My Tango: Margot

MargotDid you know that I have my own tango?  Indeed, I do.  OK, it was written by Celedonio Flores back in 1921, almost half a decade before I was born, but it is my tango anyway.  While the name Margarita is common in many Latin American countries, it wasn’t very popular when I was a child in Argentina (I was named after my grandmother who was actually a Margaret, not a Margarita, but you could only give your children Spanish-language names in Argentina back then).  So I never met another Margarita until I came to the US.

“Margot” is a very famous tango, and as the only Margarita around, whenever people heard my name, they were reminded of the tango.  No matter that I was a young child and this tango involves the life of a girl who has become a prostitute – that is a very common theme for tangos.  Indeed, even my 5th grade teacher took to calling me Margot.  I did not take offense.

I’ve looked for a translation of Margot to English, but I couldn’t find it.  So I’ve tried to translate it myself.  Unfortunately, this tango like most other tangos, uses a lot of lunfardo and while I know quite a bit of lunfardo due to listening to tangos, I don’t know the precise nuance of every word – much less the perfect word with which to translate it into English.  So it’s just a best, fast effort.  Please leave comments below and I’ll use them to improve the translation.

Meanwhile here is my tango, Margot:

One can tell from afar, you well heeled tramp,
that you were born in the squalor of tenement in the barrio…
Because there is something that betrays you, I don’t know if it is your eyes,
your way of sitting, of looking, of standing
or that body so used to percale clothes.

That body that today moves to the tempting beats
of a street tango in the arms of some idiot,
while your curves and your colorful dress triumph,
among the laughter and compliments of your fan boys,
amidst the smoke of Cuban cigars and French champagne.

It’s a lie, it wasn’t an indolent and high handed tough guy
nor a dangerous pimp who led you to vice…
You rolled on your own and it wasn’t innocently…
Obsessions of wealth that you had in  your mind
from the day that a high class magnate flirted with you!

I remember, you had barely anything to wear,
today you wear silk dresses with rococo roses,
I hate your presence… I’d pay to not see you…
they have even changed your name, as your fortune has changed:
you are no longer my Margarita, now they call you Margot!

Now you go with the idiots to act all posh
in an luxurious reserved booth at the Petit or the Julien,
and your mother, your poor mother, washes the whole week
to be able to fill her soup pot, with Franciscan poverty,
in the sad tenement house, lit with kerosene.

Se te embroca desde lejos, pelandruna abacanada,
que has nacido en la miseria de un convento de arrabal…
Porque hay algo que te vende, yo no sé si es la mirada,
la manera de sentarte, de mirar, de estar parada
o ese cuerpo acostumbrado a las pilchas de percal.

Ese cuerpo que hoy te marca los compases tentadores
del canyengue de algún tango en los brazos de algún gil,
mientras triunfa tu silueta y tu traje de colores,
entre risas y piropos de muchachos seguidores
entre el humo de los puros y el champán de Armenonville.

Son macanas, no fue un guapo haragán ni prepotente
ni un cafisho de averías el que al vicio te largó…
Vos rodaste por tu culpa y no fue inocentemente…
¡berretines de bacana que tenías en la mente
desde el día que un magnate cajetilla te afiló!

Yo recuerdo, no tenías casi nada que ponerte,
hoy usas ajuar de seda con rositas rococó,
¡me reviente tu presencia… pagaría por no verte…
si hasta el nombre te han cambiado como has cambiado de suerte:
ya no sos mi Margarita, ahora te llaman Margot!

Ahora vas con los otarios a pasarla de bacana
a un lujoso reservado del Petit o del Julien,
y tu vieja, ¡pobre vieja! lava toda la semana
pa’ poder parar la olla, con pobreza franciscana,
en el triste conventillo alumbrado a kerosén.

To Laugh While Crying

I was thinking today about Juan de Dios Peza‘s famous poem about English actor David Garrick.  It was my mother’s favorite poem when I was a child, and she used to recite it time after time.  I don’t think she empathized with the feelings of the poem, but rather liked the irony of its ending.  That’s what impacted me as well as a child, though with age I’ve been able to understand the feelings express much more clearly.

I couldn’t easily find an English translation of the poem online, so I’m writing my own.  I am really bad at translating poems, so please don’t hold it against me.

