Almeida Urrutia

05. Gardel, a way of being

e tacitly agreed on a warp of smoke, soft lights, shy girls still not completely devoted to their profession, with their skirts shortly before cut to the height of their knees, their amazed eyes adorned by funeral fence in Pola Negri's fashion and half-opening their vaginal lips in Clara Bow's way, caryatids of a reverie boat which lightly creaked rocked by the "one step" bars in the ante-chamber of the charleston's liberating rage, music and rhythm which already screeched on the Victrolas at the candid refuges insisting on pretending to be cabarets. Tango? It already was nearing with its sinuous canyengue walking, between cortes and quebradas and explaining itself with the milonguero miracle of an faultless voice, that of Carlos Gardel, a voice with baritone range but his privileged owner had been modifying nuances and colors up to turning it into the unique, unmistakable, for ever, tango voice.

By then and delayed the news, arrived at us through the Buenos Aires side that Vicente Greco had created the tango “La infanta” as a tribute to Isabel de Borbón, Spanish Princess passing by Argentina, welcomed at the port by the Mayor Manuel Güiraldes, father of Don Segundo Sombra's author; but before that Eduardo Arolas, a good looking young fellow and bandoneon player, had already composed the tango “Una noche de garufa” which first appeared in dubious peringundines and later climbed to the most decent stages. But it is through Europe´s route where in our younger years that voluptuous disease invaded our soul and against which it was not possible to find any remedy. The Pope Pious X had already absolved tango and declared it innocent of all obscene character, an anathema bizarrely shared by Leopoldo Lugones who insisted on keeping the vogue of gavotte and minuet, while Florencio Parravicini, a major name of the Buenos Aires stages, encouraged Enrique García Velloso to premiere his El Tango en París and he did not hide his enthusiasm for having been honored with the dedication of the tango “El Cachafaz”, although years later Angel Villoldo when writing a lyric for Gregorio Aróstegui's (Manuel Aróztegui) music, dedicated his creation to Benito Bianquet, whose nickname was El Cachafaz. And I do not want to get out of the subject at issue, but it is necessary to recreate the environment which, by then was already occupied by Enrique Saborido and Carlos Vicente Geroni Flores, who dared to dance tango at the salons near Parc Monceau with marquises and seamstresses, at palaces and whorehouses; and also Ricardo Güiraldes, among novels and poems from Buenos Aires to his estate in San Antonio de Areco, betweeen Paris and the big transatlantic liners of the Belle Epoque, struming his guitar, playing tangos on piano, embracing Madame Ivette Güeté's waist or the more swaying Ana Pav1ova´s, helped to take tango out of that gratuitous prejudice which regarded it as only performed by loafers and libertines. By 1920 Villoldo, the Gobbis, the Mendizábals, the Castriotas, the Poncios, the de Bassis, the Canaros, the Santos Discépolos, the Saboridos and, finally, more hundreds of geniuses of popular poetry and composers of that still today indefinable melody, had already introduced it into the deepest of the collective sensitivity; Spain, France, Poland, already danced tango when in the second decade of the century Ecuador was caught up by it as well; then, yes, it «infected», in Raúl Andrade´s style, great and adequate chronicler from Quito who wrote that the first World War brought two diseases for us «the Spanish flu and Argentine tango, from the former we recovered soon, but we never did from the latter».

However, until then tango was nothing else but a insinuating, suggesting, piercing, lush, indefinable music, but it still was not a rite. It is Carlos Gardel, the great pagan priest who discovers the liturgy secluded in that cathedral of dreams forged by a dazzling coincidence of melodies and poetic forecasts; it is Gardel, great actor, who says the literary text in close consonance with the musical text; it is not the mechanical singer who fascinates us with his voice; no: it is the permanent creator who surprises us with a reiterated emotional miracle.

When we met him in Quito, he had already left, of course, the «pajuerana» (naive) music of his teens; he already was the denouncer of “Silencio”, the melancholic one of “El bulín de la calle Ayacucho”, the nostalgic one of “Mi Buenos Aires querido”, the cheerful one in “Se acabaron los otarios”, the dramatic one of “Cuesta abajo”, the sarcastic one of “Qué querés con esa cara”; out of the blue he appeared like the prototype to be embodied, like the pioneer of our sensual obsessions, of our unsatisfied wishes, poor young guys, proud and mythomaniacs.

