Néstor Pinsón

A tango piece with history and career: “Se fue Mateo”

hen we bury ourselves in the task of researching about tango titles and lyrics, in some of them we find an interesting outline of the history of our city from the late years of the nineteenth century to the present in which there could not be omitted the names of neighborhoods and streets of Buenos Aires.

As an example of it we shall refer to a tango number committed to disc by Carlos Gardel in 1926 which mentions two streets and also the title of a theater play by Armando Discépolo: Mateo. We are talking about “Se fue Mateo” which was premiered in the musical “The Cataluña’s girls” in 1923 by the Singer Francisco Spaventa.

¿Te acordás de las mujeres
que paseaste por Florida…
(Do you remember the girls you walked with along Florida Street?…)

And later he says:

¿Te acordás por Pellegrini
las pebetas que llevaste?…
(Do you remember the gals you drove along Pellegrini Street?...)

The name Mateo became so popular among people –either in theater or in the movies- that quite soon coachmen were called by that name which, in fact in the play, was the horse’s name (a nag overwhelmed like its owner, the coachman). At the beginning the cart drivers were annoyed because they regarded that name as an insult. I experienced that when I was a kid. In the late 40s I shouted to one of them and the old man threatened me with his whip. It happened on San Luis Street near Pueyrredón Avenue. But, besides being harassed, they feared the possibility –which was then very near- of becoming jobless. Progress, with the combustion engine, was replacing animal-drawn vehicles.

Its music was composed by Antonio De Bassi and its words belong to two theater playwrights fairly prolific such as Alfredo Bertonasco and Carlos Ossorio, authors of other tango pieces, even though the latter is not filed in the SADAIC record.

Calle Florida
It was the downtown chic street with a long history. But progress brought a change in customs and it, gradually, was becoming a commercial street and losing its aristocratic air. It was mentioned, a few years after the foundation in 1580, as a narrow street near the Cabildo. In 1734 it was known as San José. In 1784 it was paved with cobblestones and, popularly, it was called calle del Correo (Post Office Street) and also, calle del Empedrado (Cobblestoned Street, which was the first in the city). After the British invasions it was named Unquera, name of a Navy aide-de-camp dead in combat. In 1821 it was De La Florida, later Perú and, by an ordinance in 1857 it was finally Florida. In 1913, on request of the merchants, a municipal ordinance made that several of its blocks became pedestrian. It runs from north to south and today it is a completely pedestrian street; Maipú Street runs along its west side and San Martín Street, along its east side. It is eleven blocks long, from 500 Rivadavia Street up to Plaza San Martín.

Its name comes from a battle in the Alto Perú (today Republic of Bolivia) that took place in the valley of La Florida on May 25, 1814 between the Spanish army headed by Colonel José Joaquín Blanco and the patriot troops led by Colonel Ignacio Warnes. The criollos won and, in a duel between the two leaders, the royalist was dead.

Calle Carlos Pellegrini
Parallel to Florida, but four blocks to the west, it joins —in a great portion of its length— the wide Nueve de Julio Avenue. In the eighteenth century it was San Cosme and San Julián. In the following century it was named after Ribas, second lieutenant who died in combat in the British invasions. At the time of Rivadavia, in 1822, when the Spanish names were replaced it was called De las Artes. A great number of silversmiths and harness makers placed their workshops and trading locals there. By ordinance dated on June 18, 1907 and, less than a year after Pellegrini’s death, the street is named after this well-known character who, due to the resignation of the President Juárez Celman, took over the presidency of the nation in 1890.

Pellegrini was public translator, military, lawyer, journalist of the La Prensa paper, provincial and national deputy, governor of the province of Buenos Aires for a short time, minister of war and Navy minister in the government of Nicolás Avellaneda, national senator, one of the promoters in the creation of the Jockey Club and founder of the Unión Industrial (the headquarters building of this institution is named after him). His remains rest in the Cemetery of La Recoleta, at that time known as Cementerio del Norte.

In sum, the title of a tango piece led us to a short summary of our history and of two streets of the old Buenos Aires.