“Chihuahuas became fashionable in Hollywood thanks to Xavier Cugat”

“Chihuahuas became fashionable in Hollywood thanks to Xavier Cugat”

BarcelonaThe old Ritz Hotel in Barcelona was the last home of Xavier Cugat (1900-1990). The musician lived there from his return to Catalonia in 1978 until his death 12 years later. Cugat left his mark there, although not auditory, but visual: even now some of the caricatures he made cheaply still hang on some walls of one of the luxurious rooms of the current palace. You can see Charles Chaplin, Salvador Dali, Julio Iglesias – accompanied by his triplets – and also an athlete carrying the Olympic torch and chasing a laughing dog. “I'm sure Mariscal was inspired by this drawing to invent Cuban,” Jordi Ponti joked before sitting down and sharing a little bit of everything he learned during the decade he spent researching and writing about Cugat. Colored paper scrapsthe novel for which he won the 2024 Sant Jordi Prize. Ponti turns the life of this cosmopolitan Catalan – perceptive and sinister – into literature from the perspective of a journalist who knew him intimately.

Did you begin writing this novel with the hope of living in New York, like Xavier Cugat?

– The idea of ​​the Catalan departure has interested me for a long time. Lost bags (2010) actually had something to do with it. Cugat's case is even more extreme than that of that novel. He left Catalonia for Cuba at the age of five and did not live there again until 1978, when he was approaching eighty. In between, he spent several decades in the United States, especially in New York.

You ended up coming back long before he did.

– I went there in 2014 and was supposed to spend the whole year there: I was awarded a Coleman Scholarship and had an office in the New York Public Library, but in February 2015 my mother became very ill and I had to return some things. Months. Exceptionally, they extended my scholarship until the summer. I was supposed to stay longer, but I came back because I didn't want to leave my father here alone.

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writing Colored paper scraps It is characterized by the death of close people, right?

– Yes. During the writing process, my mother and father, and some very close friends, died, and we survived the epidemic… I also had an accident that put me in the operating room. Colored paper scraps It is a stubborn, survivor's novel. It was an exercise in faith in the story and, above all, in the two characters.

Equally important as the story's narrator is Xavier Cugat, a hundred-year-old entertainment journalist who remembers everything he has lived. He says: “The journalist is a professional outcast.”

– It is a phrase written by Josep Pla that has become his own. The journalist is in the middle of everything, and is never the protagonist. This is what happens to the book's narrator. If I wanted to move forward with my novel, I needed to find someone other than Cugat himself, who had already written about himself—inventing all that was necessary—in his memoirs. I am Kujat (1981).

Did you arrive at Cugat through music or personality?

Through these memoirs, which are like a novel. Years ago I was curious about this book, so I bought it second hand and discovered the character.

et al I chased Why write about it?

— During all this time I went through all possible stages in relation to Kogat. I learned to admire his music, and he awakened a great rejection in me as a person, and I tried to understand his relationships with women, and also paid attention to their releases.

Abby Lynn, who is still alive, went so far as to write a mysterious book about her ex-husband, But where is the love? It was published in 1993, shortly after his death.

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— Cugat had a domineering personality. He controlled the show, and at the same time he also wanted to control his women, who had been one of his workers all his life. When he met a woman, she was always very young: he married Abby Lynn when she was twenty and he was in his fifties. They joined the orchestra, and after a while, when they had some success, they left it. Cugat misrepresented this reality. He said: It is not that they left me, but I let them fly alone.

I devote wonderful pages to explaining what Cugat was able to convey with his orchestra.

– Before writing Colored paper scrapsWhat I know about his music takes me back because I associate it with elevator music andEasy listening, but then I started looking into what he was doing in the 1930s and 1940s, when he was performing nightly at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. When he adapted Cuban rhythms, he abandoned the violins and replaced them with congas güiros And maracas, his music made a clear leap in quality, without ceasing to be the music of the upper middle class.

For a time he conducted the orchestra with one hand and carried a Chihuahua in the other.

– Cugat was a great self-promoter. In today's world you will quickly adapt to the personal presentation that social media abounds with. He would definitely have someone on his payroll who would dedicate himself to creating content about him day and night. In the 1930s, he already felt that contact with the media was essential. At this point I compare him to Dali.

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Did you have to make an effort to limit the presence of Chihuahuas in the book?

— There's a moment when the narrator himself says, “If I could, I'd never talk about Chihuahuas again.” In the first scene of Colored paper scraps, Abby Lynn is fed up with her husband's dogs. The Chihuahua was part of Xavier Cugat's entrepreneurial vision. When he went to Mexico, he saw that it was popular there, and he and his brother Enrique invested in Chihuahua farms with the goal of spreading it in the United States.

They're gone…

– Chihuahuas became fashionable in Hollywood thanks to Xavier Cugat. It was one of the drivers of the commercial way of doing things. Success in music was not enough, you could do business in many ways: with cinema, with dogs… In fact, together with one of the other brothers, he created a business. a tool Which was a music box with a Chihuahua playing maracas. They were selling it, of course.

Almost everything Kojat touched turned into money. Sometimes you don't know if he's a genius or a fraud.

-He was one of those people who always knew how to get the best out of every moment and of themselves. Cugat believes that if he had to twist or change facts to get what he wanted, there would be no problem. Cugat was no bluff. He had great talent and creativity. What happens is that he came to exalt them through deception.

This is one aspect that should have caught your attention as a novelist.

Imagination is much more important than what we are told in our lives.

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