Pedro Colombo

Nocturno a mi barrio - “Pichuco”, a mythical trip (Towards the core of tango)

s it generally happens in the universal literature, the “trip” theme has an important place and prevailing meaning in tango poetry. From the initiation trip of the girl that fled from home and multiplies in recordings the delicate song about unrequited love (Pascual Contursi’s “Mi noche triste”) to the man who tries to put himself together after a lost love, fundamental theme of tango-song- and comes back to Paris, enticed by the affectionate invitation of “La morocha” or by the paternal, comforting –as well mythical- call by Carlos Gardel.

In itself, tango is a trip interwoven by the Homeric wish of “Volver” (coming back) and Penelope’s hope that he does so. Man (son) that is almost lost in the weariness of struggling “along the streets of life”. Woman (mother-wife) that is resolute about waiting, supposing that the “Casita de mis viejos” (parents’ home) is lovingly open to a welcome. There are trips that end half-way, like the ones of swallows (“Golondrinas”). Others have death as destination, either with the resignation of “Adiós muchachos” or with the disbelief of one who surrenders himself like in “Como abrazao a un rencor”.

Pichuco’s “self” quality
We shall “stop” today, paradoxically, at the “inner trip”. Within itself, a notable work is shown like a secluded island, remarkable as happy contingency. However, its construction, with reminiscences of the Italian “notturno” which evokes night, and now as romantic genre, with features of a singable melody and arpeggio accompaniment, (ideal for piano, but also for other instruments, like in this case: bandoneon and guitar), carries us to the very core of tango. It is the heart breaking “Nocturno a mi barrio”, a poem written, composed and said by Aníbal Troilo with music accompaniment.

It is likely to think that Pichuco’s musical aesthetics overshadows any other aspect of his art, comparable to Gardel’s as far as song is concerned; and associated to the ones by Homero Manzi and Cátulo Castillo we find a perfect musical-poetic conjunction. We tend to think that his personality, that leads and guides young talents, his bohemia, the composer’s nuance for eximious works like “Sur”, “Barrio de tango”, “Che bandoneón”, “A Homero”, “La última curda”, “Una canción”, “Desencuentro”, “Milonguero triste” and “Responso” would quench with their sparkles all the other pieces.

However, in a masterful artist such as Troilo, it is not possible just to suppose but you have to revalue everything because everything is Tango in him. So Edmundo Eichelbaum states, in the cover of an excellent biography: «Aníbal Troilo was born as tango. And he grew up in the neighborhood of El Abasto nurtured by experiences, colors, odors, people». And he adds that «if at the time of playing he was alone with his soul and his bandoneon, at the time of suffering he was alone with his body and his ailments...» To make it short, that in those related times «the serious joy of singing with an instrument what the people feel» vibrated. (VVAA, La Historia del Tango, Aníbal Troilo. Editorial Corregidor, Buenos Aires: 1999)

Precisely, in 1956, and after recovering from the wearing out which life was causing in him, at the doctor Carlos Márquez’s clinic, our beloved Gordo (Fats) rebuilt what we call “a mythical trip to the core of Tango”. The “Nocturno...” externalized his inner trip to the overwhelmed depths of his own being, foreseeing his agony. Essential autobiographical poem in which Pichuco synthesizes the coherence of his lifestyle and his tango; neither anything more nor anything less than his “self” quality.

Nocturno a mi barrio (Nocturne for my neighborhood)
Pichuco recalls: «I always liked writing. I wrote this “Nocturno a mi barrio” when I was in the clinic of doctor Carlos Márquez, undergoing a rest cure. Time before. I was there for a month. After a couple of weeks, when they made me sleep so much I was bored of so much sleeping and I used to wake up and write. I wrote about many things. The piece “Caliente”, for example, is about that time. I dedicated it to doctor Márquez. Well, “Nocturno a mi barrio” was written there.» (La Maga magazine. Special Edition for collection. Homage to Troilo. Buenos Aires, 1995)

Nocturno a mi barrio
Mi barrio era así, así... así...
Es decir, ¡qué sé yo si era así!
Pero yo me lo acuerdo así,
con Giacumín, el carbuña de la esquina,
que tenía las hornallas llenas de hollín,
y que jugó siempre de "jas" izquierdo al lado mío,
siempre... siempre...
¡tal vez pa’estar más cerca de mi corazón!
Alguien dijo una vez
que yo me fui de mi barrio...
¿Cuándo?, pero... ¿cuándo?
¡Si siempre estoy llegando!
Y si una vez me olvidé,
las estrellas de la esquina de la casa de mi vieja
titilando como si fueran manos amigas,
me dijeron: Gordo... gordo, quedate aquí,
quedate aquí.

