Alfredo Pareja Diezcanseco

13. Carlos Gardel and tango

ne day in 1935, when I was still living in Guayaquil I got, together with my peers of the Grupo de Escritores, the sad news. The Grupo was formed then only by the first five members. Because of that, the day of José de la Cuadra´s funeral, prematurely dead in 1941, Enrique Gil Gilbert exclaimed: «We were five as a fist!».

By that time I was not in Guayaquil, but soon after my return, I knew the details of the fatal airplane in Medellín, which fell aflame.

When, after several years, our little starting group grew and benefitted by the presence of Adalberto Ortiz, arrived from the intimate blackness of his Esmeraldas; of Angel Felicísimo Rojas, lojano, but guayaquileñizado; of Pedro Jorge Vera, who, with his brother Alfredo (who was as his son is now, Minister of Education) had a book store where, of course, we used to buy on credit, very often renewed; and others more. I recall that in those years Pedro Jorge had an adequate voice for tango, and the way we were touched with those which Carlos Gardel most often used to sing.

In the 40s, we remembered the idol of tango song´s tragic death. It could be on discs recorded in Buenos Aires or in Paris, or in any other European capital. Our eyes were wet. It was a deep and at the same time confusing feeling, always sad, maybe with a sadness even deeper than the one caused by the pasillo of our country, especially the one from the sierra.

José de la Cuadra, the eldest and the one with the most polished craft of the first five, used to say that every writer was a frustrated musician. I think he was right. And that his statement was as valid for music seriously composed, currently called classical, incorrectly, as for the popular, inspirer, no doubt, of the complicated structure of the refined one, generallized by people as classical.

The connoisseurs say that tango comes from a popular rhythm very similar to the habanera, but less faster in its time signature of two-four. I don´t know. I truly love music, so much so that for me it is impossible to write any fiction work without listening either classical or popular music. But I do not have ear, even though the inner memory remembers it, always with gratitude.

What is true is that no other rhythm like tango reached in our halfbreed America a beauty so great, which springs out from the abysmal depths of the anguished or battling spirit. Some times it has an elegant sluggishness, as if expressing an unspeakable grief; on others, its movements are fast; maybe musicalizing the compadritos' fights in the neighborhood of La Boca, where sailors from the four cardinal points live with a challenging bohemianism, in contempt of the apparent caution of the playboy.

I can't forget that in La Boca, some day, I watched, in ecstatic contemplation, a group of beautiful women dancing among themselves. And not only tango, but also its precious derivative, the milonga, with its weaving of laces and successive figures, almost haughty, but extremely elegant.

Gardel took tango to Europe, I have already said it, but especially to Paris, where at that time Apache tango was so passionately danced, not only at the merry café of the various entertainments, but also at the most distinguished and exclusive clubs. And it was very well danced, with the attraction and the coldness, the sexual search and the feigned rejection; or with the rhythm of the braves' fight, due to the coquettishness of a woman proud of her whims.

Who should not remember certain tangos sung by Gardel, accompanied by a bandoneon! “Adiós muchachos”; “El choclo”, “Esta noche me emborracho”; “El día que me quieras”; “Tomo y obligo”; “Arrabal amargo”; “Tiempos viejos”; and that unforgettable and magnificent; “Mi Buenos Aires querido”.

The greatest writer of Spanish America, Jorge Luis Borges, says of tango: «Una mitología de puñales/ lentamente se anula en el olvido;/ una canción de gesta se ha perdido/ en sórdidas noticias policiales» (A mythology of knives slowly sinks into oblivion; a chanson de geste has been lost among sordid police news). And what follows is heard like a miracle of words: «Esa ráfaga, el tango, esa diablura./ los atareados años desafía;/ hecho de polvo y tiempo el hombre dura/ menos que la liviana melodía/» (That gust, tango, that devilish wonder defies the busy years; made of dust and time, Man lasts less than the light melody).

But being, the reader and I, in the company of Borges, it would be unforgivable not to repeat with him (whom I met and admired in all his strength in that Buenos Aires which was fairly better than yesterday's and the day before yesterday's, the splendored Buenos Aires of a Europe-like great city, without discredit of its Latin American cachet), not to repeat with him, I repeat, these lines: «Que sólo es tiempo. El tango crea un turbio/ pasado irreal que de algún modo es cierto/ el recuerdo imposible de haber muerto/ peleando en una esquina del suburbio/» (That only is time. Tango creates a turbid unreal past that is somehow true. The impossible memory of having died fighting on a corner of the suburb).

Borges died in his beloved Geneva, shortly before he wrote something that is almost unknown to us, because it is not registered in any of his posthumous works, and it came to me through the hands of a friendly person: «Could I live my life again... I should be more foolish than what I´ve been. In fact I would consider very few things seriously. I would be less hygienic. I should run more risks (..) I´d eat more icecream and less beans, I would have more real problems and less imaginary ones. (..) In case you don´t know, life is made up of that, only moments: don´t miss the now (..) But now you see, I am 85 years old and I know I´m dying».

Alfredo Pareja Diezcanseco: Born on 12 October 1908, he joined the renowned Grupo de Guayaquil —his home town— one of the most valuable expressions of the writers´ generation of the 30s. Awarded in 1978 with the Premio Nacional Eugenio Espejo, the highest honor awarded by Ecuador to the intellectuals who devoted their life to enrich the national literature, he has written, among other important works El muelle (1933); Hombres sin tiempo (1941); La hoguera bárbara (1944); Las tres ratas (1944); Los poderes omnímodos (1964). He has been National Deputy, ambassador to France and Minister of Foreign Relations of Ecuador.