It was because I have only written one ghost story that I was quite nervous about writing the chapter A Ghost Story in my forthcoming novel The Red Masks of Montevideo. In A Ghost Story, a rich couple, who live in the grandest building in Montevideo, The Palacio Salvo, come home one night after spending the day out on the town to dinner. After dinner, the man — Pablo Delgado, who enjoys music, puts on La Cumparsita in honour of its composer, one of Montevideo’s favourite sons, Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, who happened to have died that day:
Night had fallen by the time they got back to the Palacio Salvo. Juan, the negro concierge, welcomed them with some sad news:
“Did you hear, señor?” Juan said as they passed his small desk in the foyer, arm in arm.
“Hear what?” Delgado asked, only half paying attention.
“Gerardo Rodríguez has passed away.”
Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, the composer of La Cumparsita, had expired.
“I don’t know.”
They took the elevator to their apartment.
Nobody knew the energy contained within the foundations of the Palacio Salvo. The Café La Giralda — demolished to make way for Montevideo’s greatest Architectural accomplishment — held the ghosts of its past.
“Isn’t that a tragedy?” Delgado said to his wife as they entered the lift.
“I heard he was sick for a long time.”
And later, in another scene from the chapter:
“What are you doing, dear?” María asked her husband as he was bent down on one knee, going through all the records they owned, collected over the last decade: Bing Crosby, Mario Lanza, John McCormack, and Louis Armstrong were just some of the gramophone records the Delgados owned.
“Roberto Firpo… di Sarli… what’s this one… Juan d’Arienzo… Honey, where’s the Xavier Cugat record of La Cumparsita?”
“So that’s what you’re up to?”
“It was in here with the rest.”
“It should be there.”
The wealthy Delgados had over three-hundred records, many of them imports from Europe and the United States.
“Got it!” Delgado exclaimed. He took it out and placed it on the turntable.
“Where are you going?” María asked as he rushed off.
“For champagne.” In his hands were two glasses of the best chilled bubbly that money could buy, vintage 1926 Dom Pérignon, a drink Delgado had had in his possession for two years and had just been waiting for the right moment to open. “Here,” Delgado said as he handed his wife the drink, “this is for you.”
The music started. They drank another toast, this time in Rodríguez’s memory while dancing the two minutes of his 1916 classic.
As with Elvis’s death in 1977, the outpourings of sorrow that followed from the general public, in Uruguay — as well as in Argentina — in 1948, were similar. ‘Becho’, Rodríguez’s nickname, was a national hero, someone for the nation to be proud of, as he had brought Tango music to the world, putting Uruguay on the cultural map.