To Laugh While Crying

Watching Garrik – an actor from England –
the people would say applauding:
“You are the funniest one on earth
and the happiest one…”
And the comedian would laugh.

Victims of melancholy, the highest lords,
during their darkest and heaviest nights
would go see the king of actors
and change their melancholy into roars of laughter.

Once, before a famous doctor,
came a man with eyes so somber:
“I suffer – he said -, an illness so horrible
as this paleness of my face”

“Nothing holds any enchantment or attractiveness;
I don’t care about my name or my fate
I die living an eternal melancholy
and my only hope is that of death”.

– Travel and distract yourself
– I’ve traveled so much!
– Search for readings
– I’ve read so much!
– Have a woman love you
– But I am loved
– Get a title
– I was born a noble

– Might you be poor?
– I have richnesses
– Do you like compliments?
– I hear so many!
– What do you have as a family?
– My sadness
– Do you go to the cemeteries?
– Often, very often.

– Of your current life, do you have witnesses?
– Yes, but I don’t let them impose their burdens;
I call the dead my friends;
I call the living my executioners.

– It leaves me – added the doctor – perplexed
your illness and I must not scare you;
Take today this advise as a prescription
only watching Garrik you can be cured.

-Garrik?
-Yes, Garrik… The most indolent
and austere society anxiously seeks him;
everyone who sees him, dies of laughter;
he has an amazing artistic grace.

– And me? Will he make me laugh?
-Ah, yes, I swear it;
he and no one but him; but… what disturbs you?
-So  – said the patient – I won’t be cured;
I am Garrik! Change my prescription.

How many are there who, tired of life,
ill with pain, dead with tedium,
make others laugh as the suicidal actor,
without finding a remedy for their illness!

Ay! How often we laugh when we cry!
Nobody trust the merriment of laughter,
because in those beings devoured by pain,
the soul groans when the face laughs!

If faith dies, if calm flees,
if our feet only step on thistles,
the tempest of the soul hurls to the face,
a sad lighting: a smile.

The carnival of the world is such a trickster,
that life is but a short masquerade;
here we learn to laugh with tears
and also to cry with laughter.

REÍR LLORANDO

Viendo a Garrick -actor de la Inglaterra-
el pueblo al aplaudirlo le decía:
“Eres el más gracioso de la tierra,
y más feliz…” y el cómico reía.

Víctimas del spleen, los altos lores
en sus noches más negras y pesadas,
iban a ver al rey de los actores,
y cambiaban su spleen en carcajadas.

Una vez, ante un médico famoso,
llegóse un hombre de mirar sombrío:
sufro -le dijo-, un mal tan espantoso
como esta palidez del rostro mío.

Nada me causa encanto ni atractivo;
no me importan mi nombre ni mi suerte;
en un eterno spleen muriendo vivo,
y es mi única pasión la de la muerte.

-Viajad y os distraeréis. -¡Tanto he viajado!
-Las lecturas buscad. -¡Tanto he leído!
-Que os ame una mujer. -¡Si soy amado!
-Un título adquirid. -¡Noble he nacido!

-¿Pobre seréis quizá? -Tengo riquezas.
-¿De lisonjas gustáis? -¡Tantas escucho!
-¿Qué tenéis de familia? -Mis tristezas.
-¿Vais a los cementerios? -Mucho… mucho.

-De vuestra vida actual ¿tenéis testigos?
-Sí, mas no dejo que me impongan yugos:
yo les llamo a los muertos mis amigos;
y les llamo a los vivos, mis verdugos.

Me deja -agrega el médico- perplejo
vuestro mal, y no debe acobardaros;
tomad hoy por receta este consejo
“Sólo viendo a Garrick podréis curaros”.
-¿A Garrik? -Sí, a Garrick… La más remisa
y austera sociedad le busca ansiosa;
todo aquel que lo ve muere de risa;
¡Tiene una gracia artística asombrosa!
-¿Y a mí me hará reír? -¡Ah! sí, os lo juro;
Él sí; nada más él; más… ¿qué os inquieta?
-Así -dijo el enfermo-, no me curo:
¡Yo soy Garrick!… Cambiadme la receta.

¡Cuántos hay que, cansados de la vida,
enfermos de pesar, muertos de tedio,
hacen reír como el actor suicida,
sin encontrar para su mal remedio!

