Alberto and Paulina performing to Piazolla's "Verano Porteno" in San Francisco, January 2010
Since Alberto and Paulina are touring San Francisco and San Diego now, we thought it would be a perfect time to post a translation by our friend V. Roldan of a little "historia" that Alberto wrote about his recollections of his experiences in Tango. It is an enchanting, sometimes humourous story, filled with details of tango people, places and things long past but still carried on in the memories of the milongueros still living and dancing in the milongas of Buenos Aires.
The original full spanish version can be found here on Alberto's official website.
Translated by V. Roldan
It’s the beginning of January 2005, Paulina is wondering: she wants to know how was the beginning of my beautiful illness called dancing Tango. I was born October 13th 1936 in the beautiful barrio of Saavedra, and as a kid since I was very little I liked feeling Tango. Why? I don’t know; don’t ask me because I don’t really know.
At the back of my house there was the path to a dance floor of a club “All Boys de Saavedra”. At that time it didn’t have the dance floor that it now has, before it was a basketball court and at the back of my place there was the entrance to the dance floor.
I remember being very little, I was 8 or 9 and no other than Osvaldo Pugliese came to the club. This event led me in a very defined direction. Why did that lead me? Because I used to sit at the stage and watch Caldara and Ruggiero [Pugliese’s bandoneon players] “break” the bandoneon on stage.
And I was sitting at the stage, imitating all they did. For example, if they played the bandoneon beating it I would do exactly the same thing.
No need to mention that I would stay until the very end, and after I got home after that day, the pillows in my house became bandoneons, a bandoneon that every time I heard it said: This is Osvaldo Pugliese.
To help increase my passion for tango, my dad who also liked tango used to go to a very small tango dance place called “Pena” that was beside the “Prestamo” Bank. At that time at Cabildo between Ibera and Quesada, there was a small night club and that’s where they had the “Tango Pena”.
Among the well known tango people that used to go to that place on Thursday, there was no other than Leopoldo Dias Velez, a man whom they called “Magan”, who used to own a bakery across the street - an excellent person - two brothers, Tito and Coco, who were motorcycle mechanics – anyway, wonderful people.
The age difference, I was only 9 or 10 at that time. But… why did my dad take me there, if there were only grown men? Because my dad used to hear me sing, and I had a Tango in my repetoire that I sang all the time that when I listen to it now, I say to myself: Why did a little boy sing a tango with such strong lyrics? If a boy sang “Caminito” or “Adios Pampa mia” or “Fondin de Pedro de Mendoza” it would have been okay but this tango that I used to sing was very intense, now every time that I hear it I say: Piazzolla Florentino, such a tango!:
“When last night I turned at the corner, and quietly had crazy thoughts, I dreamt with only seeing her and yell at her my angriness due to her betrayal and now that I’m holding her in my arms…”
These lyrics are not for a 9 year old kid, who was I going to have in my arms? Only my mom or my aunt! But I liked that tango and I sang it. And my dad said that I sang it very well, and also Leopoldo Diaz Velez agreed but I was only 9 years old its not like nowadays that the kids bring the opportunities to themselves at that time my dad was the one bringing me the opportunities and it was only because he was very “Porteno” and a bit Bohemian, otherwise it wouldn’t have been that way.
And right then my sickness for tango started.
My mom liked dancing, but my dad didn’t dance with her. My dad was very frisky, he danced with the younger ladies, and since my mom as she was a bit chubby – well, he didn’t dance with her.
But my mom didn’t make a big deal out of it, she would then say to me “Rulo [Alberto’s nickname], lets go dance a tango", and I would dance with my mom, I leaned on her big bosom and we would dance!
And then, it would be the aunts that wanted to dance with me, I don’t know why, it may was that I enjoyed dancing so much that I did things that they liked in the dance. Then when I turned 12 or 13 we left to live in Olivos. That place also touched my tango, despite the fact that Olivos wasn’t close to tango specially that area….. Oh well, but it must be the things we ourselves create, not the place. We lived on Italia Street and Bartolome Cruz, a block away from the presidential area and one block from the Avenida Libertador, on the way to the river. As for Tango at that place, there was nothing.
But my dad knew a man that had at that time a disco club that some years later there was a sad incident, very sad because it got burned down and many young guys died. The name of the place when the fire happened was “Keivi’s”.
Before the place burned down, at that time when I was 12 or 13 it was called “Copacabana” and it was a place where couples would come. It was what they called a “night club”.
In Olivos there were three nightclubs: Copacabana, King George and Pepe Lemoco, they all belonged to the same owner. This man was my dad’s friend, and his last name was “Chiape”, he had his history but we are not going to go into details about it, but he was an excellent guy. I knew him and this was despite the age difference (I was a kid and he was a grown-up). My dad wasn’t a fool when it came to choosing his friends. Everybody minded his own business, my dad with his pizzas, the man on his stuff but my dad knew he was an excellent person.
