Written by Jon Racherbaumer
A Remembrance delivered by Jon Racherbaumer and Jessica Hack at the funeral of Alberto Paz, 15 February 2014
Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart at Sunderland in Buenos AIres
Although I’m not a tango dancer, all I now know about tango came from watching and talking with Alberto and Valorie. This knowledge was piecemeal and interpreted on the slant. Nevertheless, sometimes the perspective of an attentive bystander has its own merits, taken in from a calm distance. In a way, it’s as though one is looking on to what’s happening in the same sense we might imagine angels looking onto the human condition. And it’s from this vantage point that I want to say a few things about Alberto Paz.
What I admired most about Alberto was his single-minded fervor and dedication to tango. The passionate dream he shared with Valorie was to create a vital tango community in New Orleans, their adopted home.
Alberto’s vision was steadfast and ongoing and in this regard, he was a true American milonguero.
And to this let me add that, yes, he often seemed blunt and demanding. However, for the most part, it was in his nature to be a keen and ardent taskmaster. He could endlessly argue points finer than silken threads…or defend matters as deep and wide as the Sargasso Sea.
But what fueled these apparent excesses was his deep love of tango. And by the same token, this abiding love gave rise to unexpected and unaccountable bursts of generosity. I cannot count the number of times I witnessed his gentle kindnesses and good-natured humor.
When he was operating in full-tilt overdrive, these teeter-totter lifts and dips of extremes were amazing to observe. Yet all of it was worth it in the long run. And those who persevered and paid attention really learned and happily improved as dancers…and as human beings. Even if one didn’t fully attain what was expected of him or her, one appreciated how high bars can be set and how beautiful the art of tango can be.
This makes sense because Alberto had great teachers himself and was then inspired to responsibly carry on a tradition that included everything: the dynamics, the music, the history, and the poetry… Everything!
When I first saw Alberto and Valorie dancing together, all of these important aspects were on display.
I saw them interpreting the music they heard.
I recognized how they adored the pauses.
I marveled at how their movements achieved balance in their turns and leans.
Most of all, I witnessed how Alberto led Valorie to disclose her skills while minimizing his. (Which I later learned is the way to do it.) If the woman partner is made to look good, the dancing will look good…and Alberto and Valerie looked that good. It was a sight to behold.
From time to time, I thought that Alberto had a lover’s quarrel with the world of tango…. Again, this was probably due to his ardent and complicated temperament. He knew there would be disappointments—disappointments with others and disappointments with himself. But he always struggled with this aspect, knowing it came with the territory.
Nevertheless, he felt responsible and obliged to pay the dues of tango’s demands. This is why he put his heart and soul into it and gave it everything he had! Most of all, he was committed to being as good and true as possible rather than settling to merely look good and be false to one’s sacred ideals. This is also why he wanted every aspirant to love tango as much as he did. This is why he wanted to show us ways to the heart besides just ways to the feet.
He wanted the lyrics and the lyricism. He wanted it all.
Sometimes it’s the little things that gain access to our hearts. For example, I always adored the way Alberto pronounced “tango” with a short “a,” sounding it out as “tong-go.”
Whenever he said it, a glint sparked in his eyes—the pronunciation, respectful and loving, the equivalent of a kiss.
So it went.
And as mentioned earlier, Valorie Hart—his dedicated partner in living and loving–was the steadfast accomplice of their shared dream…in their dancing…and in their teaching. And both fully accepted the challenges and chances the Tango Life affords. Both were willing and able to move as one to its irresistible music and calling.
Uttering and hearing the words now being spoken and shared right now makes me realize how grief can paralyze people and make them feel helplessly unqualified to speak about abject losses and possible future gains.
Yet we try. We falter. We try again.
And this reminds me of two sentences that have always stuck with me:
“We enter this world alone. We leave it pretty much the same way, and in between, there is a dance we call life.”
Between Alberto’s entering and leaving this world, besides the love of his children and grandchild, two primary forces energized and inspired his soul: Valorie and Tango.
The cliché is that it takes two to tango and dancers who truly and deeply embrace this enchanting form look for signs to find their perfect partner. Well, Alberto discovered these signs when he found his precious Valorie. Together they profoundly embraced the art, striving to be exemplars as they taught and shared tango’s fierce and nourishing beauty.
When a soul as uniquely loved as Alberto disappears from our landscape, words cannot capture the sensations aroused by such an unexpected and abrupt disappearance. We are, after all, accustomed to the countless appearances and disappearances of persons sharing our daily lives.
They go. They return.
And if and when we are told that—“No! No! No! This time they’re really gone!”… We protest.
We protest because the spirit of this person, this presence, remains within us. And we have faith that this spiritual presence can be revived to sooth, console, and be with us in the here and now.
