Sursum corda

Detail of the floor mosaic of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome
dedicado a Wang Wei quien sabe
que también entre los pucheros anda

In one morning in the spring of 1977, in the high school „Margit Kaffka” – some decades earlier and later „Holy Margaret” – the teacher responsible for the mobilization of the Communist Youth Association went round the classes. He was inviting people for the folk dance instruction of the Torch Folk Ensemble in the afternoon.

The group was going to start a dance house on the model of the already popular Hungarian folk dance houses, where they were going to teach the dances of the Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Greek and Macedonian ethnic minorities. They were going round the high schools of Budapest for recruiting participants.

Our school was visited by the wife of the ensemble’s leader Antal Kricskovics. She was an extraordinary beauty. Apart from her really exceptional appearance, she owed this also to her majestic bearing.

She arranged us in a circle and immediately started the instruction. We draw our stomach in, trust the chest out, press the shoulders down. Our back is tight, but the hip and the limbs move easily and flexibly.

If you do all this, you immediately begin to breathe with full lungs. This was not customary in those times. The majority of Hungarian society compromised with the political system. People sought after momentary survival, small advantages, permitted little joys. They went about humped, they took shallow, gasping breaths.

After we clarified the necessary bearing, she taught us the song “Makedonsko devoiche”, and then she started to teach the steps. Not only the bearing was majestic, but the song and the steps as well.

Now as I’m writing this, I look over what sorts of music were available at that time. And I see that almost exclusively those that matched a convulsively disciplined and limited, sentimental and sensual taste of the petty bourgeoisie. Those which, even if they touched something majestic, only did so in order to pull it down to this vulgarity. “Goodbye, my sweet Piroska, there are even more beautiful girls than you.” Two steps to the right, two steps to the left. The musical indoctrinations of compromise, momentary survival, small advantages and permitted little joys.

At that time I did not know anything about the subtle and intricate rhythmic structures of Balkan and Greek music, neither that I was encountering a tradition that had been preserved since the ancient Greeks. There was no live music, not even a tape recorder, only ten or fifteen teenager girls coming together by chance and singing “Makedonsko devoiche” – and my heart rose up.

And that dance… Ten years later, on a warm summertime Sunday afternoon the wandering tambura-player arrived in the small Southern Hungarian village, at that time already inhabited only by Gypsies. He played kolo for some pennies. Immediately a great flock gathered around him, and everyone was watching him with great yearning. The man who counted as a chief came out from his hovel, accompanied by his two wives. None of the two was older than thirty, but they were already old women, tormented, bowed and emaciated. The man gave over the money with a theatrical gesture. One woman stood to his left and the other to his right. The music started. They began to dance the kolo, with a tight back, but with a loose hip, easily and flexibly. Their dance was characterized by a peculiar dignity, not canceling, but embracing their misery. Like the hand of the resurrected Christ the traces of the wounds.

At that time, in that spring afternoon of 1977 I did not know anything about Christ either. But as I pulled myself out and held on to the others, my heart rose up. I was touched by that peculiar dignity that cannot be canceled by any misery.

At the end of the instruction the wife of Kricskovics announced that the first dance house will be held in the House of Culture on Sunday afternoon. Of course I went there.

In the thereafter following two years I lived from Sunday to Sunday. I went to the dance house of Kricskovics like a believer goes to Mass. These dances let me, the atheist, experience the sacred through my own body.

Postscript. As I began to write this post, Tamás found a number of recordings of “Makedonsko devoiche” on the web. All of them are that sentimental “my sweet Piroska” kind, they have nothing to do with the rising up of the heart.

I thought it was the creative genius of Kricskovics as a dancer that he was able to evolve the inherent transcendental potentiality of the music and dance of the Balkan. Certainly, it was necessary to that.

But there was also something else that I had not known, and I only discovered it as I made some research to this post. Kricskovics was a devout Catholic, characterizing this period of his life in an interview given in 2005 like this:

“In the 70s began a new period of creation for me: the period of religious and Biblical themes. … With time one gets nearer and nearer to faith, and is more and more attracted by the artistic possibilities offered by the Scripture.” (Antal Kricskovics is 75 years old)


In the lack of authentic folk music, let us listen to one of my favorite songs of those times: the “Highwayman Ilju”, a Macedonian-inspired poem by the great Hungarian poet László Nagy, performed by the old Kolinda group (1977!). I do not know what route took them to the point of perceiving and transmitting the transcendence inherent in this music – their singer Ágnes Zsigmondi, for example, was an offspring of the Communist political establishment just like me –, but I do not know any other musical group coming anywhere near to them. I think this was one of the reasons why they, while being highly successful in Western Europe, could not publish a single record in Hungary.


Kolinda, Ilju haramia (Highwayman Ilju), from the LP “Kolinda II”, 1977 (poem by László Nagy)
Hey how they’re gathering to go to war
Hey how they are gathering
The pagans of Kochan
Mother, my sweet, the pagans of Kochan

Hey how densely they are coming, my sweet
Hey how densely they are coming
To the wide water of Kriva
Mother, my sweet, to the wide water of Kriva.

