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Crónicas
Tango, life's game.
  
Ehe thematic universe that dwells in tango lyrics is very rich and varied -mother ("la vieja"), neighborhood, women ("las minas"), horse-races ("los burros"), friends, the sea, carnival-, are some examples of this gallery.

Paul Cezanne, "The Card Players" (1890-1892)

Paul Cezanne, "The Card Players" (1890-1892).

However, there is a theme that fascinates me because of the many aspects involved: gambling.

A recurrent topic in tango lyrics, used to describe and portrait habits and characters, establishing contradicting values, positive and negative, but in many cases trying a treatment that deals with existential and ideological aspects of the human being.

La peca, el escolaso, la timba, la carpeta are some of the many names that tango poetry utilizes as synonyms of the term.

Some times gambling is part of a portrait of typical regional manners and in that sense Discépolo in "Cafetín de Buenos Aires" cites it, where the café is "como una escuela de todas las cosas" (like a school of everything), where "filosofía, dados, timba..."(philosophy, dice, gambling) are learnt.

Another example, "Un boliche", by Tito Cabano, which describing the life at a café, tells us:

"Una partida de tute
entre cuatro veteranos
que entre naipes y toscanos
despilfarran su pensión."

Quite a painting.

Or when the profile of a character is detailed, at the tango "Por seguidora y por fiel", by Celedonio Flores.

"Tenorio del suburbio que se ha engrupido
que por él las pebetas viven chaladas
y alardea de triunfos que ha conseguido
con mujeres, en timbas y puñaladas."

Other times the subject is developed, emphasizing the negative value, where Celedonio himself tells us in "Mala entraña":

"Malandrín de la carpeta
te timbeaste de un biabazo
el caudal con que tu vieja
pudo vivir todo un mes."

Manuel Romero does the same in his tango "Las vueltas de la vida" by telling us "la timba más tarde me tuvo apurado / el juego es más perro que toda mujer.".

On many occasions, on the contrary, it is an icon of the value of experience and wisdom in life. The character describes himself as a canchero (sharp guy) and tells us: "en la timba soy ligero, yo nací pa'l escolaso" ("Pa' que sepan como soy", by Norberto Aroldi).

Or when the experienced narrator of "Muchacho"´s story-another one by El Negro Cele-, says: "que no sabés qué es secarse / en una timba y armarse / para volverse a meter.". The same value is stressed but, in this case, by opposition.

My major interest upon gambling and tango is to approach the existential and ideological aspects that constantly and with great depth appear in lyrics.

Alexis, the main character of Fyodor Dostoyevsky´s The gambler, is no other but its author himself, a compulsive gambler, who was unable to return to Russia due to his debts.

Like Alexis, the tango character thinks that of all the chances offered by life, only gambling gives him an opportunity. By being persuaded of this, he tells us:

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1821-1881
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1821-1881

"Y pensar que condenado
por la ley del escolaso
juego igual si el mismo mazo
me lo tiran otra vez."

("Escolaso", by Francisco García Jiménez).

We also have the other face of the coin, when the gambler bets his life, when he runs the risk. In this sense Abel Aznar´s verses are said in the tango "El último guapo": "Jugará con desprecio su vida / por el sol de un florido percal".

The most repeated image is referred to fatalism, to predetermined fate, so resulting that gambling and life are the same thing. "la vida es un mazo marcado / baraja los naipes la mano de Dios.", Homero Manzi in his unforgettable "Monte criollo". Or when García Jiménez confessed: "en el naipe del vivir, para ganar, primero perdí" ("Suerte loca").

Or when Héctor Marcó, in "Mis consejos", warns us: "la existencia es una rula con cien números de engaños" or Enrique Cadícamo in "Naipe": "ya lo dijo un viejo poeta:/muchachos que andan paseando/la vida es una carpeta".

An interesting aspect, is the obligation of betting between the good and the bad, of choosing, as the character in Celedonio Flores´s "Tengo miedo" teaches us:

"en la timba de la vida me planté con siete y medio
siendo la única parada de la vida que acerté
yo ya estaba en la pendiente de la ruina, sin remedio,
pero un día dije planto y ese día me planté."

Blaise Pascal, 1823-1862
Blaise Pascal, 1823-1862.

That man gives up spree, women and the lack of control of his life to return to his old mother. It would be an example of what Pascal tells us in his manuscript known as Pascal´s Bet. Where he chooses and bets on goodness as a value. At the game of believing or not believing in God, he bets on believing.

The same happens in the abovementioned Manzi´s "Monte criollo", where the character accepts God's existence and so he bets on believing, acknowledging that fate is in His hands: "baraja los naipes la mano de Dios."

A nice example of betting on good, but without exaggerations, is given by Mario Cecere in his milonga "Por culpa del escolaso", when his character confesses:

"Hoy le rajo al entrevero
de timbas y de paradas
minga de vida alocada,
ya no tira la carpeta;
una paica que me aquieta
acusa los beneficios
y sin hacer sacrificios,
cuando hay tornillo en invierno,
me tomo el sol de Palermo
de paso despunto el vicio."

And lastly, the warning for the inexperienced young man to be careful because: "burros, timbas y quinielas, / bailes, copas, damiselas / son placeres de ocasión" ("Mis consejos", by Héctor Marcó) is not missing..