Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gardel Gets a Stamp; Chile Reprieves Bicycles


Yesterday, when I went to the post office to mail copies of Moon Handbooks Argentina and Moon Handbooks Buenos Aires to the winners of my recent contest, I also asked to purchase some stamps and was pleasantly surprised to find a commemorative sheet of “Latin Music Legends.” It included three US citizens (Tito Puente, Cuban-born Celia Cruz and the Texan Selena Quintanilla), but also two non-citizens: the flamboyant Brazilian samba singer Carmen Miranda and the suave Argentine tango master Carlos Gardel. San Diego artist Rafael López did the illustrations for the series.

Miranda, in fact, was a star in Hollywood, where she made more than a dozen films and became known for her outrageous fruit-covered hats - there’s even a Carmen Miranda Square at Hollywood Boulevard and Orange, across from the landmark Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Gardel’s stateside credentials, though, came more from his singing and his work in Spanish-language cinema in New York - while he went to Hollywood, his poor English-language skills prevented his crossing over in the way that Miranda managed. While he might have managed to improve, his 1936 death, at the age of 44 in a plane crash in Medellín, Colombia, ended any such hopes.

Gardel’s final post-mortem tour took him from Medellín to New York, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, where he now lies interred in the Cementerio de la Chacarita. Every day, hundreds of pilgrims pay tribute to him, leaving flowers at his crypt and even placing lighted cigarettes in the hand of his smiling statue. So devoted are the Gardelianos, his die-hard fans, that they cannot pass a day without listening to his recordings. While nobody believes that he’s still alive - unlike with Elvis, there are no Gardel sightings - everybody says “Gardel sings better every day.”

Whenever I’m traveling through the Southern Cone countries, Gardel is a presence on my iPod. I particularly look forward to “El Carretero,” an oxcart driver’s song that contains the couplet “salí de Montevideo, dirección a mi casa…” (“I left Montevideo, headed home…”). At home in California, for many years, we had our own Gardel, the name of our late Alaskan malamute. As we used to tell our Argentine friends and family, “Gardel barks better every day.”

Chilean Cycling Stays Legal
The preposterous project to limit bicycles to designated trails is dead. According to the online Santiago Times, the 12 UDI legislators who originally introduced the bill backed off in the face of vociferous opposition from cycling groups and others - not to mention the fact, as voiced by La Bicicleta Verde’s Mac Mitchell, that “The police don’t have the inclination or the time to enforce something like that.” In fact, if traffic safety is the issue, it would make more sense to tackle distracted drivers on cell phones than cyclists (unless, of course, those cyclists are also on cell phones).

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