With this thought now fresh in our minds and hearts, for a precious moment, let us imagine and remember Alberto dancing and teaching students eager to understand the spirit of tango. Let us imagine and remember Alberto encouraging them to dance in the way it was meant to be.
Let us imagine and remember him dancing with Valorie…and as we do, imagine Alberto speaking these words:
They say there is a Paradise in Heaven, but does it matter? My wish is for one more joyful tango with my beloved Valorie in my arms. Let THIS be my Paradise!
And so it was.
And so it should always be.
posted by Valorie Hart
By Valorie Hart
Sometimes I feel like a pathetic zombie going through the motions of everyday life. I have panic attacks that come from Alberto simply not being here. Memories only go so far.
It’s funny how something can take center stage in your life. If you ever have had to be a caregiver for someone who is ill or in the hospital, the routine of that care takes over your life. When Alberto was in the hospital in Canada three years ago, I called the daily routine that evolved “hospital culture”. The same thing happened when I cared for my sister when she was hospitalized. Your life and schedule and vocabulary all revolve around doctors, tests, nurses, medications, care giving, the hospital cafeteria, and other families and patients you meet. At the end of very long days you collapse into worried half-sleep.
And so it goes with planning a funeral.
Amy Cunningham, a former magazine writer, is now a funeral director and writes about the industry on her blog, The Inspired Funeral. Photo by Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Like so many of us, Alberto and I casually talked about our wishes, but made no concrete plans. Don’t be quick to judge. Many people plan, but many do not.
So along with our dear friend Jessica, who was by my side the whole time, we were thrust into a whole new world of “funeral culture”. This was not totally unfamiliar. Sadly, I “buried” many dear friends at the height of the first casualties of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. I did my mother’s funeral along with my siblings nearly twenty years ago.
But this was so different. It was Alberto.
It all boiled down to things that seem grim. Where? Cremate? Bury? Embalm? Viewing? What kind of service?
I chose a family run funeral home in business for 140 years and steeped in the traditions of New Orleans. New Orleans is a place that has a unique bond with its dead. If ever an experience could be made”nice”, the gentle man who was my consultant made it so, and guided me with warmth, grace, humor, experience, and New Orleans charm. He loves his work, and this made the experience positive.
There were certain things I did not want. There were certain things I wanted. He never judged my choices, and made it all happen with the least amount of trouble for me. He was conscious of budget, always working it in my favor, never trying to up sell me.
I chose to have Alberto laid out for a viewing. His children had to come from far, and I wanted them to have closure in the most positive way. Embalming never renders a person looking their best. But Alberto looked more presentable than being seen by his children in a morgue-like setting many days after he died.
Once the children arrived, they got involved with the arrangements. It was very hard for them at first. They are young adults and have little or no experience with death. Again, our gentle consultant made their journey into “funeral culture” easier for them.
One of the things that I requested was to have Alberto’s whole body showing. He was a dancer, and I just could not abide one of those half casket things hiding his legs. His daughter hated the idea of renting a casket (we had opted for cremation, so one rents a casket for a viewing). As I said, I hated the idea of those tufted satin cookie cutter caskets that only opened half way. I asked about a plain, elegant wooden casket that could be opened fully. I wondered if the one used for cremation would be okay.
Our consultant was great, and referred us to a local abbey that makes lovely hand made wooden caskets. It looked like something that Alberto would have enjoyed making. He was able to be viewed wearing his signature red socks (and dance shoes) that he wore when we performed or when we taught workshops. I had his feet crossed at the ankles.
I also asked that only two spectacular and very large flower arrangements be displayed. I asked our friends Nancy and George Seegers at Tommy’s Flowers in the French Quarter to do them. There was a slide show of photos that his children and I chose over days and days of editing. The funeral industry is tech savvy now, and includes slide shows, and Internet legacy sites. I had recorded music of tango (the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugliese) playing during visitation.
After visitation the standing room only service took place in the simple, lovely chapel of the funeral home. The pallbearers consisted of Alberto’s son, and five other men who are friends from our tango life. The processional music was the tango “Recuerdos” (“Memories”) played by Osvaldo Pugliese. Pugliese was one of our favorite orchestras and was someone we revered, and loved to dance to.
Though we are Catholic, we are lapsed. I asked a minister who has a church on the corner near our house to do the service. He knows us as neighbors. He is Baptist, and he calls it preaching the service. And preach it he did. It was personal and dynamic and not all fire and brimstone and woe. It lifted everyone up. His wife and their children sang gospel. Two of our tango dancers who are glorious singers sang. One sang “Ave Maria” at the beginning, and another sang the aria from Madame Butterfly when the lovers say goodbye. Another dancer who is a beautiful singer had to cancel because tragically her own father died suddenly days before Alberto’s funeral. Jon (Jessica’s husband) and Jessica did the eulogy as partners, to emulate the partnership of Alberto and me. Some people got up to share a memory. Jon and Jessica also wrote Alberto’s obituary.
