José Pedro Aresi

Gardel, hard times and its memory

his is a story that comes to me, let us say, from my family. In it memories of my grandfather, my uncle, my Dad Enrique and their friends are gathered.

First of all, I want to say that already at the turn of the nineteen century my grandfather was the pizza supplier for the Mercado de Abasto area and that my uncle, like my mom, were born in front of that big emporium of many things, among others, employment.

By then the area was one of the most dangerous sites in the developing proletarian orb. Chronicles highlight –for example- that around 1901 Juan Carlos Argerich and José “Cielito” Traverso had a knife fight. My grandfather Pedro always tried to explain in his poor Spanish what he remembered of that fight. He used to say that they had fought for a question of money (“soldi”) and because Argerich did not accept to pay, “Cielito” murdered his debtor. And he added “O povera America li”, according to the phonetic version that my ears had kept and which I never understood, or in other words, if I understood I preferred to ignore.

My grandpa used to go to the O'Rondeman’s to drink his accustomed “Pineral”; a healthy habit that luckily his grandson inherited. The latter still today thanks his grandfather for having initiated him into the cult of worshipping the beverage manufactured by Pini Hermanos.

Some friends of my uncle’s, a bit older than he was and whom I came to know when they were around fifty years old, were at that time “movers” (their occupation was to move household goods from one residence to another). They never did without that black cummerbund around their waist. They were rather stout and, according to my Dad, those boys never feared a challenge.

They frequented the cheap barrooms near El Abasto, where they used to “suck” their little cup or cups. I don’t remember exactly the term. At the cheap restaurants they used to eat their big stews and “minestrunes” (soups).

One of them, the fair-haired Emilio, told us that he had been present the day Carlitos and the “Oriental” Razzano met at Gigena’s place on Guardia Vieja Street. The latter was a well-known street because my mother was born on it. “El Morocho” was then local because the other one was from Balvanera Sur, an area where, so they said, people was a bit more peaceful that those in El Abasto.

However, Emilio said, the day of the encounter most of the men present were armed. The first to sing was Razzano and as soon as he finished “El Morocho” stood up and shook hands with him. After that he turned round and told Emilio, who had followed him: “This guy really sings nice!”. Every time “El Rubio” recalled the “event” his voice trembled and he said something like this: “Carlitos was so great, but so great and so humble, so humble, that since he was a kid the greatest happiness for him was to be gentle with the people he liked”. And it was probably true because Emilio said it! Gardel sang later and the “Oriental” was so enthusiastic that the evening ended with everybody drinking wine, gin and mate. They said that days later the scene was repeated at “El Pelado”, a venue in Balvanera Sur, but this time Emilio was not there.

Another habitual visitor at the coterie was Primo Gómez. My uncle Luis, seated to drink a “Branca with soda”, said that the former was a friend of Gardel’s and he used to say that “by that time a young French boy roamed around El Abasto singing touching songs. He was a good-looking kid who wore short trousers and always evidenced a good temper”. Primo was son of the owner of the company which moved household goods where “El Rubio” worked. He also said that they, much later, had moved Gardel and his mother to a house on Jean Jaures Street”. He was very fond of Carlitos –so he used to call him- and the kid liked him too. All this was told by my uncle Luis, who had worked as fireman first and later as taxi driver.

I heard don Generoso Albi, an old man with much<