Saturday, May 30, 2015

Café Domínguez

Ángel D'Agostino's Café Domínguez from 1955 is among my favorite tangos. It's one of those rare pieces that feature a poem that is recited rather than sung.

I find it challenging to construct a tanda around Café Domínguez. The overwhelming majority of DJs I know play it together with Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas songs like Tres esquinas from the early 1940s. These are truly great and thematically fitting songs and dancers are used to hear them together, but in my opinion the sound and emotional fit is not the best and the pairing of Café Domínguez with earlier Vargas is rather the result of the difficulty of finding other danceable D'Agostino pieces of the same caliber from his later period. When I hear a tanda starting with Café Domínguez my heart bleeds a bit - I love the song but I wonder what the DJ is going to play afterwards, and it's difficult to choose the right partner if I can't guess where the tanda is going (and from Café Domínguez most roads lead downwards in one way or another). When a beautiful tanda with Vargas ends with Café Domínguez, my heart also bleeds a bit - I love the song, but I have a very special place in my heart for Vargas whose voice puts me in a distinct emotional mood and way of dancing. Sometimes it is good to be pulled out from such trance by a more forceful last song, but I'm not sure this is an exemplary case, for me anyway. I have some solutions to this problem although I'm not perfectly happy with either of them.

But this post is rather about Café Domínguez itself. The poem recited by Julián Centeya tells the story of a café on the old Corrientes street, a café that played a certain importance, a café that is no more.

Café Dominguez de la vieja calle Corrientes
que ya no queda.
Café del cuarteto bravo de Graciano de Leone,
a tus mesas caian Pirincho, Arola, Firpo y Pacho
a escuchar tus tangos
era el iman que atraía
como el alcohol atrae a los borrachos.
Café Dominguez de la vieja calle Corrientes
que ya no queda.

There are many tango stories relating to this café, most notably those of Paquita Bernardo, the "first female bandoneonist". Centeya's recital mentions its association with Graciano de Leone, Pirincho (a.k.a Francisco Canaro),  Héctor María Artola, Roberto Firpo, and Juan Maglio "Pacho". Its regulars must have felt amiss after its closure, if we are to believe the poet, Enrique Cadícamo, who was a close friend of Ángel D'Agostino, writing lyrics for many of his songs, including that of Tres esquinas (which incidentally also tells a story of another café).

Our distance in time, space, and culture doesn't really allow us to feel the sentiments these titans of tango embraced towards Corrientes 1537. We, however, all have our own Café Domínguez, and associating our own personal stories with the song can greatly enrich our experience of dancing to it.


My Café Domínguez was Eckermann Kávéház, once located within the Goethe Institute under Andrássy street 10 in Budapest. Many of my first experiences tied me there, romantic and professional, and I spent many-many years sitting in Café Eckermann over a bowl sized café au lait, reading and writing articles, having overheated political and philosophical discussions with friends, the editorial committee of our journal Szabad Változók, or just waiting for a special someone to bump into me there. When Eckermann finally closed I was among the last to leave, and when I walk nearby those memories still rush to me. So for many years when I danced to Café Domínguez I would hear something like this [sorry, in Hungarian]:

Az öreg Andrássy út Eckermann kávézója
Immár nincs többé.
Asztalaidnál dolgoztunk és bandáztunk,
Alapítottunk egyesületet, újságot, nyújtottunk kezet, váltottunk csókot,
Tányérból kanalaztuk a café au lait-t.
Ady hajlékában, Goethe árnyékában
Vártuk Európát, vártuk a szerelmet.
Az öreg Andrássy út Eckermann kávézója
Immár nincs többé.

A good while ago I created a version of Café Domínguez of Sexteto Milonguero where, instead of Cadícamo's poem, one hears this Hungarian rendition being recited. Being the traditionalist (and coward) I am, I only showed it to friends, and have not played it anywhere.


Fortunately there are more milonga organizers, teachers, and other afficionados in Budapest who actively add to and enrich our tango community than whose names I could list in a medium sized blog post. Many of them persist in the face of considerable difficulties and we owe them a great deal of gratitude. It's a common mistake to take their efforts and its fruits for granted, and it is easy to criticize certain decisions or solutions without appreciating the difficulties their alternatives would have presented. One then only realizes the true value of these enterprises when they are no more.

One such effort I felt particularly heroic in the past couple of years was spearheaded by Timi Zékány and Simon Kozma: they opened a place called Barrio del Tango, located under Nagymező street 66. It is already difficult to run a regular milonga or a dance school that focuses on teaching Argentine tango; but I feel Barrio was the first systematic effort to create a place in Budapest which is more than that. Timi and Simon established a space that is all about tango and its culture, where many different related activities can take place, one which we could even visit when there are no classes or other activities. On occasion I found myself sitting and working there alone (with Luca, who also worked there briefly), sipping an orange juice, enjoying the aura that was constantly improved with much care and love. They lived in it and they lived for it. And, meanwhile, they helped bringing and integrating a new generation of tango dancers into our community.

Barrio del Tango of Nagymező street, like Café Domínguez of calle Corrientes, is no more. Upon hearing the sad news I decided to honor them with a special dedicated tanda which I played during their last milonga. The last song of the tanda was a newly created version of Café Domínguez, now with a Hungarian recital that both follows the original and fits our shared memories of Barrio, to be played on this occasion only.

Barrio del Tangó az öreg Nagymező utcából
Immár nincs többé.
Barrio -- asztalaidnál tanultunk és táncoltunk,
Szemeztünk és öleltünk, nyújtottunk kezet, váltottunk csókot.
Tangód volt a mágnes, mely vonzott,
Ahogy az alkohol vonzza a korhelyt.
Barrio del Tangó az öreg Nagymező utcából
Immár nincs többé.

Here is a video I made from the song using photos from their FB page (hopefully with the permission of their rightful owners):

Timi, Simon, Éva, Endre, Marcsi, Jani, Amper, Luca, Ramóna, and many others: thank you!


Lastly, for completeness, here is the original poem by Enrique Cadícamo:

Estaba en la antigua calle Corrientes
cuando era angosta y la gente
se saludaba de vereda en vereda.

Café con el cuarteto de Firpo
o de Graciano De Leone,
donde caia el tano Pascual
a escuchar sus tangos
por que en el fondo
era un gringo malevo y sentimental.

Rebotaban en tu paredes
los tangos de Firpo
y los de Graciano:
tierra negra,
el pillete
o un lamento.
Era el iman que atraia
como el alcohol a los borrachos.
A tus mesas caian
Pirincho, Noli y Pacho...

Cafe Dominguez
de la antigua Corrientes
de cuando era angosta y su gente
se saludaba de vereda en vereda. 

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