After the service, everyone came back to our home for what is called the repast here. Several tango ladies had all the food prepared and arranged. My sister and my dear friend Michael Pelkey had the house all ready and did all the serving and clean up. Michael also did some cooking.
I had Alberto’s favorite Jazz band come and play. In New Orleans there is the tradition of the second line at the funeral. A Jazz band walks from the church or funeral home to the cemetery in front (the first line) or behind the funeral car with the casket. The family and friends walk behind, forming the second line. The procession weaves its way through the neighborhood of the departed, stopping in front of places he/she frequented, and playing at each location for a few minutes.
We could not do this traditional second line, so I asked the musicians to play in front of our house. They played the very traditional “Just a Closer Walk to Thee”. Another dancer who is a beautiful singer sang the hymn. It’s played as a dirge first, and then segues into a joyous Jazz rendition. A crowd gathered, and some second line dancing broke out. Afterwards, the band came in the house and set up in the living room and blew the roof off the place. People danced in the room we used for private tango lessons. Alberto would have loved it.
I am sharing these details as usual to inspire you. It seems like there are going to be a lot of funerals on the horizon as we baby boomers write our last chapter.
There is an apropos article in the New York Times, called “The Rise of Back-to-the-Basics Funerals” by Susan Chumsky. It is interesting how I am drawn to reading about this now. A couple of very sweet girls left a gift on my doorstep. It was the book “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. Another friend had recommended it, but after checking it out on Amazon I felt too queasy to get it. I didn’t want to read about something so close to my fragile home. But once the book arrived on my doorstep I took a deep breath and ended up reading it in one setting.
I also have been reading a lot about the mourning customs of the Victorians, who made grief and mourning into an art form. Jessica gave his children and me beautiful antique Victorian mourning pins, and I have a black wreath on my door very much inspired by the Victorians. I had a Victorian style locket with Alberto’s photo and a lock of his hair in it made for Jessica. I also am strangely drawn to the beautiful blog “The Inspired Funeral.”
Mourning wreath on my front door
Why am I writing about this? Well, I am a writer. Most of these days are spent going through empty motions of “living”. I am starting to work again (a good thing). There are many chores and paperwork involved in this process that I numbly attend to. I often rush back to the house when I have to go out. It’s my haven, but then that haven becomes my torment as night falls. I miss Alberto so very much. I try to “do” things to distract my heartache and longing. Often I am rendered paralyzed and drained. If I am lucky I will lapse into a depressed state of sleep with a nap. I only sleep in segments.
Remember that Alberto pushed and encouraged me into writing my blog The Visual Vamp when I was depressed after Katrina. That blog has lead me to writing and design jobs I love to do, and to extraordinary friendships. Remember Alberto and I published and wrote our tango magazine El Firulete for many years. Remember we wrote a tango book (Gotta Tango) together, that was started before Katrina, interrupted by Katrina, and finished after, becoming a better book because of that interruption. Alberto encouraged me to write what became my first design book. So here I am again, using the blog to help me, using my creativity and the sweet memory of Alberto’s unconditional support to save me, and needing all of you to be my side in the hopes that we can share and inspire.
Here’s a link to Alberto and I dancing the tango Emancipacion played by the Osvaldo Puglies
It is with great sadness that I tell you that the love of my life Alberto passed away on February 3 in New Orleans. It was sudden. He was teaching a tango lesson in a dance studio and had a heart attack. I thank you all for the love and respect you have shown Alberto for these many past years. I hate to use a blog like this, but you have all been a big part of our lives and I thought you would like to know. I will let you all know the arrangements as they evolve. Pray for us. xo xo
Live from the tango belt
An original musical show by Alberto Paz and Valorie Hart
An original musical production conceived, written and directed by Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz for the Second New Orleans TangoFest, August 15-17, 2003 at the Doubletree Hotel in New Orleans, LA.
It is interesting to note that while Valorie and Alberto created the script and storyline and selected the music, they left it to each of the performers to interpret their presentations as they saw fit. This improvisational daring paid off in a spontaneous and surprising performance.
Valorie and Alberto set the bar high by having the performers dance to a live orchestra. For that, they hired a group of local musicians, the Orquesta Milonga, and coached them to acquire the authentic accent and phrasing, stylistic accuracy, spirit and passion we have come to associate with the sounds of the Argentine tango.
The film itself works on more than one level: one has a real sense of being part of the audience experiencing a live production. But with the interjection of early photo imagery, the film becomes an historical and entertaining entity in its own right.