Since then comes my friendship towards Gardel. Unfortunately when I tried to make him know it, the tragedy at Medellín arrived first. I have just finished reading Don Segundo Sombra, when the press at Quito informed us that during his trip to Spain, on board the "Comte Verde", Gardel persuaded the transatlantic liner captain to stop the engines and invite all the passengers and the crew to pay a silent homage of grief to Ricardo Güiraldes, whose mortal re_tops were returning from Paris to be buried in Buenos Aires. That egregious attitude in the middle of the ocean discovered the subtle matter which made the payador (itinerant singer and lyric improviser), the burrero (fan who bets on horses), the Abasto´s taura (tough guy). He was much more than a smile and a beautiful voice: he was a way of being. He said his homeland was tango and that its was on Corrientes street; he neither denied his ironer mother when he was already a member of the aristocratic Jockey Club, nor he boastfully referred to the bullet placed in his lung when he was shot while helping a friend after a party; it was the same for him to lose a million pesos bet on a horse´s legs, than returning from Barcelona, declining to perform at theaters, to go back to Buenos Aires to collect a prize won by his «sorrel-colored horse with oriental look», ridden by Leguisamo, lucky final donee of a juicy reward; before the criollazos customers of the porteño café he neither boasted of his friendship with Chaplin, with the Baroness Wakefield, nor of the admiration his knowledge of lunfardo had aroused in Jacinto Benavente; plain, cheerful, dressed in impeccable tuxedo, or dressed with coarse pampean baggy trousers; always friendly, with the hand palms full of wind, open to the horizon, brandishing nothing with hooked fingers, he was a way of being.

Because of all that, when we went to the shows at the Edén theater in Quito, we furiously tapped our heels, making the wood floor rumble until the operator repeated time and again, and we never got bored of listening, the confidences of “Arrabal amargo”, “Soledad”, “Cuesta abajo”; “Golondrinas”; “Amores de estudiante”; which were as our own confidences, like the sensitive internal tissue which was sweetly hurt by the melodic and poetic phrasing loaded with intentions. What nice times! Of love and hope.

It was June in 1935, my friend and I threw away the student's notes we had to review to sit for the exams of third year in high school. Between traveling to Cali to hear Gardel or promoting at school, we preferred to miss the year and so we went to Colombia, eluding the border guards, some times on trucks and buses and some other times on foot along paths covered with frailejones and thorns on the frozen horse-shoe-shaped roads of El Ángel's high barren plateaus. We could not have foreseen that on arriving at Pasto, we were about to know that continuing our adventure would be of no use: the idol had died in Medellín on the eve of his debut in Cali. Painful return; our bodies numb with the cold of the barren plateau and our courage seized by the foreseeable punishment our parents would give us. While the freezing wind blew in through the cracks of the ramshackle covered wagon which jumped on a road which was more a kind of classic goat or walker's track, we tried to warm ourselves by embracing with our arms our own bodies, each time cold and grief grew overwhelming us. We were almost children and «volver con la frente marchita» (coming back with our withered forehead), or «buscando un pecho fraterno para morir abrazado» (seeking a brotherly chest to hug when dying) gave way to «Fuerza canejo sufra y no llore, que un hombre macho no debe llorar» (come on, shit, suffer and don't weep, that a macho man must not weep), melodies that blended, interwoven with the rhythmic wind buzz and the waving of the straw weeds, creating the precise framework for our desolation.

Facing the Nature's phenomena, in front of a book page, a picture, or listening to a song, each person elaborates his own story, conceives his singular tale: that of those who were dawn in the 30s, we were touched by the Gardelian enchantment in a way, by his disguise of tycoon, with top hat and all, by his sparkling and twisted smile of malevolent playboy, by the finesse of his singing Le Pera's poetry, by his being a fortunate neighborhood youngster, such as we all were then, although without fortune, because of all that we adopted him as an example and paradigm. That is why we remember him so faithfully, because of that the inextinguishable character of his memory is explained, because he was a member of our family and our friend, our buddy, stuck to the earliest experiences, to that inebriating, dark and throbbing discovery of love in bud, waiting for us in its warm and damp lap, forced by the song to reveal us its, by then, mysterious hidden reason.

He was born in Riobamba, he was grammar school teacher in the eastern zone of Ecuador. A writer and journalist, he made popular in the press of his country the nickname "Doctor Guillotín " which appeared below his commentaries about the national and international politics present situation. He was director of the Socialist Party newspaper "La Tierra". His novel "Sobre el árbol abatido" deserved laudatory concepts by expert critics. He was Secretary of the National Congress, General Secretary of the Administration, chargé d'affaires in El Salvador; Counselor in Paris; Ambassador to Mexico, Perú, Vatican and Argentina and Ambassador-attaché before the government of Salvador Allende in the Republic of Chile.