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The conventillo in tango

These dwellings and the typical scenes among their inhabitants were reflected in the stanzas of tango.

El conventillo

Conventillos were  popular houses  with many rooms, which housed multiple families composed mostly of immigrants and their offspring, filling and exceeding the permitted capacity for each room. The arrival of the 20th century was associated with the arrival in the country of huge waves of immigrants, a period characterized by a disproportionate lack of rooms. This situation led to the construction of huge collective houses with 30 to 40 rooms, poorly ventilated and with a shortage of sanitary services. The city grew with these characteristics and tango included in its stanzas, typical scenes of the conventillo. There were several names with which this particular house room was known: yotivenco, the vesre de conventillo; convent and convoy. In  “Uno y uno” , tango by Julio Pollero and Lorenzo Traverso, 1929, it is pointed out: “Where are those briyos/and de vento that pacoy,/you diqueabas, poligriyo,/with the mines of the convoy”.

It is possible to find brief descriptions of the conventillo in some  verses  that contribute to providing the knowledge of what they were like inside. Enrique Santos Discépolo, with the later collaboration of Virgilio and Homero Expósito left us  “Fangal” , 1954, where he says: “I saw her coming in false squadron, she was tilting on the edge of the mudal!../Poor mine that was born in a conventillo/with brick floors, cistern and barren”. The street door of the conventillo did not exist or did not close. He always allowed the way, going in or out. On one or two floors, it housed a very heterogeneous group of tenants, who served a wide working schedule. Antoniio Scatasso and Pascual Contursi composed in 1927  “Ventanita de arabal”,  which reflects this situation: “In the neighborhood Caferata/in an old conventillo,/with the brick floors,/minga door cancel,/where the organs go/their lament rushing,/is the boy waiting/ to pass the boy that one”. Life at the conventillo was miserable, inhuman, perverse, as diverse situations came together to provide a difficult life, prodigal in straits and economic difficulties. Life in the convent led to uncertain destinations. Celedonio Flores and José Ricardo wrote in 1921  “Margot”:  “You're bogged from afar, you're born in the misery of a convent in the suburb.../Because there's something that sells you, I don't know if it's the look,/the way to sit, to look, to stand/or that body accustomed to percale pilches/... and your old poor old lady! Wash the whole week/to stop the pot with Franciscan poverty,/in the sad convent lit in kerosene”. Other times, a group of boys rented a room that functioned as a temporary shelter, the bulin, to meet and share mate and food, ceiling and music, looking for a company that would help live, overcoming the setbacks that arose in the  daily life . It was a shared confessional for disappointments and joy. This is how we met him in  “El bulín de la calle Ayacucho” , 1925, by Celedonio Flores and José Servidio: “El bulín de la calle Ayacucho/that in my time as a frog I rented,/the bulín that the bar was looking for/to fall at night to timbear.../parrot mistongo, thrown/in the background of that little convent,/without rugs, without luxury and without shine,/how many  happy  days I spent,/in the warmth of the love of a boy/that was mine, mimosa and sincere...”.

The living conditions that developed in the conventillo differed with what happened in a common dwelling. The number of people who inhabited it, the different nationalities, the different  customs  and habits as well as harmonious coexistence or not, were all the basic factors, typical of Conventil. This was reflected in “ Oro muerto”,  1926, by Juan Raggi and Julio Navarrine: “The conventillo wears his costume of etiquette/the paicas are coming, willing to show/ that there are pilchas domingueras, that there are sighting and there is silhouette,/the doodles eager to tango. mister orchestra  , musita a fulo tango,/the prisoners go out looking, among the heap,/the pink princess of ensortijado roller/ who waits for her Romeo as a blessing”. Being born and living in the conventillo was a stage to be overcome, changing life at the first  opportunity . The change of life, motivated by the attraction exerted by the “lights of the center”, changed the course, particularly in the young quinceañeras who glimpsed the path of their salvation. Pascual Contursi and Augusto Gentile wrote in 1919  “Flor de Mud” : “Mina que que que manyo te a while ago,/forgive me if I bait/that I saw you born.../Your cradle was a convent/kerosene lighting/Just at fourteen April/ You gave yourself to the farras,/the delights of gota.../ they liked jewels, /fashion dresses/and champagne farras”. The conventillo was the architect of a fundamental stage in the growth and development of that Buenos Aires yesterday.

Publication Date: 01/11/2020

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