A mythical cafe   Leave a comment

A mythical cafe
By Alberto Paz
With the discovery of the brick floor of a building half a meter below the surface on the corner of Figueroa Alcorta and Sarmiento across the Planetarium in Palermo, a group of archeologists have fueled a lot of excitement among the fans of tango tales and those who repeat them and report them.Under a tent installed by the Ministry of Culture of the city of Buenos Aires, there is a piece of a bottle and a small piece of a brick floor. As the plans call for further excavation, another project is on the works to provide a walking area for people interested in getting an idea of how the city looked in the past. Close by, a fountain will be replaced with an art exposition dedicated to the tango.

According to city records, on the site of the discovery there existed a building that is believed to have belonged to mid nineteenth century ruler Juan Manuel de Rosas. Juan Hansen (1847-1892) originally from Hamburg, transformed the residence into a restaurant, beer garden and tea house that became known as Cafe Hansen.

The most surprising and totally unverifiable tall tales have been written about Cafe Hansen. That one person was killed there every day;  that several daily squabbles were common occurrence; that the mythical place was the cradle of the tango where “the best tango was danced because it was an elegant place;” that the Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro orchestras performed there. When the information is cross referenced to the date of birth of those allegedly having performed at Hansen, it shows how improbable is that that might have happened.

There is no a single reference to such happenings in the archives of publications researched nor in police reports of the times. To the contrary, an abundance of evidence contradicts the fans of tango tales and those who repeat them and report them. When it comes to the history of the origins of the tango it makes no sense to discuss things said, written and repeated by people unable to master the chronology of events. It’s like discussing grammatical rules with an illiterate.

Evidence found in publications and police reports at the General National Archives indicate that the establishment was small, that it employed two waiters. In the case of the investigation of an incident, a police report lists every person being interrogated, with no reference whatsoever to musicians, and without a single mention that there was a dance hall there. The details of the inventory demonstrate that it was a very important and well equipped restaurant, brewery and confectionery. The business continued operating until its auction and liquidation which took place on April 22 and 23, 1893. The municipal draft notice described it as Hansen Hotel, while the public notices called it a restaurant.

Francisco Canaro in his memories never mentions Hansen as a place where he might have performed. And then there is the often quoted Enrique Cadicamo, “It was a dance hall patronized by people of the night of different ranks. It was a tough but very fun place.

Cadicamo was born on June 15, 1900, so he was 12 years when the building was demolished. Either he is exercising some poetic license or he just repeats like a parrot the same fables without taking care of analyzing the chronology of the facts. How could he know that it had a brave but very funny atmosphere? What kind of amusement must have taken place in a nonexistent “dance hall, attended by people of the night of different ranks?”

It is possible that the confusion and contradictions about what went on in the area in the last quarter of the nineteenth century are a consequence of not knowing the characteristics of Palermo and the area known as the Bosques of Palermo. An orderly account of the place and the times might help people read history knowing how to explain it.

Before it was buried in a tube underground beneath Avenida Juan B. Justo, on both margins of the Arroyo Maldonado there were different military facilities and ammo deposits, next to precarious houses where fishermen, veteran prostitutes who served the military, and the families of soldiers lived. There were numerous cafes along what is today Avenida Santa Fe to the bridge over the stream.

Since the nineteenth century, Palermo was almost exclusively an area of recreation for the inhabitants of the city, a charming and delightful place with changing characteristics according to the time of the day.

Early in the morning, Palermo hosted sports loving and horse riding folks; around noon , those associated with the race track; in the afternoon, the tea time strollers; and at night the romantic dates and rendezvous. Late at night, after the theater, Palermo was the favorite place of licentious night owls accompanied by ladies of the night. Numerous concessions offered refreshments or food to a select segment of the population.

Consider the incongruity of the tales that link the tango with the underground and the lowest classes and simultaneously with places like Palermo, which was frequented by elegant people. Adding to the excitement of the brick floor discovery, the vice president of the Academia Nacional del Tango offered a tall tale of his own, “At Hansen they danced a very well danced tango because in his beginnings it was an elegant place”. He said that without taking in consideration that nobody really knows what or how people danced in those times, or that dancing tango well is not the patrimony of elegant people.

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Posted January 19, 2009 by Alberto & Valorie in MYTHS & LEGENDS

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