Four Crazy DaysBack a few decades ago, in the city of Buenos Aires at carnaval time, we used to sing along with a catchy tune that reflected the spirit and the purpose of the celebration we were all engaged in just before the period of Lent, a mandatory time of fasting and abstinence for a devoted Catholic population.
For four crazy days you're going to live, for four crazy days you're going to have some fun. The four days included the Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the official day that initiates a religious ritual that ends on Easter Sunday. Growing up in the streets of the Silver Queen, we looked forward to the four days of carnaval..
The celebration of carnaval was a time of the year when we let go of inhibitions and took to the streets to dance, parade and become part of a masked crowd that moved about the city engulfed in a cacophony of drums, chants and popular tunes. It was all about coming out.
As it happened for our parents' and grandparents' generations, all the popular social clubs offered the possibility to dance to the greatest orchestras of that time. The announcements filled full pages in the newspapers. Posters, flyers and hand bills were all over the city walls and sidewalks. In retrospect, the choices were overwhelming. Anibal Troilo in Avellaneda at the Racing Club. Osvaldo Pugliese in Atlanta at Villa Crespo. Juan D’Arienzo at Club Atletico Boca Juniors. Carlos Di Sarli at Velez Sarfield. Francisco Canaro at the Luna Park. Or was it the other way around? It really doesn’t matter, because at the time all of that was part of a natural cycle of our life. It happened. Carnaval was the time to venture out and it was the greatest time to be young and bold at the end of summer in Buenos Aires.
For it was not just the appeal of the orchestra which led many to the gigantic dance floors, but the call of nature for men and women to openly seek each other out, free of the traditional codes of conduct otherwise imposed by a zealous society. Carnaval was the time when eyes were the first contact to acknowledge each other’s presence, to encourage the shy to be daring, to reassure the undecided to take a chance, to openly express the feeling of attraction. For four crazy days, codes and protocols were set aside. Four crazy days that invited one to live. It was time for fun, joy and romance to the sounds of the Tango.
The same Tango we dance and love today, thousands of miles away from the source, in our adopted American homeland. The same Tango that, because of early Hollywood types like Rudolph Valentino, symbols like the rose between the teeth, and the staged choreographies of Tango shows for export, seems to be muffled by a chatter of false pretenses and corny cliches.
So, I never dreamed that in the first carnaval of the twenty-first century, our journey through the Tango life would lead us to a city where the spirit of carnaval, according to spotty records, seems to date back to 1781.
That New Orleans, the Crescent City, is part of the United States baffles a visitor's mind. Long after the city was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase, traces of nobility, aristocracy and the diversity of races, languages and cultural traits seem to preserve the rituals of celebration of the greatest free show on earth. They call it Mardi Gras, but it is carnaval minus Tango. Or so it was until now.