She wants to live to be 100
By Gaspar Zimerman
Copyright (c) 2009, Clarin. All Rights Reserved
Nelly Omar sings “Desde el alma”
Nelly Omar is happy. It is a day for interviews: it is necessary to promote the Saturday recital at the Luna Park and the series of interviews, far from annoying her, seems to please her. Installed in the office of the recitals producer, she happily receives one journalist after another, proud for showing that time did not rust her mind nor her bones. It is necessary to follow her train of thought as she evokes her friendship with Evita, the 17 years of prohibition she endured after the 1955 military coup, the help offered by Tita Merello; she praises the (President Cristina and ex president Nestor) Kirchners, mentions (radio program) Palmolive on the air.” I do not know how you are not bored” , she lies, and smiles. At 97 years and with her voice intact she is, more than a tango living legend, a sort of a natural phenomenon, a prodigy who is about to step on a stage once again. “It troubles me a little,” she admits. “I am afraid of getting nervous and not remembering the lyrics. But I have faith: God is going to be by my side”.
Is this is a farewell recital?
No, the day I say good bye will be the day I’m dead. I have the support of the people, those who really love me. And not just the common folks: there are intellectuals, professionals who love me.
Where do you draw the strength to continue?
I love life, that’s why I’m alive. I dislike people who waste my time, I like people who are doing something. There are friends to whom I say: “You are boring. Go the hospital, to the square, take a walk: do not talk to me.” If I reached this age, it’s because I have to life to give. I have love which is what’s lacking in people. I want to get to be 100 and celebrate sparing no expense. To celebrate drinking a bottle of whiskey or champagne.
How do you imagine the recital?
Better not think about it, because if I do, I can’t sing. That’s what happened when they paid a tribute Guaminí. I broke down. I sang five songs and I could not continue. I was overcome by tears. I got sick, bah. They had given me, symbolically, the keys to the house where I lived when I was five: entering and seeing the rooms, the plaque they had put in the hall, and not finding relatives and friends once I knew…
Have you felt the loneliness of immortality?
Do you know what is like to get to be my age and not hear anymore from people who had been around? (singer Julio) Martel just left in July, a friend who used to call me almost every day.
How do you overcome the losses?
I believe in God. If He did it, may God have him in His glory. Recently another friend passed away. Tito Alberti had moved to Zárate. He invited me to visit, but I did not have time to go.
You must have a great capacity to make new friends.
Yes, absolutely. I have many friends. More men than women, because the women are very gossipy, and get into tangles and messes. But what I want to have is a partner who thinks like me, to find a partner who would not be embarrassed to be with a person like me. Then my happiness will be complete. But I do not know where are the men. Although first, they should give me a try, because they do not know how I am.
You must be tough.
Don’t believe that. I am a woman who knows how to be a woman. Who did Homero Manzi fall in love with? With Nelly Omar. And how many years he was in love? Since 1937, when I met him until 1951, when he died. But he did not want to follow through on his promise: get a divorce to marry me. And the one who suffered was him, not me. He composed many pieces dedicated to me, starting with Malena. Many people say that this is not true: I give a shit. That a man had fallen in love with me and dedicated tangos to me doesn’t change my way of being. It doesn’t put me in a higher or lower place . I’m the same Nelly.
Do you think about death?
No, not at all. The other day I was telling a friend: the only thing I regret when it’s time to go from this world is not having someone to grab me by the hand and say “you’re leaving, I love you a lot,” something like that. What I would not want to is suffer. I told my doctor: if you determine that I am not curable give me an injection of pentothal and say I had a cardiac arrest. I do not want them to open me, to remove the liver, a kidney, this, that. No, this is a martyrdom.
How would you like to be remembered?
Not as a singer but as a good person. I think I am. It hurts when I can’t help someone. But generally I can or do what is possible. And I do not expect retribution in return: when I give, I do it with my heart. If there is anybody who says I have a debt, let them come and I’ll pay it.
The conversation drifts. Nelly states that recently she was approached to run for a Senate seat but that she rejected the idea “because I do high level politics, not this kind of garbage”. She attacks the dissident Peronism (“It is a shame the scandal they make, they should unite and leave the current administration to finish its mandate”) and she remembers that she met Eva Perón in the Luna Park “during the aftermath of the San Juan’s earthquake. Eva still was an actress… She always helped me: when she found out that I had not worked for over a year she became furious… she said that I was the best Argentine singer”. “I root for Perón and Evita – she adds. What Evita did for the children, by the adolescents, does not have a price”.
She also it remembers her three husbands – Antonio Molina, the folklorist Aníbal Cufré and journalist Héctor Oviedo, whom she met when she was 82 years old and he 57 – and she regrets not having had children. She mentions that she wanted to be an aviatrix and pauses, reflective: “All this can go on a book”. But immediately she discards the idea. She does want to record two albums: one of folklore and another one of tangos, valses and milongas, with an orchestra. She tells that she exercises every mornings and that, when younger, a professor of lyrical song prophesied: “You, like Gardel, have a voice with a natural resonance. You are going to sing until you’re 90”.
Just when we are having the desire to adopt her as our grandmother, she bids us good bye: “I swear that everything I told you is true. I do not have anything to gain nor anything to lose. Bah: I only hope to gain in the Luna Park. Later, God will say what will be of me”.
Translation by Alberto Paz