|Tango Week for milongueros
June 13-16, 2002
|"This music is the life of
the city, springing from the common people, associated with the
bohemian life-style, the shady world, heat, a smoky atmosphere, wine,
the commoner, the aristocracy, a more than 150 year-old companion, in
political, monarchial, republican, socialist, and democratic struggles."
As we walked through narrow alleys paved with cobblestones, Alex and Solange, continued to describe what we were about to hear as soon as we entered a small door carved at the foot of a hill. Little is known about the origin of this piece of poetry expressing pain, sadness, full of emotion, except that it was probably sung by slaves or sailors brought to shore by ships traveling across the oceans from remote continents.
We have heard similar claims in
Buenos Aires and in New Orleans, both port cities, both early colonies,
both cradles of tango and jazz respectively.
After having spent one week in Italy teaching at Villa La Rogaia in Umbria, it was time to get on the road, the railroad that is. The ride was wonderful, relaxing, and picturesque. The daylight finally turned to darkness around 10 PM, and by breakfast time, we were again speeding across the French countryside. In Paris, with four hours to spare, we had lunch near the Gare du Montparnasse, and wrote a whole bunch of postcards to our friends before boarding the high speed train to Lisbon.
The vineyards of Bordeaux flirted so briefly as the train sped by, with an invitation to degust the fermented elixir of its grapes to which we could only wave regrets. Our excitement for the days ahead had no point of reference, no prior experience to draw upon, and no knowledge of how the Portuguese approached the tango.
At over 200 m.p.h., seven unforgettable days were peeling from our eyes and lodging in our memory. The intensity of La Rogaia's days and nights, the warmth and scent from the good bye hugs still fresh in our bodies, and the exhilaration of having opened new eyes to the magical spell of our tango, made it very hard to imagine what lay ahead for us in the land of Vasco da Gama.
The sun had set once more and the
names on the billboards of the cities that were passing by the windows
indicated that we had left France and we were now traveling through
Spain. The topic of conversation at dinner time included which language
we would be using to teach in Portugal. A couple of days later we would
be standing up in front of fifty dancers, beginning our class in
English, Europe's second language, we had been told, only to be asked
politely if we could switch to Spanish, a language which lusitanos were
very familiar with.
We couldn't have imagined that
during the next seven days we would marvel at the hills and monuments
of a city built on the banks of the Tagus River.
We would swiftly be overtaken by
the care, love and respect that the Lisbon tangueros profess for the
cultural roots, and the people whose original image it reflects. We
quickly understand the meaning of saudade, an emotional state of being
nostalgic. We would be immersed in a love fest of embraces and
osculations. We would quickly learn to love the unique sounds of a
language which reads like Spanish, but sounds like a carioca bossa nova.
That night we would discover
another facet of Ale's artistic life. The Argentine expatriate, a
musician, modern dancer and Portugal's leading tango promoter, would be
the soul of the Barraca spinning music, arousing the crowd with the
beat he kept banging on a cow bell, and playing a composition of his
own to which the entire room would take to the floor and burst into a
spontaneous line dance.
Sorting out our way around laundry hanging from balcony to balcony across the narrow cobblestone streets, Alex said, "This music is the life of the city, springing from the common people, associated with the bohemian life-style, the shady world, heat, a smoky atmosphere, wine, the commoner, the aristocracy..."