” Volver con la frente marchita
Las nieves del tiempo platearon mi sien
Sentir que es un soplo la vida
Que veinte años no es nada
Que febril la mirada, errante en las sombras
Te busca y te nombra”
When I opened the car door, the elderly taxi driver wearing the obligatory anti-Covid mask greeted me with excessive French courtesy and asked me where I wanted to go. “1 Allée Francisco Ponzan Vidal” I replied, and noting that he looked a little perplexed, I wanted to add some clarification: “I am looking for the statue of a Tango singer famous in my country around the whole world …”.
I was about to say the person’s name when the driver interjected “…then you are looking for the statue of Carlos Gardel, son of our city, who left here with his mother for Argentina and became the most important voice of Tango of all time. We can also go by his house if you’d like.”
And so the taxi driver, proud of the French “Gardel de Toulouse”, just as taxi drivers in Buenos Aires must be proud of the Argentinian “Gardel de Buenos Aires”, drove me first in front of the house where Gardel lived the first two years of his life, and then to Pierre Baudais park where he ended the tour by saying: “There at the entrance, there is “your” Gardel who is also “ours” .
No one contests that it was In Toulouse that “el morocho del Abasto“ was born, here in the Pink City of southern France, named this way for the color that stains its brick buildings at sunset. However, his exact place of birth is not entirely agreed upon. On the front of the house at 4, rue du Canon d’Arcole is a plaque that states affirmitavely: “It was in this building on December 11, 1890, that Charles Romuald Gardes, who would become famous throughout the world as Carlos Gardel, was born”. However, a birth certificate discovered several years ago confirms that the birth of “El Zorzal Criollo” on December 11, 1890 occurred at the Hospital of Saint Joseph de la Grave in Toulouse. Carlos Gardel Garonne Toulouse
The flow of people down Boulevard Lascrosses is steady where the statue of “Carlitos”, the work of Sébastien Langloÿs, stands elegant and smiling, watching the anonymous passers-by. In his left hand, like a magician, he holds a pair of tango dancers, and in the right, his hat. A Croatian family stops to look at him, and the blond daughter poses with Gardel, who for a moment seems to smile even more. When asked if she knew who he was, she shakes her head, apologizes, and quickly walks away.
Berthe Gardes, Gardel’s mother, was expelled from her family for being a single mother, an unforgivable sin in her time. She lived two years with her little son at 4, rue du Canon d’Arcole before deciding to leave France in search of a new life in the promising New World.
I walk down towards the Garonne river where the sun is performing its daily ritual that gives the city its name, illuminating the brick buildings with pink color as it sets. I wonder if Berthe Gardes, in sadness and loneliness, also contemplated these sunsets, trying to regain hope and dreaming of a new life next to another river at the other end of the world. And so the Garonne river was the first Gardel river destined to be lost forever, and it was able to survive for only a moment in the other great river, Rio de la Plata, that protects Buenos Aires and that turned its life and voice into the myth of “El Zorzal Criollo or “El Mago”. Berthe Gardes was in Toulouse when “Carlitos” became eternal, and perhaps on the very banks of the Garonne he consoled her again against the heartbreaking sadness of the irreversible departure. Carlos Gardel Garonne Toulouse
Carlos Gardel was born in France, but he is Argentinian. He had the Argentinian spirit– a spirit of solitude and sacrifice that so many of the European immigrants to Argentina brought with them. They came with the baggage of their pasts and the nostalgia for their homelands, but also their hope for a new life in the New World. This dramatic dichotomy is the source of much of the beauty of Argentinian spirit and culture. Gardel is the archetype of the “porteño” and “being Argentinian”. While many events and people in our history may divide us in our feelings, “Carlitos” is indisputable, and he unites and galvanizes us. “Carlitos” sings better every day …
Pablo Munini, Toulouse , July 2020