Lincoln Maiztegui Casas

A controversy that is coming to an end

he long and aimless controversy about the birth of Carlos Gardel seems that will come to an end in the near future. As we all know there us a research trend that was started by the journalist Erasmo Silva Cabrera (Avlis) and was mainly continued by Nelson Bayardo and Eduardo Payssé González that holds that Gardel was born in Tacuarembó around 1893 and was the natural son of Colonel Carlos Escayola. If that were true he could not have been the same Charles Romuald Gardes, natural son of Berthe Gardes, born in Toulouse, France, on December 10, 1890. Consequently, «two Gardels» might have existed; the one born in Toulouse and the Uruguayan son of Escayola, partially raised by Berthe Gardes, who would finally misappropriate the identity of the other.

The research work by Juan Carlos Esteban puts in a bad situation, according to a reasoning mind, the theory of the «two Gardels» and, therefore, his birth in Tacuarembó.

The second edition of Carlos Gardel, encuadre histórico by the Argentine researcher Juan Carlos Esteban misses something of the forcefulness of its previous version, which precisely lay on the severe accumulation of documents that did not require comments, because their eloquence made them superfluous. But it presents, as wide compensation, some reflections based on common sense that acquire the strength of an allegation.

About the birth and the life of Carlos Gardel there are no more mysteries than the ones required. In Toulouse you can find his birth certificate and his certificate of baptism. There is a record of his arrival in Argentina together with his mother on March 13, 1893. There are records of his whole school education between 1897 and 1904. In September 1904 he fled from home and was arrested by the police that filed him in the record as «Carlos Gardes, 14 years old, with French nationality». There is a precise record of the five visits to the city of Toulouse he made throughout his lifetime and the warm relationship he kept with his French relatives. And lastly, there is a holographic will (written in the testator’s own hand) written before his last travel in which all his data are confirmed and his identity is reasserted.

Those that support the Uruguayan thesis are based mainly on the Gardel’s personal documents: identity card, passport, military ID, etc. In all them it is said that he was born in Tacuarembó on December 11, 1887. It’s a good start.

On October 8, 1920 at the Uruguayan Consulate in Buenos Aires Gardel was given a birth certification that allowed him to apply for the Argentine documents. He achieved that because two attestors made the corresponding statements (one of them was his partner and friend Razzano) even though he did not show a birth certificate. The reasons that led him to this solution are speculative, of course; but the truth is that these documents are the only grounded line of argument of all the theory.

Special emphasis was put on the singer’s supposed visit to Tacuarembó in 1915 when he was wounded by a bullet. They say: if he had no special link with that area, how can they explain that he had chosen it as a place to stay until he recovered? When did the trip to Valle Edén, in Tacuarembó, take place and how long did he stay there?

Esteban has serious doubts about that trip. It is enough for him to sort the dates: on December 11, 1915 Gardel was shot in his left lung. A week later he came back to sing in Buenos Aires. On January 3, 1916 he began a series of recitals in Montevideo. Then when did the trip to Valle Edén, in Tacuarembó, take place and how long did he stay there? Probably that stay never took place.

However, the most implausible part of the theory relies in the existence of two different persons, Charles Romuald and Carlos, that at an undetermined time would have merged into a sole identity. A story like Alexandre Dumas’s The Man With The Iron Mask has been made up.

Never anyone saw these two supposed young men together and no one ever said that Berthe had two sons, or a son and a stepson. But furthermore, there is an incredible game of disappearances. To a certain extent, Gardel the singer is a ghost: the one who exists is Charles Romuald because a great bunch of documents belonging to him are kept, and «the other» is a nameless ghostly being that nobody knows what his real name was, what school he attended and what he did until the end of his adolescence. Then at a certain time the situation is changed; Carlos Gardel the singer appears and Charles Romuald literally disappears, he vanishes into nothing. Bayardo and Payssé González have speculated that he was given to be adopted, that he died at an early age, and even that he went to France and died in World War I. Pero there is not a single evidence of that. It is as if he had been sucked down by the earth.

On the other hand, when did the misappropriation of identities happen? Bayardo says it was in his childhood and that Gardel, the singer, «subtly adopted» the surname Gardes. But it is supposed that between both young boys there was a difference of seven years in age. It is evident that Gardel could not have been the 14-year old kid arrested in 1904 because, according to the date given by Bayardo, he would have been then 21 years old. All the confusion is cleared out by admitting that those two supposed identities were simply only one.

In the latter days other «striking opinions» about the Uruguayan origin of the Magician have appeared, but they have not contributed anything new. Martina Iñiguez, that introduces herself as Argentine historian, has held shamelessly and with an awful syntax that «there is a sufficient amount of clues to say that there were two children». But she does not say which those clues are, but it seems it is only the difference between the good marks of the French boy and the bad spelling in the writing of the supposed Uruguayan. An issue that had already been handled by Payssé González.

A Venezolan gentleman, Mr. Israel Álvarez de Armas, held from his country that he would present «conclusive evidence» about it, and it was even said that he might have found the birth certificate (in Venezuela!). But, unfortunately, he was unable to come to Uruguay due to lack of money. Does nobody ask why he does not send those «conclusive pieces of evidence» by mail? These sorts of unreasonableness occur when a low quality chauvinism substitutes for a rational analysis.

The issue about Carlos Gardel’s place of birth is coming to an end, thanks God. And so Gardel will possibly be the interest of only those who admire his exquisite phrasing, his powerful capacity for touching your soul and, in sum, his artistry beyond comparison that will live through the centuries and will go on charming the sensitive people worldwide, from Toulouse to Tacuarembó.

Excerpted from El Observador, December 20, 2003, Montevideo (Uruguay).