by Alberto Paz As I write my piece for the cover story, about the five years of life of El Firulete, my heart is full of emotions as the memories flash by. I remember sitting at the controls of a radio station in 1991 in the middle of the night playing Tangos for an invisible audience and I'm focusing on three specific instances that would influence the birth of El Firulete three years later.
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First, it was a phone call commenting on some sort of Tango activity at Stanford University. Great I thought, hoping that I would get more information. It would be great to have the only Tango program in the United States being associated with the academic world.
Second, it was another phone call this time announcing the unexpected death of Raul Dinzelbacher on the grounds of Stanford University. I had known Raul and his wife and dance partner Nora only briefly when we hired them to dance for a fund raising festival we had produced with a group of Argentinos in San Jose (Roberto Forte, Alex and Beatrix Tagle, who to this day are subscribers to El Firulete) the year before.
Third, it was meeting Acho Manzi, son of the great Argentine Tango poet Homero Manzi, who had walked into the radio station after somebody called him to tell him that some guy was doing a special segment dedicated to your father.
I never received any acknowledgment from Stanford University; I came to know Nora better when I hired her Argentina Folk Ballet for a couple of functions at the Patio Español dedicated to promote my radio program; Acho and I became very good friends.
When I decided to find out the nature of Stanford University Tango Week in 1994, I was part of the paying public who was allowed to participate only at the Thursday night concert and exhibition. By then, the radio program no longer existed and my life had been torn by a series of unfortunate bad choices in relationships. I remember how out of place I felt nodding out at a lengthy Piazzolla recital by an orchestra that the mild and mellow announcer kept calling a band. On the way out, an old timer raised on the tough streets of Avellaneda in Argentina quipped, you should have broadcast this as the Prozac Tango Club. Shame on you, I said, at least the gringos do something. What do we do but bitch and bitch from the sidelines.
Criticizing and bad mouthing has always been a pastime for the “superior” mind of some compatriots who know better, but do nothing to contribute to the experiences of their cultural heritage in our adopted society. I was on my way to becoming one more of them: bitter, envious, excluded. That was when I put on my thinking hat and came up with the concept of not just a publication about Tango, but The Argentine Tango Newsletter. Julio Sosa was singing on the stereo, who has told you kiddo that the times of the firulete are over... and the rest is history.
The Bay Area was absorbed by the Tango dance and I began to learn about Tango dance and in the process I learned about Tango. In the end I learned about the effects of shining the light of knowledge and experience over the murky darkness of ignorance and deceit. It would be self-aggrandizing to say that I have made a major contribution in shaping the world of Argentine Tango in this country, even it was a fair thing to say. Many of you, my dear friends have expressed your appreciation and your recognition in many different ways, and for that I’m grateful and proud we have crossed paths, although at times I have not looked at this as being the most important reward. Born and raised in a society where people need to be constantly proving that they are honest and continuously seeking the approval and validation of the figures of authority, I had trouble first, and finally learned to live with, and eventually laughed at the reactions that the publication of El Firulete provoked on my perceived “figures of authority in the tango community.”
Who translates to English for you? was Acho Manzi’s first form of admiration for the material evidence of an unfulfilled dream he also had. What kind of computer, what kind program, what type of printer, were the embarrassing questions of a long time tanguera who considered herself beaten to the finish line in her imaginary race in pursuit of her own literary ambitions. I’d love to help you with the design if you would come and stay with me, suggested another tanguera, unaware that by then “esa gringa rubia” as she later disdainfully called her, had relocated to the West coast. Rather than success, the wrath of a spurned person bred one of El Firulete's several imitations.
I have chosen along these five years to try to look ahead and not give these dubious forms of flattery any public recognition, but I’m bending the rules this time because as we celebrate Valorie’s birthday, the five years of El Firulete and four years of our association, I’m reading this message sent by another friend.
Alberto, you have been in our thoughts for the last week or two. A student of ours showed us the crap some coward has been circulating about you. I am shocked and saddened how people misuse the power and anonymity of the Internet, well, maybe not shocked, not much shocks me anymore. What a cruel and cowardly thing to do. I would say not to take it too personally but that would be a light handed response to a very personal attack. But how else can you respond to such an anonymous attack. We also have learned how petty, vicious, and stupid some people will act, just not as publicly. I hope you can hold up your head and let the strength of your character get you through this. Hopefully knowing your friends are behind you and that this type of anonymous accusations don’t hold much water will help.
I appreciate the thoughts and I’ll go on dancing and celebrating so you can enjoy this issue of El Firulete. There was a toad who half-sunken in mud, was trapping glow-worms that were flying by, and spitting them out. When asked why it was killing them, it answered, because they shine too much.