Galo René Pérez

14. Gardel in his graveyard at Chacarita

t has been said that a silent stroll along the inner space of a cemetery is as worthwhile as the best lesson of philosophy. Slowly walking along in the middle of that cold geometry with straight little roads, of still cypresses, of marbles and white walls lined up with a definitive discipline, helps, effectively, to meditate on our natural short existence: on that final limit, common and inevitable, of our breaths. The cities of the dead, as if placed in a precise Occident where everything is declining —the warmth of affections, the light of evocations, the brightness of fame and fortune—, look alike, in spite of the diverse character of the peoples.

In the great orbs, crowded by millions of lives, the cemeteries are multiplied with no interruption, to be able to receive the split, fractured branches of that abundant human grove. And they further widen their dimensions, to an impressive degree: they are like a giant´s embrace into which they are falling, hour after hour, dozens of bodies pushed by death.

Buenos Aires has a necropolis —a curfew place, according to the old saying, which has been reaching an enormous extension: it is the Chacarita cemetery—. It is not far from the center of the capital. And, as it is common in these places, in front of its entrance flower dealers are placed to sell soft, smooth and fresh bouquets of flowers, but with an anticipated funeral odor. This last detail is a reason of rare repulsion deep in our privacies. But there are many visitors willing to buy that symbolic offering before starting their walk throughout the crevices of Chacarita where their relatives rest.

On an October morning in a certain year, I wanted, in turn, to go through, out of a simple temptation for doing it, that tranquil horizon of blown out lives. Then I was getting lost in its labyrinth of stiffnesses. When walking I only hear the limpid, pure echo of my footsteps, which maybe was the exact answer to the eternal hollows of the contour, individualized with name and number for each prisoner of his grave ration. I walked improvidently. The presence of the marble and smooth stone of mausoleums did not stop punishing me with the severe impressions that philosophically collected Solomon in his very ancient book Ecclesiastes. Bunches of flowers were expiring at the foot of those grave mounds which seemed the representation of the human withering that was hiding underground. And so rambling, to and fro, under the whims of hazard, I suddenly found myself facing a human figure made of bronze, normal size, standing on a stone plinth. The gesture of this sculpture (because it really had) was like that of one who, in his lifetime, enjoyed a habitual communicative strength, and who undoubtedly was surrounded by admirative vehemences and passions and affections. To be truthful, I assure that, as corroborating the air and the gesture I think I was seeing in the statue, there were people of the most different condition around it at that very moment.

And precisely touched by that circumstance, I drew nearer to find out who was the probable illustrious figure that stirred up so much attention. The first thing I saw was the attitude of an old woman who was leaning her elbows on a stone of that grave, maybe to say a prayer, expressively interlacing her emaciated fingers. Some minutes later I saw a group of schoolchildren arrive. They were dressed with white aprons, just like their teacher. They talked almost attentionless. But they obeyed that one who led them, especially in the purpose of adorning the place with bouquets of carnations and roses. A number of them were in fact, placing themselves in front of the funeral urn, which was nearly touching the bronze monument.

I was very close to realize everything. And it was really a pleasure for me to verify that the man to whom those consecrations were devoted had also been a loved being. Childhood and youth impressions linked me to his memory. Present predilections, as well. I read then, at that time, the dozens of plates which repeated, in different sizes, the name of Carlos Gardel, and which revealed to me that there, close to the beautiful sculpture at Chacarita, there were the ashes of that unforgettable singer who died in an air crash, half a century ago. I watched that their inscriptions originated from friends, from partners, from folk centers, from musical organizations, from movie enterprises, and even from no named persons who have confessed in everlasting characters their lack of love.

How can this affectionate adherence so multiple and so constantly renewed be explained? Certainly in the most simple and genuine way: remembering that tango succeeded there and nearly in the whole world under the spell of the unmistakably Gardel´s voice. Because that which has features of a unique thing in any art, either major or minor, has more solid possibilities of acquiring the merit of the unforgettable. Tango, as was sung by Carlos Gardel, still sounds with his melancholy mood that captivates, everywhere. But he was not only an interpreter, but also a sensitive creator of his homeland popular music. He had the wisdom, in fact, of composing songs which never lacked the nostalgic tenderness of his Buenos Aires land.

All that, naturally, has been the reason why the touched hearts of his people never ceased to express their devotion towards Carlos Gardel and his tangos.

Galo René Pérez: Novelist, historian and essayist, he was born in Quito in 1923. He was president of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana and now is director of the Academia Ecuatoriana de la Lengua. His most outstanding works are Confesión insobornable (two volumes); Tornaviaje and Historia crítica de la literatura hispanoamericana (two volumes). He recently published Un escritor entre la gloria y las borrascas, Vida de Juan Montalvo considered by the specialized critics as one of the more complete biographies written about the life and the work of the great writer and politician of Ambato.