Cristal Tango
Garras Tango
Gricel Tango
Horacio Belmaña


hat tango is a musical synthesis of love and passion is not strange for the fans of the genre, but few tango lyrics show this feeling so expressively as “Gricel”, that José María Contursi —Katunga, for his friends and the Pope, for his family of Córdoba—, dedicated to the great love of his life: Susana Gricel Viganó.

Here’s the first documented explanation: her name was Gricel and not Griselda as some tango researchers hold. Furthermore, Mr Viganó spent many months until the Registrar’s office accepted that name.

Gricel was born in the neighborhood of San Cristóbal in Buenos Aires on April 15, 1920. She was daughter of Egidio Viganó and Maruca Anderson. The latter chose the name for her daughter inspired on a character from a French novella. The Viganó couple lived later in Quilmes, Guaminí (province of Buenos Aires) and subsequently in the city of Capilla del Monte located on the hills of the province of Córdoba, when Egidio Viganó had to move there due to health problems with his lungs.

José María Contursi was born in Lanús, a suburban area of the city of Buenos Aires, on Octubre 31, 1911. He was son of Pascual Contursi and Hilda Bríamo. We can state that from the Italian town of Contursi in the Gulf of Salerno the innovative romantic blood of the Contursis arrived in Buenos Aires and gave birth to the tango with lyrics to be sung by means of Pascual (“Mi noche triste (Lita)”) and went on in the romantic tango cultivated by his son José María (“Garras”, “En esta tarde gris”, “Cristal”, “Gricel”, “Quiero verte una vez más”) and others that completed sixteen ones very well known and widely spread.

Gricel’s life in Capilla del Monte was not easy. Far from her friends and the entertainment she found in roller-skating on the streets, she devoted herself to help at the Texaco gas station run by his father, dressed in a rigorous white overall, while she had to hear the warm compliments by the bus drivers traveling from the city of Córdoba to the city of La Rioja. Simultaneously she attended to piano classes. Her teacher was Mrs. Dolly C. de Nuvolone, also from Buenos Aires and based in that city with her husband who worked with Egidio Viganó. Mrs.Nuvolone’s daughter, a friend of Gricel’s, is today a renowned painter living in the city of Córdoba.

But monotony is often broken by fate. So one day she received a letter from her close friends of Guaminí, Nelly and Gory Omar, who invited her to spend some days in Buenos Aires. Gricel did not hesitate. She quickly got her luggage ready and caught the train that would take her to a destination of love and tears.

The days in Buenos Aires were few but breathtaking. Cafés, restaurants and shops on Avenida de Mayo were visited permanently by the Omar sisters. But something else was part of the life in the big city: radio shows. There they went, these three friends, to see a radio program on Radio Stentor. On the radio station she was introduced to an elegant announcer with straightened hair who formally introduced himself as José María Contursi. Gricel, simply answered she, without even imagining that one of the most heartfelt romantic tango lyrics was beginning to be shaped.

Her return to Capilla del Monte showed a different Gricel. She had begun to sing off key on the piano worrying Mrs. Nuvolone. She said hello to the bus drivers with her eyes looking beyond and used to watch the beautiful sunsets sighing deeply. That was around 1935 and 1936. By then she was the winner at the beauty contests organized in the Córdoba hills, but the crown of "Miss" was not enough for her and her sighs went on.

It was then that fate stroke again: in 1938 seized by an intestinal fever and in the absence of antibiotics, Contursi was given the customary medical piece of advise in those years: try the air of the Córdoba hills. The Omar sisters told him then: «Don’t you remember Gricel? She lives in Capilla del Monte, in the middle of the hills of Córdoba».

So Contursi left towards that place in the hills leaving behind in Buenos Aires his wife Alina Zárate and their daughter. He carried with him not only his illness but also his inclination towards female skirts, his love for turf and for his beloved San Lorenzo soccer team.

Egidio Viganó could do nothing to discourage the romance between his daughter and a «trained» seducer. So Katunga came back to Buenos Aires showcasing a new star in his banner of seducer and maybe he was humming: «Yo anduve siempre en amores, qué me van a hablar de amor» (I've always been flirting, how can they give me suggestions about love). But he was completely wrong. He ignored that he would soon say sadly: «¡Qué ganas de llorar en esta tarde gris!» (I feel like weeping on this cloudy afternoon!).

Soon later he returned to Capilla del Monte making up another intestinal fever that made his wife weep due to mere feminine intuition. That was the opportunity on which Contursi fully dived into an unrestricted love affair that drove him to write so many tango lyrics. Finally one day he had to choose, and as a sensible man he returned to his wife with healthy intestines but with a broken heart just like Gricel's. She saw his train depart with a deep pain in her soul but promising herself not to cry ever again.

Later they sent love letters to each other but with a marked difference: the letters coming from Buenos Aires were filled with a profound sadness; those sent from Capilla del Monte were written with a steady hand. This went on until one day a letter containing the lyrics of “Gricel” arrived.

Everything changed: Don Egidio Viganó, his German wife, the bus drivers and the town settlers began to live in an over sentimental ambiance and Gricel since then was called: «Gricel, the one of the tango tune». At the beauty contests held in Valle de Punilla Gricel was the indisputable winner. She began to very often go to the balls at the Hotel Victoria of Capilla del Monte where men were eager to have the privilege of dancing with her. Everything was insufficient, but Gricel did not want to cry in spite of her misfortune and made up her mind in order to rebuild her life.

