Mother and Tango

Story | Opinion | Guillermo Monti | 6 May 2019 | 0 comments

Sometimes I think: why are people from Buenos Aires so particular in some aspects? Within these particularities there is, for example, such a special love for “mothers”. Unconditional and Oedipal love.

I think it has to do with the unique situation that was experienced in the city at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Back in 1900 the city passed, in just a few years, from having 200,000 inhabitants to 1,500,000. It is said that Buenos Aires was inhabited by immigrants, mostly men. These men were children of a bastard class, they never knew their parents and were bastards themselves (it is not by chance that Gardel, the archetype of tango porteño, was also a bastard), they did not have any lineage or family and focused all their primary affections on the “mother”. The parent was an absent entity. Women were scarce in the city, many of them worked in the “dating” houses. Men, of course, who wanted to meet woman and dance tango went to these houses of such appointments. There, they often fell in love with these women. Soon, those same men realised that these women were not trustworthy. They sold their love to the highest bidder, and as a result there comes sadness, nostalgia, pain, disenchantment and many other sad feelings that are expressed in the letters of the tangos. However, there was only one woman who could be trusted, who was loving, patient, complacent, sincere, almost holy, and this one and only woman was the “mother” figure.

“It’s been a century since I’ve seen you. Anyone would believe that I am in love with you, and it is true: you are the only woman I love with true affection”. Carlos Gardel in letter to his mother, Berthe Gardes, 1935.

This article referes to one of the many phrases Carlos Gardel wrote to his mother.

In the 1900’s, Sigmund Freud also makes one of the most relevant findings in the history of psychoanalysis and discovered the Oedipus complex. Do you find any kind of relationship this article’s topic? There is no other answer than Yes.

It is known that we place ourselves socially according to the coordinates of the time and space in which we live. Psychoanalysis has come to outline the idea that each era has a discourse of its own and each generation generates, precisely, signifiers that represent it.

The Europeans who arrived in Buenos Aires were mostly Italians from the south and Spaniards from traditional villages. Within this religious education the “Roman Catholic” religion was very strong. When I was a boy, we always said: What are you? And there came the great title of Catholic, Apostolic or Roman. In this culture, veneration of the mother acquires religious aspects. The mother, that poor Italian woman who scrubbed her clothes in the cold water of the even more freezing conventillo patio. The mother, who would always have to forgive the lost prodigal son, who returns after having experienced a disaster and repented. If we think about immigrants and their descendants, we can clearly see the Catholics and the marianist education with which they were raised.

In Italy, as in Spain, the traditional mother refers directly to the Virgin Mary, every Catholic mother has, as her ideal model, the virgin Mother of Jesus. Therefore, in Latin cultures, the mother goddess, feminine, pure, pro-creative in holiness, occupies a place that in other cultures would assume the position of pastor or the head of the church. Children of this ancient Latin culture, the creators of the tango, Betinotti, Flores, Discépolo, created a work in tune with this tradition in which the mother comes to mean the last link of a chain that starts from Mary.

On the other hand, we had at that time a “head to head” competition with another “mother”, in the neighborhoods of Balvanera, Abasto, La Paternal, Villa Crespo, sharing tenements with the Italian and Spanish mother to the “Jewish Mother”. It is not by chance that the Jews inhabited the tango neighborhoods par excellence. The Jews arriving from Poland, Russia and Romania, contributed important elements to the tango scene, and obviously with veneration, respect and admiration for the Idishe mame. It is not unusual that Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, as well as many other psychiatrists were Jews. Neither, that there are tens of thousands of Jews who provide therapy in the whole world. The Idishe mames have raised them with excessive concern and love, but at the same time, with an overdose of guilt and little instinct for survival. It seems that the fusion of cultures between mothers with such strong figures in the families in these conventillos, have created such a strong tango figure.

We already see it clearly in the waltz letter for ‘my beloved mother’:

Poor my dear mother, what annoying it gave her!
How many times, hidden, crying the most felt,
I found it in a corner!
That myself when contemplating it, the crying did not repress.

Then he came to shape her, in a kiss when he hugged her,
when forgiveness asked.
Why do we have such an ungrateful heart with her?
What little case we make, being that we owe him.
Why give it a hard time?

If the mother in this world is the only one who forgives us; with deep feeling, with love and does not abandon.

Mother and girlfriend are the same? A bit strange, but quite normal in the lyrics of the tangos. As the tango Que Como says, the writer explains to his mother how to make a tango as well as declaring that she is not only his mother, but also his girlfriend:

So you want, old woman, to start telling you,
how to make a tango, right? I will do him the pleasure, if he leaves me.
Stop stopping the ear, it will speak the one who loves it
today, tomorrow, at all times. Because pa ‘me, where it fits,
you are not only my mother, but my girlfriend, ma’am.