After a slow first section, accompanied note for note; a second section a little bit hurried by a rhythmic pulse; reciting, Troilo begins to carry us to his neighborhood by remembering that «it was this way, this way... this way... » (We placed ourselves in it because we associate it with ours). Unexpectedly, as if he had doubts, in the second line he says: «That is to say, Do I know if it was like that?» (and he asks questions that take us to sensations, tastes, beauties, characters and friends).

He hammers again in “this way” succeeding, with the rhyme, in making easier to retain the words of the poem. Even more, how does he remember his neighborhood? This way: «with Giacumín, the carbuña (the coalman) round the corner /who had his burners (nostrils) full of soot» (the admired man that protected and loved him). The friend that « always played as left-half beside me/Always... always... /Maybe to be closer to my heart». Poetically, “Pichuco” joins the play (soccer) with the player (left-half), always helping that left side (his heart) that equally was awarded and punished.

He later explains to someone who complains for a supposed abandon of his neighborhood: («Someone once said / that I left my neighborhood»). With the wisdom of tasted, smelled and chewed nights, in the right tone interpreting the boy that does not understand that superficial accusation, with an antithesis worthy of notable poets, Troilo replies: «When?, but... when?... / If I’m always coming back!».

In the final lines, as apologizing, in the way of honest men, aware of some carelessness, some guilt, for anyone who would guess so, he affirms: «If at any time I forgot /the stars above the corner of my Mom’s house /twinkling as if they were friendly hands /told me: Fats... Fats, stay here / stay here».

The metaphorical relationship among stars-corner-Mom and the comparison between twinkling-friendly hands embellish this piece. A poem with simple and profound vocabulary of literary substance with alliterations that emphasize his recitative and help him to enrich it with a delicate body-language that allows itself to include a “pa’estar” and some lunfardo term for natural exactitude. Music of classical heritage and porteño mood. Unsurpassable rendition with a baggage of alcohol and “r’s”, a genetic influence of a faraway immigrant voyage. Furthermore, his mother. Above, in the twinkling that tries to alleviate so much sadness. Below, at the backyard of his home.

Once Pichuco answered to a journalist: «I’m going to give you a long speech about my mother. Write this... I’m going to give you a long speech about my mother... My mother is everything». (Revista La Maga, ibídem)

I think that if prominent tango poets, quoting Enrique Discépolo, agreed that «a popular song must always be the problem of one suffered by many» (Sergio Pujol. Discépolo. Editorial Emecé, Buenos Aires: 1995.) we would state that, for Troilo, a popular song must have always been the problem of many but suffered by him. So Pichuco gave himself to tango. So he entirely traveled on it and with it until he corroded his flesh and soul, placing himself in the highest Parnassus of the Buenos Aires mythology.

Please allow us, additionally and to be closer to Pichuco’s heart, to fly high towards the metaphysics of the Adán Buenos Aires diver, Leopoldo Marechal. Let us ask the wise men, from the night stars, if Aníbal Troilo is not that lost angel that eternally walks along the streets of all the neighborhoods and asks: «How can we escape from the painful night?». To get the ineffable answer: «In its night every morning rests: from all labyrinths you get out through the upper exit». (Leopoldo Marechal. Laberinto de amor. En Poesía 1924-1950. Ediciones del 80, Buenos Aires: 1984)

Cuarteto Aníbal Troilo, Buenos Aires 30/05/1968, RCA-Victor AVL-3871, 8166.

Special note: The most heartbreaking recording is the one which belongs to a chapter of the Alberto Migré’s TV soap opera “Rolando Rivas, taxista”. The scene shows the group of actors and actresses with close-ups of Claudio García Satur, Beba Bidart and Leonor Benedetto, attentively following Troilo’s performance —on bandoneon and vocals— accompanied by Aníbal Arias. Also are there Guillermo Rico, Nora Cárpena, Pablo Codevila and Luis Politi who at the end delightfully celebrate the great artist.