Then at the old classic Confitería del Plata of the city of Córdoba, run by Egidio Belloni, where some day Gricel maybe heard Gregorio Barrios singing the bolero “Final”, she came to know Jorge Camba with whom she married in 1949. They had a daughter, Susana Jorgelina, but there was a problem: Camba was as well fond of women and forsook her in one of his frequent trips to El Chaco where he joined Vilma Rabez. Gricel did not cry either. She had inherited the strong German temper of her mother. She spent her days devoted to the education of her daughter, teaching to weave in schools and learning english and italian.

On a day of the year 1962 the renowned bandoneon player from Córdoba, Ciriaco Ortiz, arrived in Capilla del Monte. He brought the news that Contursi was now a widower, but he swore that no one had sent him to say this. Furthermore he said that due to his deep love feeling the latter had took to drinking to find a kind of consolation. He used to drink at El Molino tearoom. Once again the strong character inherited from her mother appeared and after some lies and excuses told to her daughter she left Buenos Aires on a Costera Criolla bus. She met again her great love at that tearoom. Contursi with his classic look, gray suit, suspenders, with gray hair and the perfume of Giesso cologne. Gricel was holding the hand of her daughter Susana.

We ignore what they said, but since then Gricel very often traveled to Buenos Aires to stay at Contursi's place on 20 Chaco Street, 3rd. Floor H. Katunga's children also traveled to Capilla del Monte accompanying Susana and her German granddaughter.

But a constant in the family of Contursi was still present: alcohol, causing the inevitable decline in Contursi's health. It was then when Gricel came to a decision: «We're moving to Capilla del Monte. But whisky remains here». Gricel and Contursi came back to Capilla del Monte to enjoy the sunsets with no obstacle at all. But Katunga's health was severely diminished until in Cosquín, a locality placed only 30 kilometers far from Capilla del Monte, Dr. Santos Sarmiento succeeded in making a pause for that decline. But it was only that, a pause. In spite of that, the long awaited time for Gricel and Contursi came on August 16, 1967, when at page 275, book III, the parish César Emilio Ferreira said:

«On August 16, 1967, the undersigned Parish of Capilla del Monte at the Chapel of the Cabrini Sisters, requested and given the mutual consent, joined in wedlock Don José María Contursi, 56 years old, widower of Doña Elina Zárate, with Doña Susana Gricel Viganó, 47 years old, single».

A legal explanation: Gricel was married to Camba only by civil marriage. For the Church she was unmarried.

The marriage lasted four years and nine months. Towards 1970 they frequented the house of a friend they had in common with the author of this note, Emilio Velich, a former official of SADAIC and Juan Velich's son. Those were rendezvous in which anecdotes were narrated and tango tunes were sung, but their happiness was brief. On May 11, 1972 Contursi gave up tango and passed away. He died in the arms of Susana's fiancé, Oscar Iacobelli. The latter, with tears in his eyes, confessed to me: «Contursi died in the way he lived. He died in my arms like a gentleman». Gricel had accompanied him until the day before but foreseeing the denouement, she did not want to weep.

Gricel lived later in Villa Allende, a locality placed as well only 35 kilometers from Córdoba. She spent her last days on 229 Las Palmeras Street in Villa Rivera Indarte, near Villa Allende and Córdoba at a house surrounded by palm trees and vegetation. At the neighboring house, located on 231, lived her daughter Susana. Gricel was diagnosed leukemia. Even though she did not defeat death, she defeated pain. She died on July 25, 1994 of a brain hemorrhage. Her ashes rest in Villa Rivera Indarte, and Contursi's remains are in the SADAIC's Pantheon in Buenos Aires.

José María Contursi left four children of his marriage: the only male one, Lucio, died very young of cancer. His sisters Ethel and Amalia live in Buenos Aires and Hebe, in the city of Mendoza. Amalia, a great fan of the hills of Córdoba, lived up to two years ago on 229 Las Palmeras Street.

The Viganó family continued by means of Susana Jorgelina, later Mrs. Iacobelli, and two daughters and a son: Santiago, Luciana and Gricel (15). We, who had the chance to meet them can hold that Gricel's granddaughters shared their grandmother's beauty. Susana Jorgelina now lives with her daughters in the city of Viedma where she works as a nutritionist.

Something more about this tender, dramatic story: Jorge Camba and Vilma Rabez came back to Córdoba and lived at Susana's place, that is to say next door to Gricel's for two years before the demise of the latter and in a rare and perfect harmony. Camba died in 1996. Vilma Rabez still lives at the time of this article (March 2002).

This is the real story of a tango piece that touched generations due to its beauty and profundity like all the things Contursi wrote. Most of his writings were inspired in this love that, at times, seemed impossible.

Our presence at the abovementioned places, plus the encounter with the people close to Gricel and her belongings, including her dog Colita that still lives, made brighter for us the effect this lovely musical piece already had on us when we were young.

We are deeply grateful to Mrs. Susana Camba and her children for the ample generosity of their collaboration that allowed us to bring back this beautiful story.