Hey how they would like to put in irons
Hey how they would like
Highwayman Ilju
Mother, my sweet, Highwayman Ilju.


Hey but Ilju is not there, my sweet
Hey Ilju is not there
At the wide water of Kriva
Mother, my sweet, at the wide water of Kriva.

Hey Ilju is having a merry time, my sweet
Hey he’s having a merry time
In the city of Solun
Mother, my sweet, in a good cool tavern.

Hey he is served, my sweet
Hey he is served
By a beautiful Macedonian girl
Mother, my sweet, by a beautiful Macedonian girl.
Hej de, gyűlnek hadba, édes,
Hej de, gyűlnek hadba
Kocsáni pogányok,
Anyám édes, kocsáni pogányok.

Hej de, sűrün jönnek, édes,
Hej de, sűrün jönnek
Széles Kríva vízhez,
Anyám édes, széles Kríva vízhez.

Hej de, vasra vernék, édes,
Hej de, vasra vernék
Ilju haramiát,
Anyám édes, Ilju haramiát.


Hej de, nincs ott Ilju, édes,
Hej de, nincs ott Ilju,
Széles Kríva víznél,
Anyám édes, széles Kríva víznél.

Hej de, vígad Ilju, édes,
Hej de, vígad Ilju,
Szolun városában,
Anyám édes, jó hűvös ivóban.

Hej de, néki szolgál, édes,
Hej de, néki szolgál,
Széplány, makedonka,
Anyám édes, széplány, makedonka.

Now as I’m listening to it, this song even thirty years later asks me whether I’m living with a heart rose up enough. Perhaps I will write more about them.

The dawn gives news

The Dawn from the video clip of the poem by Mehdi Akhavan Sales, set to music by Soheil NafissiThe sewer in the background is just like the thousand other ones that run down from the Darband through the rich northern suburbs of Tehran to the poor southern suburbs of Tehran, covering a level difference of a thousand meters and a thousand years, flushing the city of twelve million inhabitants with the fresh spring-water of the mountains, and supplying an unforgettable background and pitch-note to such marvelous films like the Bachehâ-ye âseman (Children of the Sky) by Majid Majidi, or Tehrân sâ'at-e haft sobh (Tehran, seven in the morning) by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The few that we can see of the houses also permits to localize it somewhere in the southern part of the city, in one of the alleys of the former southern center developed by the Shah and since then swallowed by the bazaar, from the low windows suitable both to sale and to fostering neighborhood life, through the sky-blue door to the emerald green moss growing at the foot of the walls. It is only this burning red rusari that we would not find anywhere.

Recently, in a night requiring lots of Catalan red wine we compared with Wang Wei the songs of different changes of regimes from Eastern Europe to the Spanish Transition. Then we quoted by way of example this poem of one of the greatest modern Persian poets Mehdi Akhavan Sales (1928-1991), set to music by Soheil Nafissi. However, in the roll of the video below in vain we look for the name of Sales. Perhaps he was omitted by way of precaution. Sales – ثالث Saless, as one of the best Tehran bookshops rebelliously calls itself (in the quoted post a bit above the portrait of Lőrinc Szabó) – under the Shah’s rule wrote poems expressing the anxiety of the period (to the Zemestan ast, It’s Winter we will dedicate a separate post), and in the thereafter following times ones similar to the Dawn. To this he owes the summary judgment of today’s official Iranian history of literature: “After 1979 his literary activity shows decline.” After the hastily prepared night translation of the post quoted above, now we want to offer a more reasoned one, so that everyone might decide for himself whether it is really a decline (and if yes, then what kind of peaks exist in Persian poetry), and everyone could foretell what it means when such a poem is set to music, sold on a successful CD and broadcasted in Iranian internet radios.


شهاب‌ها و شب‌ها
Shahâbhâ va shabhâ
Comets and nights

Persian poetry is made so beautiful and untranslatable by its preference to exploit the assonance of sounds and the thereby established accidental relations of words. Who would ever think that night and comet, darkness and light are in such a close relationship to each other: shab and shahâb. This constitutes one of the basic motifs of the poem, the thread of sounds “sh” running through it and linking darkness and light, parallel to which runs that of the adjectives and metaphors beginning with “r”.

