Daniel Beller

The old time, a stimulating appetizer

he first twenty years of the last century, as shown in the publications of the period, evidence the breakneck pace change in the Buenos Aires society.

Basically, we, the human beings that inhabit this openmouthed city have changed in these last hundred years very little. Although the Queen of the Plate has grown in giant steps, old copies of publications like “Caras y Caretas”, “PBT” or “Fray Mocho”, demonstrate that we, the Buenos Aires inhabitants, keep our passions, our interests and the love, in general, for the same things.

Back in 1903, for the joy of our ears, nothing better than a new marvel came: the talking machine. The “Monarch” gramophones promised “the theater at home". Enrique Lepage & Co., located on 375 Bolívar street, offered disc gramophones. The repertoire was mainly classical music and either the discs or the machines were imported.

Enrico Caruso was the king of gramophone. His voice was in good terms with those archaic “Gramophone” recordings on a single side. There were also recordings of Spanish bands, military bands and those by the king of the genre, John Philip Sousa, imported from the United States and recorded, for example, by the Columbia Band.

Medicine was different. The drugs and the methodology would be arguable today, but in those old times, for a stomachache “Gibson Pepto-cocaine” was prescribed, an exclusive product of the pharmacy and drugstore run by Diego Gibson. For all type of pains “Pond Extract” was prescribed, a product made of vegetables.

But contrarily to what happens today, there were miracles: Timoteo Luján had been paralyzed for three years but when he put on doctor Sanden's girdle he felt like a new person. If pottages and miraculous ointments didn't make any effect, for the sum of 150 pesos (of that time) the Cochería Artayeta on 1150 Bartolomé Mitre St. offered a funeral service with four horses, a driver, a casket simulating ebony with lead and brass handles and other trifles, plus obituary ads in the papers “El Diario” and “El País.”

In 1911 the Doctor Umbach's electric girdles “Vigor Nro.10” were in vogue. There were also electric plasters and ointments that promised a Samson-like hair for those who suffered of premature baldness. What would the today fans of body fitness -that undergo laser treatments to eliminate their body hair- say when seeing the remedies of then that promised “mustaches to fifteen-year-old kids.”

And not only the medicines were miraculous: the “Manchester” fluid finished with bugs, the ethylene gas lit the streets, Fernet-Branca improved our digestion and the Bayer Aspirin pills were good for headaches. And against rodents: Ratox.

The first fifteen years of the last century, seen through the eyeglasses of those magazines —today true relics—, by the music and the advertisements of the time, reflect the move of a colonial Buenos Aires, with its European tastes, to a Buenos Aires society that was shaping its music and cultural identity.

The phonographs would change the operatic music and the marches for other sounds, identified with the city and its people. The 10s and the 20s, according to a musical point of view, are quite interesting: from the bands to the Típica Select orchestra; from the tenors to “Mi noche triste”; from the Buenos Aires Police Band with “Echale Bufach al catre” (Sprinkle Bufach on the cot) to Arolas's “Marrón glace”.

The quantity of graphic and sound material of those years is enormous and we still have very much to research and to restore. This, friends, it's the old time, an appetizer, that stimulates and agrees with your stomach.