Just Call Me Charlie   Leave a comment

Just Call Me Charlie

By Alberto Paz
December 1997

A nation that lacks legends, said a poet, is condemned to freeze to death. It is arguably possible. But the populace that lacks myths would be dead already.

December is the month anniversary of Carlos Gardel’s birth. Since orchestra leader Julio De Caro also was born on the same day of the same month albeit in different years, the Republic of Argentina declared a few years ago, December 11 as the National Day of Tango.

The only memories of a snow fall in Buenos Aires date back to 1918 and 1955, that is why poet Raul Gonzalez Tuñon once wrote about Gardel, “nobody has surpassed his touching voice, on the face of a record or in the rose of the air. Perhaps, when the snow falls again over our city, another voice may come close to match his“. Betty, Julie, Mary and Peggy loved his voice. They were the blondes of New York, “delicious perfumed creatures” kissing Carlos with their “pretty painted lips as if they were fragile pleasure dolls“, in a scene of El Tango en Broadway filmed in 1934. A year later Gardel burned among charred metal on the tarmac of Medellin, Colombia’s airport.

Many believe that when he died the myth was born. Of five Argentine myths (presidents Yrigoyen and Peron, Eva Peron, Diego Maradona and Carlos Gardel), only the latter has been accepted by all levels of society. While the errors of the other four were never forgiven and their lives have been questioned and defamed suffering the consequences of political hatred, antagonistic rancor and class discrimination, all is forgiven of Gardel. Writer Horacio Salas points out that “in the same way that nobody in his/her right mind would dare criticize the chromatic qualities of the flag or the literary deficiencies of the National Anthem, the cult of Gardel has elevated him to that same plateau“.

In many ways the myth of Gardel identifies the common people of Argentina’s middle class, sons and daughters of immigration. Gardel is the man who made it to the top. He arrived. He conquered. All this in spite of an obscure past and an almost impossible to trace heritage. The second wave of immigrants in Buenos Aires totally identified with the French immigrant who grew up in a conventillo, who experienced segregation, poverty and lack of shelter like those who had to start from the very bottom of the pit in a foreign environment and without a father figure. Through his voice, Gardel went beyond the meager horizon of the slums to become the symbol of the tango song, first in the City of Lights and finally all throughout North and South America.

When Gardel sings, and he does it better every day, the dancers stop because The Voice is reminiscent of joy, The Voice is the wail that announces the miracle of a new life arriving to this world. Gardel is born again in the soul of every Argentine that is far removed from the source. Because Gardel is a winning attitude, a posture of arrogance and conquest. Because he has elegance and class, with an irresistible smile, a slick hairdo, shiny shoes and an impeccable wardrobe.

Women loved Gardel, but he never tied the knot, playing the myth and the legend to the end. He was the eternal groom only married to his singing the way a priest marries his religion. He created the ethereal fantasy for the women who fantasize about the day when the idol will become Prince Charming and make their dreams come true.

Witnessing the first snow fall of the season through the window of a high-rise apartment in New York City, the twilight had overcome the first flurries of snow; its gray tones were now pierced by a thousand points of light. Soon the city would get ready for another night of tango on Broadway, an experience that seemed to last forever. As the snow continued to fall, I headed for the milonga. Nobody noticed when I walked into the hall carrying Carlitos in my heart. They might have thought that it showed that I was a porteño by the way I moved and walked. And when Robin, Jane, Valorie or any other New York blonde asked me who I was, I flashed a big smile and coyly whispered in their ears, “just call me Carlitos, darling, Charlie if you wish…

RUBIAS DE NUEVA YORK

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