27 Jun 2007

El Sur: Meanderings on the Southern Passage. Part II.

Inside the plane, the hours stretch ahead and merged together with an unwavering indeterminacy.

To this traveler crossing the great expanse of continents, an article "Save the Last Dance" in the onboard flight magazine “Going Places” heralds the impeding arrival of Buenos Aires like a shimmering mirage of the promised land of milk and honey. The article highlighted the tango revival and renaissance in Buenos Aires, the reason for transporting myself along the southern passage to the other side of the world.

I found an interesting tidbit in the article about Carlos Gardel, a name synonymous with tango music. Carlos Gardel is THE Tango Superstar of mythical proportions - Elvis Presley, Beatles and Frank Sinatra all rolled into one. Gardel perished in a plane crash when his plane caught fire in Medellin, Colombia in 1935. He occupies an unassailable place in the hearts of Argentines, together with Evita Peron, Diego Maradona and myriad patron saints adopted by the people.

Gardel’s tomb is at the Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires, buried next to his mother. His tomb is a shrine that is to this day covered with flowers and offerings.

The article says among the many plaques that decorate the place, there was an inscription dated 1984 “From Medellin, Columbia, Gustavo Gaviria Jaramillo brings you this message of admiration”. Gustavo Gaviria of the Columbian Medellin Cartel, used to be number two in cocaine trafficking with his cousin Pablo Escobar until he was killed by police on 11 August 1990.

My thoughts hopscotched back to my Papa & Mama, close kin and friends once again left behind. The sentiments are contained in the above card “The Journey of a Thousand Miles…”, handmade by a close friend. Enclosed inside are the 2nd half of the saying and well-wishes by her and another friend. It is symbolic of a friendship spanning over twenty years and 6 different countries between the three of us at different stages of our lives. It is symbolic of all friends in my life, past and present.

To my family and friends, I am sharing this part of my life with tango for now. But with you remain where my heart is.

free hit counter script

14 Jun 2007

El Sur: Meanderings on the Southern Passage. Part I.

The plane drifts endlessly above the blue and white expanse on my southern crossing to the other side of the world. As it takes me further away from family and friends and my life for the last 9 years, memories of another great southern continent began to resurface. Memories of friends in Sydney where I spent 6 years of my life.

Looking back, my first “contact” with Argentina was in my first year of University. Her name is Marcela O. A tall girl with a ready grin, with dark brown ringlets bouncing as she talks animatedly. She was Aussie born. Marcela and Anna Nyugen, a Vietnamese girl, were benchmates next to us in Chemistry 101 class. My own partner was the coolest 5’8 blonde chick with brains, Sally D’Zwan, who has an Australian mum and a Dutch dad.

One day, Marcela mentioned in passing that her parents are not from Australia. They came from Argentina. She told me her parents were students who fled their country in the 1970s, because of their protestations against the government. This was my first knowledge of Argentina’s military regime during that period. Latter when tango entered my life, I learnt more of Argentina’s dark years and the scars that the horrors of the “Desaparecidos”, or disappeared ones, left on the psyche of its people till the present day. Every Thursday afternoon at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo” hold a march in remembrance. Their symbolic white headscarf denoting universal motherhood and anguish at the loss of their children and grandchildren who disappeared during the junta years.

Recently someone told me that the Argentine law has always favoured women in this country. For example, women are entitled to half of her husband’s assets in a divorce. Her assets prior to the marriage remains in her ownership. Suddenly, I recalled that the tragedy of Ada Falcon (see Música del Alma, Jan06 posting) came about because Francisco Canaro was unwilling to part with half of his fortune if he divorced his wife to be with Alda. This was back in the late 1930s. Canaro was fabulously wealthy.

Marcela, I am finally in the capital city of the country that your parents left many years ago. I don’t know if they were from Buenos Aires or another part of Argentina. I wonder if I have walked past someone related to you on the streets of Corrientes…

free hit counter script

3 Jun 2007

Intermission: Tres Esquinas (Three Corners)

In May 2007’s issue of tango magazine El Tangauta, I finally found the last piece of the puzzle of a song that has special meaning for me.

In an article on Page 40, Tres Esquinas is translated as “Three Corners’. What does the name means? I found out that Tres Esquinas was the name of a station of a train line that no longer exists today in Buenos Aires.

The song Tres Esquinas first came upon me in the tango documentary “Tango, Baile Nuestro” by Jorge Zanada. I have been dancing tango only a few months then, and have no idea what was the name of the song. The grand orquesta of Angel D’Agnostino y Angel Vargas meant nothing for a while yet. Those marvelous revelations came later. What I knew was that the song was beautiful and echoingly evocative. It occupies a special place in my heart. Until today it never fails to struck a deep chord within me.

I watched “Tango, Baile Nuestro” over and over, rewinding continuously to the scenes with clips of social dancing in Buenos Aires circa early 1980s. That is a story for another time perhaps. In one of the scenes, Tres Esquinas was the song playing when the veteran portenos danced around a big dance floor resembling a basketball court. This is of course Club Sunderland, the milonga located in the barrio of Villa Equiza in Buenos Aires. Music and its associations with our memories have great evocative powers. At any time, no sooner do I hear the melodic opening of Tres Esquinas, am I transported to another time and era.

      “Yo soy del barrio de Tres Esquinas, Viejo baluarte del arrbal…”
  (I am from the neighborhood of Tres Esquinas, old bulwark of the suburbs…”)
El Tangauta

The sweet, sweet soaring strains of violins playing the refrain followed by the echoingly notes of the piano brings an upwelling of emotions and moisture to the eyes. The tears do not fall because this song is redolent of nostalgia and not heartache. Nostalgia is a quality of longing for those times past, often tinged with regret, yes, but with the air of acceptance. Who else has any other choice but to accept the past? We look back at the past as if watching images flashing silently past on the surface of an old mirror, the fleeting images indistinct and yellow with age. The pang will always be there. The rest has dissolved into a million shimmering pieces, long since seeped away with time.

Before the turn of the twentieth century, the last train left from the Tres Esquinas station and by middle of the century, the station was demolished.

El Tangauta’s article put it well. The tango remained.

Footnote: Tres Esquinas station was located at Paseo Colon y Venezuela in today’s area of Monserrat in Buenos Aires.

free hit counter script