از ظلمت رمیده خبر می‌دهد سحر
شب رفت و با سپیده خبر می‌دهد سحر
از اختر شبان رمه شب رمید و رفت
از رفته و رمیده خبر می‌دهد سحر

Az zolmat-e ramide khabar midehad sahar
shab raft o bâ sepide khabar midehad sahar
az akhtar-e shabân rame-ye shab ramid o raft
az rafte o ramide khabar midehad sahar

Of the darkness scared away gives news the dawn
the night has gone and with the daybreak gives news the dawn
the flock of the night was scared away from the star of the shepherd and has gone
of the scared away and the gone gives news the dawn

The quatrains with rhyme scheme AABA or CABA – where A is not just a simple rhyme, but rather the magic repetition of some words throughout the poetry – continue the tradition of medieval Persian rubaiyyat, like the quatrains of Omar Khayyam. Ramidan, scare away, raftan, go (away), rame, flock (related to German and English Ram and ram) – these are the r-columns of this quatrain, resonating with the words akhtar, star (a kin to Latin aster), khabar, news, and of course sahar, dawn, an Arabic word related to the Hebrew Zohar. Sepide, daybreak (which is also a common woman’s name) comes from sefid, white, which, contrasted to the reds of the following strophes, adds further shades to the interplay of darkness and light.

The adjectives scared away and gone in the first three verses refer to the night and its “flock”, but the last verse, by taking them from their context, bears a strong reference to those scared away and gone due to the night. This adumbration, so familiar to the Eastern European reader, is a much liked instrument of Persian poetry.

The “star of the shepherd” is a strange image, but only until we learn that it is also based on verbal consonances. In the term akhtar-e shabân the shabân is an archaic, poetic plural for shab, night, so at first sight it sounds like “star of the nights”. However, shabân also means “shepherd” (this is where Hungarian “csobán” comes from), and the second part of the verse already alludes to this meaning with the word flock, offering such a mythical metaphor for the morning star like the Hungarian poet Ágnes Gergely who also calls it “shepherd of old flocks” in one of her poems.

زنگار خورد جوشن شب را به نوشخند
از تیغ آبدیده خبر می‌دهد سحر
باز از حریق بیشه خاکسترین فلق
آتش به جان خریده خبر می‌دهد سحر

Zangâr khord joshan-e shab-râ bâ nushkhand
az tiq-e âbdide khabar midehad sahar
bâz az hariq-e bishe-ye khâkestarin falaq
âtash be jân kharide khabar midehad sahar

Rust ate the shield of night with a smile
of tempered blades gives news the dawn
from the grove of the gray morning set to fire
brings fire to the soul the news-bringing dawn

In the 80s we Eastern Europeans also learned how rust can eat the shield of the night. However, at that time it was not advisable to speak about tempered blades. In fact, upon a closer view this poem does not speak about them either. Tiq means first of all ray, and only in a second meaning blade or sword. Tiq-e aqtân for example means the rays of the dawn. Thus also the above compound tiq-e âbdide can mean âb-dide, “water-seen” rays, like those of the rising sun reflected on the surface of the water. This would also fit to this poem, nobody can utter a word. However, a much more accepted meaning of this compound is water-seen blade, that is tempered steel sword, and the fact that nobody uttered a word about this either shows how much the rust has already eaten the shield of the night.

از غمز و ناز و انجم و از رمز و راز شب
از دیده و شنیده خبر می‌دهد سحر
بس شد شهید پرده شبها شهاب‌ها
وان پرده‌ها دریده خبر می‌دهد سحر

Az qamz o nâz o anjâm o az ramz o râz-e shab
az dide o shenide khabar midehad sahar
bas shod shahid-e parde-ye shabhâ shahâbhâ
va ân pardehâ daride khabar midehad sahar

Of the signs, coquetry, secrets and termination of the night
the things seen and heard gives news the dawn
of the comets fallen before the fall of the shroud of the night
who tore that shroud off, gives news the dawn

The pulsation of the short words piling up in the first verse is one of the most beautiful examples of the typical Persian play with sounds in this poem.

آه آن پریده رنگ چه بود و چه شد کزو
رنگش ز رخ پریده خبر می‌دهد سحر
چاووش‌خوان قافله روشنان امید
از ظلمت رمیده خبر می‌دهد سحر

Âh ân paride rang che bud o che shod kazu
rangash ze rokh paride khabar midehad sahar
châvushkhân-e qâfele-ye roshanân omid
az zolmat-e ramide khabar midehad sahar

Oh, what was that pale color, and how could it be
that about pale faces gives news the dawn?
She’s the leader of the song of the hope-bringing caravan of stars,
of the darkness scared away gives news the dawn.

And now, with full knowledge of the text, let us listen a second time to the video.



Comets and nights

Of the darkness scared away gives news the dawn
the night’s gone and with the daybreak gives news the dawn
the flock of the night was scared away
         from the star of the shepherd and has gone,
of the scared away and the gone gives news the dawn

Rust ate the shield of night with a smile
of tempered blades gives news the dawn
from the grove of the gray morning set to fire
brings fire to the soul the news-bringing dawn

Of the signs, coquetry, secrets and termination of the night
the things seen and heard gives news the dawn
of the comets fallen before the fall of the shroud of the night
who tore that shroud off, gives news the dawn

Oh, what was that pale color, and how could it be
that about pale faces gives news the dawn?
She’s the leader of the song of the hope-bringing caravan of stars,
of the darkness scared away gives news the dawn.

