José Pedro Aresi

The Vitrolera

o be coherent with myself, I pretend to photograph a postcard of my days as a kid and that, in a way, has to do with that which yesterdays we did outside our home. When I recall it, everything has your smell, my neighborhood!

On the west corner of Rivadavia and Fonrouge was located “El Record”, a café with “vitrolera”. On the southwest angle of the local there was a towering stage, where during the day you could see a silent Victrola and an empty chair. Almost below that place, the “billiards tables” began to be lined. The rest of the local was occupied by the traditional café tables, on which several coffee-cups and an ashtray were the privileged witnesses of a straight flush, of a “full house”, a “four of a kind” or a “generala” (five of a kind) that, sometimes, dosed on the wooden surface hurt by the incessant sound of dice upon it.

When the night came, “El Record” changed its look. The window curtains were drawn and the stage was occupied by the “vitrolera”. Seated by the side of the novel instrument, she crossed her beautiful legs, allowing us to see more than usual and less than what everybody wanted to see. It was the time of the old shellac 78 rpm records with only a number per side. The records were played on the turntable of the “vitrola” due to a mechanical device called “spring”. Rotating a crank several times, the mechanical spring was tightly drawn and later, when taking out the brake to the turntable, the record started to revolve and a chromium-plated “pickup”, with a round membrane and a steel stylus at its end, played back the voice. No electricity at all, it was mechanical!

When the night at the café was invaded by the ever-charming “vitrolera”, billiards, dice and domino, became a mere excuse to alleviate the tension that the woman woke up. She, pretending not to realize the situation, used to read a magazine, while a tango tune was played on the “vitrola”; but when the time came of playing the other side or changing the record, the woman —quite intentionally— moved her sensual body so as to stir up the patrons’ desire.

The window curtains drawn, prevented people to see —from outside— what was going on within the local. The ritual mystery that the café seemed to represent, gave way to the fantasy of the “kids” that used to meet on the next side of the street, waiting for the time someone opened the door or that a condescending patron lifted —as if it were unintentionally— one end of the curtain, to then watch the “vitrolera” with her legs crossed and her insinuating figure; immersed in that underworld, a mixture of sensuality, cigarette smoke and alcohol vapors.

(*) The name “victrola” was given to a talking machine that played back the voice recorded on lacquered discs and which was manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Co. of the United States of America.- “Vitrola” is a linguistic deviation of the original name and the woman who played it at the cafés was known as "vitrolera".