El choclo Tango
Víctor Benítez Boned

French language in tango: pernod

ernod is a strong bitter drink derived from absinth. There are several tangos which allude to it, we shall mention three classic ones: “El choclo” («Carancanfunfa se hizo al mar con tu bandera y en un pernó mezcló a París con Puente Alsina…») [Carancanfunfa put out to sea with your flag and in a pernod mixed Paris with Puente Alsina…]; “Siempre París” («Y así el pernod y el strip tis -medio cocotte y actriz- y los barbudos sin razón,¡y el mal de Koch, París!») [And so pernod and strip-tease -half coquette and actress- and the men bearded for no reason, and Koch disease, Paris!] and “Aquellas farras” («Siglo de oro de ese tiempo en que el ñato Monteagudo, borracho de pernod, se quiso suicidar…») [Golden era of that time when the snub-nosed Monteagudo, intoxicated with pernod, tried to commit suicide…»).

Long is the relationship of pernod with our urban music, and even longer is the history of this famous drink of French origin.

In the late eighteenth century a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire, exiled in Switzerland, prescribed for his patients a potion he had invented and which he called absinthe elixir. It was made of the well-known bitter herb popularly called «wormwood» (artemisa absinthum). After his death it began to be commercially exploited by the heirs of the prescription and in 1797 it got into the hands of a group of merchants, among whom was Henri-Louis Pernod. It began to be sold at liquor stores as an aperitif-digestive medicine and it turned out to be a hit. Pernod split with his partners and settled in France.

In the French capital it reached its peak in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. There is an estimate that in 1910 in France over 35 million liters of absinthe were drunk yearly. There were already around 200 manufacturers but the main trademark was Pernod which, besides absinthe, contained fennel, juniper and nutmeg.

Long is also the list of famous people who admitted to being Pernod drinkers, from Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London to Paul Verlaine, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

Tango, which was a boom in Europe in the first quarter of the twentieth century, extensively referred to this drink. From “Copa de ajenjo”, by Canaro and Pesce, to so many others that made reference to that liquor, either with the original name: absinthe, with its nickname suissé and, especially, with the name of the trademark which made it famous worldwide: Pernod.

The most emblematic reference is, no doubt, Discépolo’s, in the lyrics he wrote in 1947 for the Ángel Villoldo’s tango “El choclo”. Because when he told us that «…en un pernó mezcló a París con Puente Alsina» he summarized in just one great line all the solid and eternal relationship of our Argentine tango with the France that gave it its artistic international patent.

We rescue two other tangos of the many that evoke the famous drink in their lyrics. The above-mentioned “Siempre París”, by the Expósito brothers, and “Aquellas farras (Argañaraz)”, with the words that in 1930 Enrique Cadícamo wrote for the old tango composed by Roberto Firpo: “Argañaraz”.

From the book: El Francés en el Tango, Proa Amerian Editores, 2011.