Shahâbhâ va shabhâ

Az zolmat-e ramide khabar midehad sahar
shab raft o bâ sepide khabar midehad sahar
az akhtar-e shabân rame-ye shab ramid o raft
az rafte o ramide khabar midehad sahar


Zangâr khord joshan-e shab-râ bâ nushkhand
az tiq-e âbdide khabar midehad sahar
bâz az hariq-e bishe-ye khâkestarin falaq
âtash be jân kharide khabar midehad sahar

Az qamz o nâz o anjâm o az ramz o râz-e shab
az dide o shenide khabar midehad sahar
bas shod shahid-e parde-ye shabhâ shahâbhâ
va ân pardehâ daride khabar midehad sahar

Âh ân paride rang che bud o che shod kazu
rangash ze rokh paride khabar midehad sahar
châvushkhân-e qâfele-ye roshanân omid
az zolmat-e ramide khabar midehad sahar.

Huehuetlahtolli

We have just learned the melodious word huehuetlahtolli” in the volume of essays edited by Roxana Recio, Traducción y humanismo: Panorama de un desarrollo cultural (Soria: Vertere. Monográficos de la revista Hermeneus, 2007). It is in Nahuatl, and it is composed by huehue (ancient) and tlahtolli (word, discourse, account, proverb, warning), so that its literal traduction would be “ancient word”. However, it would be more proper to translate it as “word – or testimony – of the ancients”, as it refers to a sort of simple didactic texts, written in beautiful verses and provided with delicate metaphors, which were used to inculcate the moral principles of civilization upon the youth. This is how it is explained in the analysis by Librado Silva Galeana, «Los huehuetlahtolli recogidos por fray Andrés de Olmos, publicados después por fray Juan Bautista. Algunas dificultades que presentó su traducción» (pages 173-185 of the book quoted).

Don Andrés, Aztec notary: Techialoyan land records, in Nahuatl (17th c.) (Mexico)Don Andrés, Aztec notary: Techialoyan land records, in Nahuatl (17th c.)

These texts include that few that has been preserved from the culture of the ancient Mexicans. In the surviving compilations we can feel the efforts of the last Pre-Colombian generation done in a moment when their world has already been forever annihilated, and the dominion of the conquerors has become unequivocally palpable.

From here, far in space and time we believe that the ancient Nahuatl are also “our ancestors”. They began to become that in the very moment when Spain reached to them and the two people started to blend, and their word should be heard by us with the same attention dedicated to our European forefathers. Unfortunately, in the Spanish universities these themes are generally ignored. After the immense and grotesque publicity campaign dedicated by the Spanish government to the celebrations of the Fifth Centennary in 1992, we have fallen into the most absolute disdain in confront of the American culture (obviously, there are always small exceptions). What most vigorously survives from those solemnities are the sometimes vitrioline critical essays dedicated by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio to them as well as to the relation of Spain with America.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957): The Creation. Illustration to Popol Vuh, c. 1931Diego Rivera (1886-1957): The Creation. Illustration to Popol Vuh, ca. 1931

The occasion that moves us to write this commentary is the fresh shock of having seen the extremely distorted view of history of the Apocalypto perpetrated by Mel Gibson. It was the more irritating as with the means at his disposal he could have made of this theme something really good. True, we were delighted to hear the dialogues en Maya, but these spectacular simplifications of history create topic that stick to the mind of the spectator like a tick, forever blocking the way to any more subtle approach.

Anyway. Now our main task is to find this book: Fray Juan Bautista Viseo, Huehuetlahtolli: testimonio de la antigua palabra. Ed. Miguel León-Portilla. Trad. Librado Silva Galeana. México: Comisión Nacional Conmemorativa del V Centenario del Encuentro de Dos Mundos, 1988 (and México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1991).

Huehuetlahtolli

Ayer aprendimos la sonora palabra «huehuetlahtolli» en la colección de estudios que ha publicado Roxana Recio Traducción y humanismo: Panorama de un desarrollo cultural (Soria: Vertere. Monográficos de la revista Hermeneus, 2007). Es náhuatl y está compuesta de huehue (viejo, en el sentido de antiguo) y tlahtolli (palabra, discurso, relato, refrán, amonestación), así que su traducción literal sería «antigua palabra». Quizá sea más adecuado traducirla por «la palabra –o el testimonio– de los ancianos» porque designa unos textos didácticos simples –aunque de una poesía directa, hermosa y cuajada de delicadas metáforas– con que se adoctrinaba a los jóvenes y se les enseñaban los principios morales de la civilización. Así lo explica el trabajo de Librado Silva Galeana, «Los huehuetlahtolli recogidos por fray Andrés de Olmos, publicados después por fray Juan Bautista. Algunas dificultades que presentó su traducción» (págs. 173-185 del libro citado).

