greet people at Alma del TangoAs Door Monitors, Dart and Dottye have been greeting and registering tangueros who come to study and dance at Alma del Tango for many years.  Their friendly faces are there to greet you every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and for Dottye, on Saturday as well. They love getting to know everyone.

“If we were just attending classes we wouldn’t have the same in-depth experience with people,” says Dottye. 

“It’s fun to see students improve and advance to the next level,” adds Dart. “We enjoy watching them grow and progress.”

As Performers: Dart and Dottye have performed in seven Alma del Tango student productions, five with Debbie and two with Rose (including the performance scheduled for July 6 at the Marin County Fair where they’ll compete with other dance groups.)

Those shows have included:

  • All About Tango 2011
  • Tango Tales 2012
  • Close Embrace 2013
  • Tango Magic 2014
  • Moment to Moment 2015…
  • and a showcase at the San Francisco Argentine Tango competition
    in which their group placed second 

What keeps them performing tango? “After 10 years of dancing, you can become complacent and not challenge yourself to go to the next level. Rose’s performance group has revived our focus on tango,” says Dottye. “We encourage anyone who’s interested [in performing] to do it; it helps you progress more quickly because of the intensity.”

What other changes have they noticed: Dottye and Dart agree, Debbie and John’s teaching has evolved. “Their presentation has grown and developed.  They seem more relaxed…they still have high standards, but they understand that not everyone can grasp it immediately. We ’re always looking forward to their next challenge.”

Words of advice: “We encourage people to attend Tango 1 and 2 to reinforce the basics…and to remind you what you need to do to stay on track.”

Anything else: According to Dottye, “Tango keeps our outlook fresh and youthful…it keeps everything firing—mind and body.”  

“I’d never performed in front of a group before,” says Dart. “It has brought out another side of his personality,” teases Dottye.  “It was hiding,” admits her lifelong partner.

Garden Railroad

On rare occasions when they’re not dancing tango, Dart and Dottye can be found tending their amazing backyard Garden Railroad.

Dart and Dottye are a treasure to Alma del Tango, always enthusiastically pitching in to help wherever needed. They make our lives so much easier…and fun.  They have such a youthful and joyous energy, ready to take on anything! We are often in awe watching them dance and we are very proud to be their teachers and friends.”
-Debbie and John

And, oh yes, a story about Dottye and Dart wouldn’t be complete without mentioning their award-winning costumes at the Alma del Tango Halloween party every year!

Dart & Dottye in Dorothy & Scarecrow Halloween costumes

Dorothy and the Scarecrow take first prize at the Halloween Milonga de San Anselmo.

 

 

Read Dart and Dottye’s 2012 Student of the Month profile

 

 

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Student of the Month ~ Douglas Daven

by Lanny Udell

Alma del Tango Student of the MonthDancing tango since: Douglas started dancing tango two years ago. While he was taking classes with Christy Cote, Eduardo Saucedo taught with her couple of times. When Douglas saw on Tango Mango that Eduardo was teaching at Alma del Tango, he followed the maestro to San Anselmo. Previously Douglas had danced country western and salsa but gave them up within a month of starting tango.

Why tango: Douglas finds tango challenging both physically and emotionally. “I had pushed it away for years because I thought I couldn’t do it,” he says, “but I finally tried it on a lark, and took to it immediately. I didn’t expect to fall for it so hard. Now I dance several times a week.”

Favorite part: “The potential for intimacy, when I am really connected with my partner and we move almost as one body,” says Douglas. He loves the music, especially the sadder songs. “Even though I don’t speak Spanish I can hear it.” He enjoys dancing to music from all eras, including nuevo, and favors Pugliese “because there’s so much variety in the songs.” Roberto Ruffino, a singer from the Golden Age, is a favorite.

About Debbie & John: “They were extraordinarily welcoming when I first came to the studio,” says Douglas. He appreciates that they have graduated levels. “They break it down really well and they’re very thorough in their teaching.” He also enjoys their  humor…”it’s always fun to watch the interplay between them,” he adds.

Anything else? Douglas takes classes at Alma del Tango on Wednesday and Friday and stays for the practica. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, he dances at other venues.

  “I’m so eager to become proficient,” says the tanguero. “I feel like I’m making up for a lot of lost time.”

When Douglas isn’t on the dance floor, he is a gardener by profession. Here are some examples of his art.

Beautiful garden by professional gardener Douglas DavenBeautiful garden by professional gardener Douglas Daven

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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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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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