Joaquín from California

(“…que bien se baila sobre la tierra firme…”)¹

Short story by Ramiro Gigliotti, published in the Argentine magazine Tangauta 183, December 2009


Joaquín de California, the actor all the women adored arrived in Buenos Aires one cold morning in 1954 trying to remain as incognito as possible. Immediately he penetrated the streets of the harbor and entered a sad guesthouse with damp mattresses and light bulbs on wires.

He had been sent to learn to dance the tango and to get to know the world of the arrabales ² at first hand. It was important to stay undercover to ensure that his international reputation would not ruin his mission. For this reason during the first days of his stay, Joaquín would hardly leave his room. When he did, he would take every precaution to vanish behind the thick lapels of his coat and to hide under the shadow thrown on his forehead by the brim of his blue hat.

As days went by, he realized that nobody recognized him, even if he renounced all the precautions: it was rather unimaginable that you would meet the ultimate US movie star on Chacabuco Street. The great Joaquín de California, the latin hero who had conquered Hollywood, the undisputed recipient of the sighs of the female public, was rudely ignored on the sidewalks of San Telmo.

One month after his arrival, he received the first telegram from Paramount. The company wanted to know how things were going, if he had learned the basics of the dance and was in condition to return to Hollywood to start with the shooting of Blood, Sweat and Tango. He replied that he had progressed a lot, that tango was complicated and that he therefore needed more time.

When he received the second telegram, clearly expressing a good deal of concern, Joaquín de California was already known in the scene: His American way of walking distinguished him from everybody else when he danced the milonga. Every night he went out dancing and every afternoon he took classes at the Gaeta Academy. Tango and its shadows captivated him so much that at a certain point he completely forgot why he had come to Buenos Aires in the first place and without realizing it he had started to imitate the Porteños ³: he had begun to change his accent, to walk with his chest inflated and had learned how to look around with disdain.

One afternoon at the exit of the Hipódromo racecourse he saw his photo on the front page of an entertainment guide. In large print he read: “The tragic end of Joaquín de California”. Filled with curiosity and amusement he bought the magazine and started to flick through it in the tram. The article contained a generous story of his career. Regarding his mysterious disappearance, it outlined three evenly dark hypotheses about the “sad end of the beloved actor”. In a little sidebox one of Paramount’s directors declared he was dismayed and prayed that the rumors of Joaquín being murdered in a cowardly fashion would not be sustained.

Joaquín entered his room with a dry throat and feeling strange. He opened up the drawer of his bedside table and took out the telegrams that he had never answered. There were six of them.

Nothing more was ever heard of Joaquín. The owner of the guesthouse said that the four fellows who had come to seek him out were huge and did not speak Spanish. It seemed to him that they spoke English, but he was not sure at all.

That same year Blood, Sweat and Tango premiered, featuring the great Tyrone Power.


1. “How well one dances on firm land”: tango by Lucio Demare with lyrics by Homero Manzi that paints the emotional struggle between the tango fulfilling the need for love on solid ground and the call of the sea
2. “Arrabales”: poor neighborhoods of Buenos Aires
3. “Porteños”: Inhabitants of the city of Buenos Aires