Don Andrés azték jegyző: Techialoyani birtokkönyv nahuatl nyelven (17. század) (Mexikó)Don Andrés, notario azteca: Catastro de Techialoyan en náhuatl (siglo XVII)

En estos textos se encuentra lo poco que nos ha quedado de la cultura de los antiguos mexicanos. En las recopilaciones que han sobrevivido vemos los esfuerzos de la última generación precolombina esmerándose en dejar constancia del viejo saber cuando ya había ocurrido la aniquilación de su mundo y se hacía presente la imposición del de los conquistadores.

Desde aquí, lejos en tiempo y espacio, creeemos que los viejos náhuatl también son «nuestros mayores». Lo empezaron a ser en el mismo momento en que España llegó allá y se mezclaron los pueblos, y su palabra debe ser escuchada con la misma atención que dedicamos a nuestros antepasados europeos. En los estudios universitarios españoles, desgraciadamente, se tiende a ignorar por completo estos temas. Después de la gran operación publicitaria y grotesca que montó el estado español alrededor de las celebraciones del Quinto Centenario, en 1992, hemos caído en el desprecio más absoluto hacia la cultura americana (siempre hay pequeñas excepciones, claro está). Sin duda, lo que mejor pervive son los escritos críticos, a veces furiosamente atrabiliarios, que dedicó Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio a aquellos festejos y a la relación española con América.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957): A Teremtés. Illusztráció a Popol Vuh-hoz, 1931 k.Diego Rivera (1886-1957): La Creación. Ilustración al Popol Vuh, c. 1931

Y ahora nos mueve a escribir estas líneas el estremecimiento sufrido hoy al ver la ambigua lección de historia perpetrada por Mel Gibson en su film Apocalypto. Es especialmente irritante porque con los medios de que ha dispuesto y los temas que apunta podría haber resultado una película muy valiosa. Nos ha gustado oír los diálogos en maya, pero estas espectaculares simplificaciones de la historia crean tópicos como garrapatas en la mente de la mayoría de espectadores, y luego ya no es posible matizar nada.

Bien. Buscaremos este libro: Fray Juan Bautista Viseo, Huehuetlahtolli: testimonio de la antigua palabra. Ed. Miguel León-Portilla. Trad. Librado Silva Galeana. México: Comisión Nacional Conmemorativa del V Centenario del Encuentro de Dos Mundos, 1988 (y México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1991).

Puzzle

Mallorca, Szent Bonaventura-kolostor kerengőjének egykori tetőszegély-cserepeiThe solution of this puzzle is impeded by the absolute lack of data, but the story is beautiful. In Mallorca, the lower border of the roof of the farmhouses was often covered by painted tiles. The custom dates from the Middle Ages, but nothing more is known about the exact date or place of its origin. It seems to have spread from the manor houses in the mountains to the rest of the island. In the valley of Sóller still there are many examples of it, but we also find them in Muro, Binissalem, Esporles or Sancelles. It is always decorated in a very simple, popular style, and with apotropaic or prophylactic motifs so that it might protect the roof of the house and the people living under it. Of course, they can be also found in places very far away from Mallorca, as it is attested by these precious examples of Chuquinga, Peru.

Guillem Rosselló Bordoy has just published a curious book: Les teules del claustre, in which he presents a set of 17th-century painted tiles – which were, in contrast to the above mentioned examples, decorated by the hand of a trained painter – recently found in the Convent de Sant Bonaventura of Llucmajor. They are 134 in number, that is only a small part of those that had flanked the roof on the four sides of the cloisters of this Franciscan monastery. The tiles were provided by a letter each one, so that in they original order they used to form a text, whose reconstruction is the puzzle I referred to in the first phrase.

We do not know the original order of the few surviving tiles, as they were reutilized in the course of the various transformations of the building. Of the 134 pieces only 64 have preserved a clearly legible letter, and there are 19 more of a dubious lecture. It is calculated that the four edges of the roof were covered by about 280 tiles. Mallorca, Szent Bonaventura-kolostor kerengőjének egykori tetőszegély-cserepeiWithin the span of this number we have to look for the Biblical sentence, supplication or Franciscan motto that had framed the sky of the cloisters. Perhaps with the support of a refined software, or more probably with that of some additional available documentation we could find a soultion. At the moment, the puzzle remains unsolved. If someone wants to try a hand at it, these are the raw data:

Letter A .......... 3
Letter B .......... 2
Letter C .......... 3
Letter D .......... 2
Letter E .......... 10
Letter G .......... 1
Letter I ........... 11
Letter L .......... 1
Letter M ........ 4
Letter N ......... 6
Letter O ......... 4
Letter Q .......... 1
Letter R .......... 2
Letter S .......... 2
Letter T .......... 3
Letter V (U) .... 5
Letter X .......... 1

The book – from which we borrowed our illustrations – has also more information and hypothesis, but they do not seem to be especially helpful to the verification of the phrase. Let us see whether some of our Readers who is especially knowledgeable about Franciscan ways and customs will be equal to the task.