The night Pugliese died
By Alberto Paz
July 25, 1995
Like the guy at the street corner or the next door neighbor, that’s how PUGLIESE was. But deep inside that slender figure, beyond the thickness of his myopic glasses, there was a volcano that erupted with his tangos.
OSVALDO PUGLIESE was a figure that showed the way to the modernism of tango without leaving the essential roots. In 1924 he created RECUERDO, a composition far advanced for his time. The dialogue of the bandoneons still today represents the pinnacle of tango interpretation. Then, NEGRACHA, MALANDRACA and LA YUMBA became a trilogy that opened the way for the vanguard tango.
The orchestra of the MAESTRO grew up in the sprawling neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Leaving behind the mud and pathways described by BARDI, COBIAN and AROLAS, PUGLIESE absorbed the pulse of the new city and began to foresee its future. In those new places, he discovered a new Argentina, with a violent rhythm, powerful like gun powder, with all the strength of an industrial revolution, OSVALDO PUGLIESE captured the mystery of the city into music and named it La Yumba.
La Yumba was a lyric poem that made people tremble with emotion as they saw themselves interpreted by the captivating melody. There was Yumba in the ecstasy of the public at every venue where the orchestra performed. Yumba was floating in the air when a labor dispute tore apart the city and PUGLIESE entered the Ford Motor Co. factory that had been taken by the workers, and embraced each one of them as a gesture of solidarity with his people.
PUGLIESE died tonight and there is Yumba in my heart and it pounds so hard that I can’t hold on to my tears and I can’t tell if the music is coming from the speakers or from my soul.
Suddenly, is LA BIANDUNGA, then EL PENSAMIENTO and now LA MARIPOSA. Was it just yesterday that very dearly I held against my heart a beautiful woman and with my eyes closed I went around the dance floor falling in love with every beat of a PUGLIESE tango?
Tonight she is far away, PUGLIESE is dead, I’m alone, unable to stop the wrinkled box lodged in the middle of my chest from sobbing and the sound of his music is tearing me apart.
Tango, your music hurts like a dagger in my chest, and yet, I love you!
The night we danced La Mariposa
July 28, 2013
New managers and the old Cumparsita
Since October 2012 we have been hosting a fourth Sunday of the month milonga at a very impressive restaurant overlooking the Mississippi river with a panoramic view of the city skyline. It is a very rare circumstance to find such a prime real estate for tango in a city that lives off tourism and dollars spent drinking and eating. The concept of well adjusted adults sipping cheap Cabernet and munching potato chips in between long periods of elegant dancing is not enticing for most public establishments in the city. So, we were very fortunate that the space in question was available on slow Sunday evenings. A wonderful owner made the whole difference allowing our dancers to feel welcome in a separate dance hall with very tall ceilings and gigantic windows.
The restaurant industry offers great mobility to people who choose to pursue careers in the field from managers to receptionists and waitstaff. We have had four different managers in the course of our six milongas since October 2012. As each new manager is hired there is a teaching moment they have to go through regarding the set up of the room, the placement of the DJ table, and how to provide table service without darting in and out of the dance floor. There is one especially important aspect of the revolving door managers that we have had to deal with on several occasions: handling closing time. Although the restaurant stays open past 10 pm, our milonga goes to 10 pm. We all agree that 10 pm means people no longer can expect to be seated and served, but every time a new manager walks in at a quarter to ten and begins to clear the tables, fold the chairs and remove the tablecloths while people are still dancing, we go through the same routineNew.
This is the opportunity for a teaching moment: explaining to quizzical eyes that the Argentine tango is a ritual that celebrates the culture and traditions of a far away city, and that we approach tango dancing with an understanding of how those traditions are adapted to our national, regional and local communities. We explain the concept of grouping the music in sets separated by a short interlude to allow people to take care of personal necessities, such as food, drinks and greetings. We also explain that the music is programmed to end very close to 10 pm, and that we make the announcement that the last set is about to play to give dancers an opportunity to chose who they want to share the last dances of the night with. Then, following a tradition common in the halls of Buenos Aires, we play as the very last song, a universally known tango called La cumparsita. That is the official end of the dance, and that is the time to start folding chairs, cleaning tables, and clearing the room. It is not very nice to start busing tables while the evening has not officially ended and people are still dancing.
For a month or two we enjoy a great evening end to end, until a new manager walks in at a quarter to ten, and another teaching moment is called for…
1. If and when the last set is announced, people know and may expect that there will be a last tango called La cumparsita.
2. While La cumparsita is playing, it’s not nice to start busing tables and moving chairs around those still dancing.
3. Wait till the song ends, people clap thanking the DJ, and the hosts thank those still present for their support.
4. Then have the bus crew move in.