By Concha Barrigos.


The secrets of Mexican singer Chavela Vargas for the past two weeks have been where she always wanted them to wind up - with her in singers' paradise - and all that exists now is speculation about the secret that she shared with Frida Kahlo, with whom she was rumored to have had a lesbian affair, why she distanced herself from her family and how she haggled with "damned death" during her many years of excesses, which included heavy drinking, hard partying and cigar smoking.

Two of her closest Spanish friends, Isabel Preysler and Elena Benarroch, remembered her on Sunday in remarks to Efe saying that they shared part of their lives with someone who had come from "a strange world" and "had never cried."

Preysler met her one day when Benarroch took her to eat lunch with with Vargas at the Students Residence in Madrid during the 1990s, and from that time on she enjoyed chatting with the singer in spots like Moncloa Palace, Benarroch's house, in her own house and various restaurants and "elegant" nightclubs in the Spanish capital, as Vargas herself recalled in her memoirs.

"She was a terrific woman who smiled from within herself ..., full of talent and sensitivity, intelligent and unconventional," Preysler said, adding that all those who had "the good fortune to be near her at any time" are sad because of her passing and miss her.

The friend of both ladies, Elena Benarroch, had her first contact with Vargas when Manuel Arroyo, the founder of the Turner publishing house, brought her from Mexico to the Sala Caracol in 1993.

She was, she said, a very special and complicated person, "with a strong character but with certain brilliant ideas that were disarming. She was a person full of life, of truths and very pleasant," said Benarroch, who was her hostess on several occasions when she visited Madrid.

On her last visit to the Spanish capital, when she heard Vargas perform at the recital she gave with flamenco singers Miguel Poveda and Martirio and dined with her and filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, Benarroch did not have the impression that it was any kind of farewell. "She was able to resuscitate herself as many times as she wanted," she joked lovingly.

But, nevertheless, this enchanting person, this "shaman" who claimed she had divined the precise moment of her death, had a few secrets that have followed her to the grave.

Her niece Yisela Avila Vargas has said since her death that she is not certain that her aunt would have wanted her ashes scattered on Chalchi Hill, near where she lived, and in the Huichole Indian community but rather would have wanted them thrown into the sea, "half in Veracruz, Mexico, and half in Guanacaste, Costa Rica," her native country.

Then, journalist Maria Cortina told her family that she "manipulated" Vargas to fly to Spain and, to cap it all off, the trip she made to Madrid from July 1-26 cost her her life.

Vargas had to be admitted to the La Princesa Hospital on July 10 for a cardiac arrhythmia caused by the "brutal weariness" brought about by her last concert on the 8th at the Students Residence.

She returned to Mexico on the 26th and four days later she had to be hospitalized in Cuernavaca for bronchial pneumonia, which she was unable to overcome.

Avila, who has questioned whether her doctor gave her permission to travel to Spain, had asked for a second autopsy but that exam could not be performed due to the "obstacle" of Cortina, Vargas's co-author on "Dos vidas necesito: Las verdades de Chavela," and because her remains had aleady been cremated.

Cortina responded publicly that it is not that she paid no attention to the demands of the family, but rather that the family did not contact her, adding that she is ready to satisfy them in what they are asking because the artist would have wanted it that way.

Amid the controversy, on Monday on her Web site the album entitled "La Chamana" will be made available, 43 songs performed by artists such as Miguel Poveda, Carla Morrison and Santiago Cruz.

On Sept. 1, most of them will pay tribute to the artist in Tepoztlan, in Morelos state, where she lived, and it is "likely" that at least a portion of her ashes will be scattered at the foot of Chalchi Hill. EFE