Las tejas del Claustro de San Buenaventura

Mallorca, Szent Bonaventura-kolostor kerengőjének egykori tetőszegély-cserepeiEs una especie de acertijo o reto, y lo hace difícil la falta de datos. Pero también es una bonita historia. En los voladizos de los tejados de las casas de campo mallorquinas era habitual encontrar tejas pintadas. Su origen es medieval y poco más se sabe acerca de su procedencia ni de cuándo exactamente llegó este uso a Mallorca. Parece que su presencia se extendió desde los predios y casas de la montaña hacia toda la isla. El valle de Sóller guarda aún bastantes ejemplos. También se encuentran en Muro, Binissalem, Esporles, Sancelles... Su carácter es siempre popular, muy simple y con alguna función apotropaica o profiláctica, protectora de la cubierta de la casa y de sus habitantes. Por supuesto, se las encuentra también en lugares muy alejados de Mallorca, como se ve en este precioso ejemplo de Chuquinga, Peru.

Guillem Rosselló Bordoy acaba de publicar un curioso libro: Les teules del claustre, donde da cuenta del hallazgo de una serie de tejas pintadas, éstas de carácter culto y del siglo XVII, en el Convent de Sant Bonaventura de Llucmajor. Son en concreto 134 tejas, una pequeña parte de todas las tejas decoradas que componían el voladizo completo, las cuatro aguas, del claustro de aquel convento franciscano. Todas las tejas de aquel voladizo estaban pintadas y formaban un texto. Así, el acertijo al que me refería al principio es reconstruir la frase que podía leerse.

Las escasas tejas supervivientes están desordenadas porque ya habían sido reutilizadas en varias reformas del edificio, y de las 134 que hoy nos quedan solo nos son útiles las 64 que contienen una letra claramente legible. Todavía hay 19 más de lectura dudosa. Se ha calculado que entre los cuatro tramos de tejado sumarían alrededor de 280 tejas. Con estos números deberíamos buscar la frase bíblica, Mallorca, Szent Bonaventura-kolostor kerengőjének egykori tetőszegély-cserepeijaculatoria o sentencia franciscana que enmarcaba el cielo del claustro. Quizá con la ayuda de algún potente programa informático, pero más probablemente con el apoyo de una fuente documental complementaria, encontraremos algún día la solución. De momento, vale como reto. Por si alguien quiere acometerlo, estos son los datos crudos:

Letra A .......... 3
Letra B .......... 2
Letra C .......... 3
Letra D .......... 2
Letra E .......... 10
Letra G .......... 1
Letra I ........... 11
Letra L .......... 1
Letra M ........ 4
Letra N ......... 6
Letra O ......... 4
Letra Q .......... 1
Letra R .......... 2
Letra S .......... 2
Letra T .......... 3
Letra V (U) .... 5
Letra X .......... 1

Hay más informaciones e hipótesis en el libro que comentamos (del que hemos extraído las dos imágenes que aquí veis), pero poco añaden para la averiguación de la frase. A ver si alguno de nuestros lectores especialmente sabio en usos y costumbres franciscanos es capaz de dar con ella.

The salty bread

Italian bread peddler, Mulberry St., New York. Photocrome, 1902. Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920Bread peddler in the Italian quarter of New York. Photocrome, 1902. Detroit Publishing Company

Dante was banished from Firenze in November 1301, after the opposing party seized the power over the city by conspiracy.

As to which party Dante belonged and which one was the party opposing it is a tricky question even at the Italian department. The basic factor that determined the political field of 13th-century Italy was the struggle between the Papacy and the Empire, and this field was split along this fault line into the two parties of pro-Empire Ghibellines and pro-Papacy Guelfs. But as to what it means to be a Guelf or a Ghibelline in 1301, thirty-three years after the last Hohenstauf offspring was beheaded on the marketplace of Naples, was just as controversial and different from town to town as the meaning of the Left and of the Right in the countries of Eastern Europe twenty years after the end of the Cold War. Dante belonged to the so-called “white” wing of the Guelf party defending the independence of Florence, while their opponents, the “black” Guelfs advocating a much closer collaboration with the Pope robbed them of the power over the city with the support of the troops of the Ghibelline Siena. On the other hand, the white Guelfs who were immediately banished from the city, continued to fight for their return in alliance with the Ghibellines of Florence whom they had defeated at Campaldino in 1289 and banished from the city. The white Guelf Dante, who for personal reason very soon had an argument with his fellow exiles, spent most of the remaining twenty years of his life in Ghibelline courts as the most influential Italian advocate of the cause of the Empire, while it was the black Guelf Cino da Pistoia who provided him a lecturer’s position at the University of Bologna. And if the threads are not entangled enough: Corso Donati, the leader of the Black party was the brother-in-law of Dante (this is why Dante’s wife could remain in Florence), and he ordered the banishment of the White just one year after Dante – who was a Prior of Florence in the summer of 1300 – having subscribed with his own hands the document about the banishment of his own best friend Guido Cavalcanti. Albeit Cavalcanti was a White Guelf just like Dante, but he fall on the other side of another fault line: he belonged to the noblemen deprived of their citizenship after a long internal struggle by the White and Black Guelf burghers in agreement.

