José María Otero

La sanata, a legendary story

anata is a word that Enrique Santos Discépolo came up with off the top of his head. It was born in the coterie they had on Rioja Street between Inclán and Salcedo when he lived with his brother Armando (11 years his senior) and his brother’s wife, after his mother’s death.

They used to meet at his home or across the street, in the sculptor Abraham Vigo’s house. They were several intellectuals like Agustín Riganelli and Facio Hébecquer (sculptor-painter), José González Castillo, Quinquela Martín, Juan de Dios Filiberto, González Pacheco and others, under the sign of Kropotkin or Bakunin.

Enriquito was then fourteen and was thrilled of attending to that cultural source. Another attendant was a character called Zanata, a salesclerk, stout, with big hands, who was bewildered in that bohemian ambience where people discussed about art, painting, music, poetry... He never missed a session. And he always backed all the iniciatives. He was a good guy, according to Enrique, that for fear of making a mistake used to approve of everything and, sometimes, stuttered phrases without conclusion fading them due to lack of line of argument.

Probably Discepolín picked up zanateado from those reunions where he learned so much. On occasions a woman, rather eccentric, known as La Circasiana used to go there. Zanata met her at Facio Hébecquer’s atelier, like the others did, but he deeply fell for her. In 1947 on Radio Belgrano Discépolo told this story to the audience and the end of this love drama: «Finally one evening Zanata did not turn up in our meeting. The truth was brought by dawn, unexpectedly, when no one was thinking of Zanata... ¡Poor fellow!... What an effort it might have been to put such a big finger on the trigger!...»

Osvaldo Miranda told me the second part of this story. It was a Sunday in the program he had with Osvaldo Papaleo on Radio Argentina from 8:00 to 12:30 am. The sanata king, Fidel Pintos, came that Sunday and throughout the program he was talking in the sanata way. We almost laughed ourselves to death. It was great. He had come to thank us because we had encouraged his son, a doctor, a great person. Osvaldo who also was in the program all that morning and told us a lot of stories, at a break for the news and commercials told me the story:

Discépolo was staging Wunder Bar at the Ópera. Because the play was set at a cabaret many artists worked parading in it. Due to that large number of players always one of them happened to be ill. So Enrique hurried to the Bar La Paz, barroom and tearoom, where the unemployed were waiting and got someone as substitute. One evening one player suddenly got ill. The latter had several dialogues with him which were rather long. He asked to a group at a table in the barroom and Fidel Pintos quickly volunteered.

«You have to memorize the part fast» Enrique urged him because they were about to begin. Fidel was moneyless then and with conviction he replied: «I know it by heart, don’t worry...», and they sped up to the theater.

At the time of the dialogue Fidel began to sanatear. He said a portion of the phrase and the rest of it he murmurred it —as did the character played by Porcel in the movie El gordo Villanueva: «Doctor bbbgggzzzññ of the Nation». And Enrique onstage, looking him in the eyes, in a low voice told him: «Huyyyy... you’re zapateando...», remembering that suicider of the story.

And on those circumstances, unthinkingly, he coined a term so extremely porteño —that with the passing of time would change into sanata with s— which Fidel Pintos, master of murmur and improvisation exploited like no one else with that huge talent he had.