¡Ay! ¡Cuántas veces al reír se llora!
¡Nadie en lo alegre de la risa fíe,
porque en los seres que el dolor devora
el alma llora cuando el rostro ríe!

Si se muere la fe, si huye la calma,
si sólo abrojos nuestra planta pisa,
lanza a la faz la tempestad del alma
un relámpago triste: la sonrisa.

El carnaval del mundo engaña tanto,
que las vidas son breves mascaradas;
aquí aprendemos a reír con llanto,
y también a llorar con carcajadas.

On Juana Azurduy, female revolutionary heroes & sexism

Juana AzurduyI was thinking about Juana Azurduy today – the lyrics of Mercedes Sosa’s song often run through my mind. And as compelling (or catchy) as the song lyrics are, Juana’s story is even more so. She was a mestizo woman from the Alto Perú (currently Bolivia) region of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata (currently Argentina). She rebelled against being a nun, was committed to the ideals of popular rights and freedom, and married a like-minded man. Together, they raised an army and battled the Spaniards using guerrilla-like tactics. She continued fighting even after her husband was killed in battle and she was injured, she through pregnancies and births – for over fifteen years. She received the official title of Lieutenant Colonel and later was named commander of the Northern Army. At one point she had over 6,000 troops under her command – waging a guerrilla style war against the Spaniards.
Her end was like that of other revolutionary heroes – not exile this time, but being set aside and left to die in poverty. She was only rescued from the pages of history a hundred years later, I’m not sure to what degree by Mercedes Sosa‘s beautiful song. Today, of course, she is recognized along the other heroes of the independence war in Argentina and Bolivia.
I learned Juana’s story and song when I was in elementary school in Argentina. The song really stuck with me, even thirty years later I remember many of the lyrics (press on “continue reading” below for the lyrics in English and Spanish). Part of me is surprised that I actually learned the story and song in school, given that our military government couldn’t have been too fond of any vindication of guerrilla warfare or anything associated with Mercedes Sosa. Still, the Argentine military did venerate all things martial, and specially those associated with the revolutionary war (after all, that has been the only war the Argentine military has fought /and/ won – if we don’t count the Conquest of the Desert, whereas the Argentine military conquered Patagonia by exterminating most of the Mapuche population) – so I guess they figured they might at least throw the girls a bone and tell them about Juana.
And Juana’s story is one that I want to tell my daughters. It’s one that inspires me and one that I imagine has inspired many other revolutionary women in Argentina. I want my little girls growing up knowing that women, as much as men, were responsible for the social changes that brought us freedoms and rights (which is also why I will tell them about Eva Perón, even though I was raised a radical and still cannot shake my bone set antipathy against her :-), and that it will be up to them to continue the struggle for rights and freedoms.
As I was thinking about Juana, it occurred to me that I couldn’t think of one female hero of the American revolution. The only one Mike could come up with was Betsy Ross (the woman who sew the first American flag). There must be other, more real ones – but they seem to be lost in darkness. And I wonder if having Betsy Ross as the “woman” of the American revolution does not do more harm than good – does it imply that the only way women can help revolutionary movements is through domestic pursuits? Do we only have men to thank for the freedoms and rights we enjoy in America? At least in Europe you have women throwing salons and contributing to the spreading of the enlightment, on which not only the French Revolution but the independent movements in all of the Americas are based. And you have women /directly/ participating in the war efforts in WWI and WWII (including in the French and Italian resistance movements – I’ll write about one such woman later). But where are the revolutionary women in America?
I’m not sure what is the chicken and what is the egg, but this led me to think about just how terribly sexist American society is. And I mean sexism in the sense of people believing that women are actually intellectually and/or ethically inferior to men – not /different/, I think women and men are different, but ultimately less. It’s not the sort of thing that you can pinpoint easily, but if you lived in other countries, you’d know what I’m talking about. For example, why is it that twice as many girls in the Arab world chose to become engineers as in America? Why is the idea of having a female president still so revolutionary in the US, when there have been women presidents in South Asia, Europe and Latin America for decades? But even those are just symptoms – what I’m talking about is something much more ethereal, something that you can actually feel and that my daughters will have to grow up to counter.
Below is the video of Sosa singing and the the words of the Juana Azurduy song, my free translation in English and the real ones.

Continue reading On Juana Azurduy, female revolutionary heroes & sexism