So one day he tells my dad, Pablo, your son enjoys tango so much, why don’t you let him play the music at the night club? And my dad said: This would be perfect.
I could do this instead of staying up all night. We used to sit on the sidewalk until late, looking at the people called “bathtubs” - these were the people that would take the bus that was called bathtubs because it looked like it, they came from el Congreso to the Port of Olivos.
We liked it, as a kid we say hello to all the people who were riding the bathtubs, and we stayed with my sisters, until maybe 12 or 1 am so my dad said, “Well, this is going to be perfect!” He could play the music until 12 or 1 am instead of hanging around on the Avenue Libertador, which was one block from my place.
And that was the way I started DJ’ing. I found some tango discs, and they were Angel D’Agostino and Angel Vargas, recordings from 1940 more or less, they were a jewel - it was with time that I realized they were a jewel.
At that time I liked them and that was it. Then what did I do, I put Angel Vargas and the boyfriend of a girl will come and knock on the DJ booth, a place with glass from which I did not have access to the outside, and then he would tell me “Hey, could you please put a foxtrot?” And I would say yes, I would put a foxtrot – but only one – and then go back to Angel Vargas. So they would come back and tell me could you please put a “bolero” and I would say “Yes of course” and then would put only one and again after that Angel Vargas. And that was the way Angel Vargas became one of my favourites.
One or two years passed by, and they invited me to a party at the Jockey Club (at Bartolome Cruz and Malaver). They had a sports center for the employees and it had a big dancing floor. On Sundays they had a picnic, and all Jockey Club employees would go.
The dance floor was very nice, and everyone would dance. Then… the first steps… One of my sisters had the idea of saying “My brother knows how to dance”. And since that day, all the Sundays we would go the the Jockey Club, and I had people to dance with, older ladies, ladies not that old, young girls… but young girls there weren’t many and the ones that were young they wouldn’t know how to dance tango… they danced other things, foxtrot, or rumba or conga but not tango.
Then, months passed by and there was a party with the theatre people, the organizers was one of the famous actors at the time, Faus Rocha. He had two daughters, a slim one and a chubby one. The chubby was somehow attracted to me, and her mom liked me because I danced tango, thus with me being a tango dancer she saw things in me that I didn’t see.
Well, I was her favourite dancer. This took place in a “confiteria” - its name was “Nino”. Dancing tango at “Nino” would be the same as saying nowadays in the “La Recoleta” area in 2005 when you see a person go to dance tango in one of those nightclubs, they would say: Where does this strange bug came from?
It was more of less the same, but I was restless, I danced tango, and she liked it, so everything was perfect. Few blocks from there, at Roca street and Avenida Libertador there was an area very frequented by people that liked dancing, “el bajo Vicente Lopez, about 1951 or 1952.
From my place there were 4 blocks but to get me out of the river, or from playing racket or ball or from swimming, which I was very good at, it wasn’t easy they couldn’t get me away from those things but there was already something big in me and that was dancing.
It wasn’t only the music that I liked, I liked dancing tango too. A friend of mine Pocho Galli, whom I still see from time to time (Pocho Galli had a brother, Rubito; which was very extrovert for dancing, I didn’t know that) he asked me, “What about going to “Rancho Grande” to dance?”
For me going to Rancho Grande was an unthinkable thing, it was at Roca street, and from Bartolome Cruz to Libertador, the first business that had dancing was called “Buenos Aires”, then it was “Rancho Grande”, and then a place that we called “el Chamame” because they played music form the suburbs, then another milonga, it was called “El Trebol”.
The Trebol had a peculiarity, now I understand but at that time I didn’t: the peculiarity, what was it? The girls that went to that place, they “made a living” - in other words they were prostitutes. And the guys that were there 90% they were pimps, the ones that would come back to pick up the money. At that time I had no idea.
One day I went out dancing, and I danced with a lady that danced very well. I danced one tango, two tangos and at the third one a guy approached me and said- “Hey, don’t you think you are dancing way too much with my woman?” I mentioned that I didn’t know she was his woman and he said “Yes, she is my woman.”
And that “my woman” didn’t mean my spouse or wife - that “my woman” meant something stronger. The thing that that gentleman didn’t know was that that place was my neighbourhood and everybody around knew me.
Then, at that time there was a guy that was a boxer - not a great boxer but he still managed to fight for the South American championship. His name was Tatita Fernandez, he had a stuttering problem, but he was my friend, we went to school together. He witnessed the incident and came over and he told him – “What’s your problem with my friend? Yeah, you Com-compadrito, you son of a bitch!” And that was the end of the discussion. How did the conversation end? With a “Knock Out” – “El compadrito Knock Out." At that time that was the way people dealt with issues.
to be continued...