The same thing happens in the waltz interpreted so beautifully by Ángel Vargas, I have a girlfriend. It is very clear in these letters, what was very important at that moment, that she is not going to deceive me, she is very sincere, she does not lie: who can it be? Only my mother:

I have a girlfriend, eternal and sincere.
If they are from your lips, there are no bigger kisses!
If I delay in the appointment, smiling it waits for me.
Kissing my forehead because I was late.

I have a girlfriend, there is no other better,
more noble and purer.
He’s never going to fool me!
For her happy, would give my life
because she does not lie,
because she is my mother.

There are also many tangos that, with subtlety and apparent harmlessness, tell their girlfriend:

I love you like my mother, but I have plenty of bravery
pa’hacerte to jump pa’arriba, when I enter to fail.

Ah… women. All stereotypes appear in tangos. So, all of a sudden, the good mother of Goodbye Boys comes to mind, or that lady who lost five children on the French front in World War I: “They were five brothers, she was a saint … they were five kisses every morning”.

This is the way most mothers are, or at least that is how mothers were seen at that particular moment in history. Also, the Hands Worshiped, a waltz sung by Alberto Morán, where he clearly speaks about no better place to be than in the hands of his mother, those hands of a working mother, with no painted nails or haughtiness, comparing them with the universe of other women:

The hands that I love, the hands I worship,
They are not pink or pale.
Your fingers do not look like ten pearly gems,
neither are they painted or haughty.
They are wrinkled hands, maybe the most humble
and they are like dry leaves from so much work.
These holy hands are my mother’s hands,
those who gave me bread with all love.

The hands that I want, the hands of my mother,
light as flying birds always go.
The hands of my mother by happy nimble,
if they do not always do something calm they are never.
Rustic and old, how beautiful are your hands!
Washing so many clothes, cutting so much bread.
Running through the house, the table caressing,
looking in the rest for the needle and the thimble.

In those times in addition to this woman-mother, which was holy, pure and asexual, there was the woman-girlfriend and the woman-milonguera. In this way, the bride and the milonguera would be complementary opposites, representing good and evil, spirit and flesh, control and temptation, family and cabaret. The figure of the milonguera, for example, has a sexuality, whereas the bride has, similar to the mother, purity and is of naive heart. The milonguera would be none other than the “barrio girl” who makes a trip from the neighborhood to the center, seduced by “the lights of the city”, for the occasion to improve her status, to improve her material and social life. Its purpose was to work as a dancer or waitress in a nighttime establishment such as the cabaret, sometimes reaching to perform their own prostitution.

The mother, the paradigm of all virtue, is the woman who is praised almost obsessively in tango. The mother gathers, in the tango, unanimous piety, tenderness love. She is always holy, selfless, understanding, supportive of declensions, the only thing to trust, the pure and sincere love to which she returns at the end of any misfortune.

In the tango, a letter played by Fiorentino with Troilo, the position of the “old woman” and the “bitch” is clear. In the Buenos Aires vocabulary, the “old” mother is affectionately called. The old woman (affectionately the unconditional mother) and the ex-wife, whom she calls “bitch”. From prison, he says he is going to take revenge when he leaves, for the life she leads:

Old woman, a cruel doubt afflicts me
and it is stronger than this grate
that serves me as a prison.
It’s not that I’m bitter
the sadness of my confinement
and being like a dog
I roll in a corner, I want,
Tell me frankly if it is true that my piece
another man became the owner.

Say, mother, if it is true that the infamous
abusing that I am a prisoner has deceived me …
And if it is true that they have left the petero
in the home of the homeless kids …
If so … Malhaya with the bitch!
Someday I have to leave and then, old woman, I swear by the cross I made in the grate
that debt with my dagger I have to charge.

It is very interesting and at the same time funny, what the lyrics of the tango Victoria say. The author says that his wife left with another one, and that he freed him from oppression, now he is going to live again with his mother, as if returning to Paradise!

Victory! Saraca, Victoria!
Pianté of the Ferris wheel: My wife left!
If it seems to me a lie, after six years
Go back to see my friends, live with mom again.

Let’s sing victory! I am in glory:
My wife left!

Pracánico and Servetto, surely with Mother they express very strong sentiments towards the mothers, that gives a clear idea of how the men lived in that time, with disenchantment and pain for a woman but eternal love for the mother:

Mother … Sorrows beat me
and I cried without your love,
when at night I sank
of my deep pain. Mother…
There is no more sublime affection
no more holy for me…
Disappointments redeem
and the memories of the soul I returned..

Mother, only one
and although one day I forgot it,
he taught me the end of life
that to that love we must return.

Even so, for me, the one that redeems and identifies well with the mother figure is Discépolo (1928) in I am a Harlequin. He says:

He nailed me on the cross
your Magdalena folletin,
because I dreamed it was Jesus
and it saved you. Your voice deceived me,
You cry of repentance without forgiveness.
You were a woman, I thought of my mother
and I stuck…

This article was first published on Wall Street International magazine in Spanish:


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Published: 6 May 2019 @ 16:08


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