Every person has his own trauma that he then drags along for a life. For Dante it was this exile that he could not get over until his death. To this topic he returns again and again in his writings, the contrivers of this are inflicted by him with the most terrible punishments in the Inferno – the main conceiver Boniface VIII with more than one, as if Dante was trying where it hurts him the most painfully –, and while in the Holy Week of 1300 he arrives from Hell to Heaven, most characters foretell him about this. This is done in the most explicit form by his ancestor Cacciaguida in the 17th canto of the Paradiso:

Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e’l salir per l’altrui scale.

Thou shalt by sharp experience be aware

how salt the bread of strangers is, how hard
the up and down of someone else’s stair.

This “salty bread” is usually interpreted as the “bitter bread of exile”, the one “salted with tears” by the refugee. This is how it is also interpreted by the most authoritative Renaissance commentator Cristoforo Landino of the Comedy, expounding these verses of Cacciaguida like this in his commentary first published in 1498:

ma nondimeno tu nel tuo essilio sarai percosso dalla prima saetta, che trahe l’essilio: & questo è, che ti converrà lasciar le cose a te piu care, cioè, la patria, i parenti, gli amici, le case, le possessioni, & simili, & proverai, come sa di sale, cioè, quanto pare amaro.

nevertheless you will be reached too by that first arrow that means the exile: that is, you will have to leave everything that is dearest to you, your homeland, your parents, your friends, your home, your possessions and everything else, and then you will see how salty, that is, how bitter it is.


However, this verse of the Comedy also offers another possibility of interpretation. The archaic structure sì come or, in a contracted form, siccome in the sì come sa di sale was used in the old literary Tuscan language in the sense of modern che, on the model of Latin sicut. If we translate the first two verses like this, they will simply mean: You will be aware that the bread of others is salty.

What is the difference? That the bread in Florence is not salty. It was not salty already in Dante’s time. Medieval Florence had no sea, and purchased salt from the great enemy, Pisa – for an usurious price. Salt was regarded as a treasure in the city, like pepper elsewhere, and whenever it was used, it was rather added to the companaticum, that is to the things “eaten with the bread”, and omitted from the bread itself. Even today one of the specialities of Tuscan kitchen is that their bread lacks salt, while traditional smoked meat – in compensation – is much more salty than elsewhere in Italy. Salty bread – as all our Tuscan friends proudly proclaim it – is therefore per definitionem “the bread of strangers”.

Dante wrote this canto of the Paradiso almost twenty years after his banishment in Ravenna, where after so much wandering he finally received a house of his own from the lord of the city, Guido Novello da Polenta. It was here, writes Barbara Reynolds, whose excellent biography of Dante has just been translated to Hungarian by us:

where it was possible for his sons and a daughter to join him and possibly also his wife, where the bread was surely more palatable and the stairs at last familiar beneath his feet.

The stairs – for that short time he could spend in Ravenna, where his tomb today stands in the small square at the side of the church, just having enough time to complete his Comedy – perhaps yes. But salty Ravenna bread could never feel as tasty to him as twenty years earlier quello bbòno, della hhasa.

Great Patriotic War

Квас - не кола, пей НиКолу (Kvass is no Cola – drink NiKola)
I read in the news that the consumption of kvass is victoriously advancing on the Russian front of soft drinks. “Local drink producers advertise their products as patriotic alternatives to Western drinks. One of them even chose a patriotic name: Nikola, alluding to Ne kola [not Cola]. In the last year they even launched an «anticolanization» campaign against colanizing Western soft drinks.”

Квас - не кола, пей НиКолу (Kvass is the health of the A kvász nem kóla – igyál Nikolát)Say no to colanization – Kvass is the health of the nation.

– Nu pogodi! [wait a minute] – I recall immediately the title of the famous Soviet tale serial of my childhood. Did they not nail this name and slogan from Pelevin?

Viktor Pelevin, Cover of the book Generation PViktor Pelevin (the second one among the three Che portraits) published at the end of the 90's in free web sequels – today we would call it a blog – his remarkable work Generation П, the absurd utopy of the Post-Soviet chaos and of the new order manipulated, moreover created, moreover substituted by the publicity and TV. The action of the novel that takes place in the world of the creatives is dotted by excellent advertisement drafts, illustrating with tangible examples what Pelevin scented with an amazing intuition: that the Russians (but we could also safely say Eastern Europeans) have a great relish for watching the ads and wares, the capitalism and the West being ridiculed – and if this is done in an advertisement, then with this advertisement you can sell anything to them.

In one of these drafts the protagonist writes (already in the 90's!):

First of all it is to be considered that the actual order of things in Russia cannot survive for long. The future dictatorship, independently of its political and economical program, will avail of nationalistic catchwords, and pseudo-Slavic style will become the dominant state aesthetics. In the system of signs and symbols of this style the traditional Western advertisement is simply unimaginable. (…) Let us consider the traditional positioning slogan: Sprite – the Uncola! Its use seems to be maximally purposeful in Russia, albeit for reasons different from America, where the term Uncola successfully positions the Sprite as compared to Pepsi and Coca-Cola. (…) However, we know that in the countries of Eastern Europe, the Coca-Cola has meant rather an ideological fetish than a soft drink, the “taste of freedom”, as it was proclaimed by a large number of Eastern European refugees in the 70's and 80's. Thus the term Uncola creates a largely antidemocratic and antiliberal connotation for the home consumer, a fact that renders it maximally attractive and promising in a military dictatorship. The Russian translation of Uncola is Ne-kola [Некола]. It sounds similar to the name Nikola, and, considering the associations evoked by this word, it perfectly fits in the aesthetics of the probable future. A possible version of its slogan is:

SPRITE – NE-KOLA FOR NIKOLA

[СПРАЙТ. НЕ-КОЛА ДЛЯ НИКОЛЫ]

It would be worth to consider the introduction of Nikola Spraitovich, into the consciousness of the consumer, a figure similar to Ronald McDonald but with a deeply patriotic soul.

And yes, they made it. NiKola has arrived, Nikola Spraitovich has been created, the patriotic campaign around it has been organized, and of course the matching political system has been also established in the meantime.

Nikola Kvassovich
Nikola Kvassovich
Plakat fruktovogo kvasa (Фруктовый квас, плакат)



According to the historical summary by Vlad Grinkevich, the Nikola was created on May 9, 2005, the Day of Victory (!) by Nikita Volkov, the director of the Deka beer factory in Novgorod that had lost its market as a consequence of the invasion of Western multinational companies. And he confessedly drew the idea of the name and of the slogan from Pelevin.

The campaign of the Nikola was initially based on a patriotic joining of forces against the “aggressors” breaking in upon Russia, primarily against the two Cola’s, also targeted by name. However, the Russian counterattack also proved too aggressive. The Pepsi- and Coca-Cola raised objections, and the Russian anti-monopoly authorities constrained the Deka to a change of strategy – writes in his recent analysis Anton Gladchenko. They are not permitted to mention the enemy by name. But there are also much more subtle tools, aren’t we Russians after all?

Колу в гопу. The new anti-Cola campaign of Deka (Nikola)
On the eve of the Day of Victory of 2008 new advertisements appeared in the metro and autobuses of Moscow – writes Sergey in his blog Idiotskaya reklama –, that build on the unique skill of Eastern European citizens of reading between the lines. For the initials of the single paragraphs of the usual boring and politically correct blabla sum up the following phrase:

КОЛУ В ГОПУ.

The Cola to… where? What is “гопа”? – ask the Russians themselves. True, this word means a ‘drinking den’ in the slang of the Russian underworld, and in a figurative sense a ‘gang of hooligans’, and whoever knows it may cheer up seeing this ad. However, hardly anyone knows it. But a similar word known and used by everyone is “жопа”, ass, and the term “в жопу” – get the fuck off! Knowing the susceptibility of colloquial Russian to expressive nuances, I would not be surprised to see the eufemism “гопа” soon in standard dictionaries.

But what about Pelevin? Did he receive a percentage after the brand and slogan created by him from the kvass business that has doubled its turnover since 2005?

“We have registered the copyright on the brand, and all its rights belong to us.” – replies on this question Nikita Volkov. – “We keep trying to say thanks to Pelevin, but we have not managed to get in contact with him.”

This noble effort immediately recalls to me another great classic of post-Communist Eastern European literature, the I’m a Communist granny (Sînt o babă comunistă) by Dan Lungu:

Now there is her favorite program, when the listeners can also phone in. They can speak about the voluntary works they have accomplished. Now there is a comrade on the line and she says:
– I’m a working woman from Craiova… In the last days I was in Bucharest to arrange my personal affairs. In front of the Hotel Intercontinental I have found a purse… Of course I have lifted it and looked into it. There were five thousand lei and two thousand dollars in it… From the documents it turned out that the owner of the purse was a certain Anton Cărăşel, Bucharest, Izvoarelor street 46, block A6, stairway C, first floor 3.…
– Yes? And what can we do for you?
– I would like very much to send a beautiful song to Comrade Cărăşel.


And this makes this story really beautiful, Eastern European and Russian.

The Mexican corrido

Mexico, Revolution in the South, 1912. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb367nb4xx/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
Fleur du Printemps has also answered our appeal to our Readers to send us the songs telling about their history, presenting us this beautiful bouquet of the corridos of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). The photos commenting the texts are by the photographer of the Revolution Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938).

The corridos are the Mexican offsprings of the Spanish romance. They express feelings and ideas, triumphs and defeats, pains and happiness which are so overflowing to constitute a collective importance for the Mexican folk. The corrido is the language of the people. At one time it played the role of the press: the news used to spread all over the countryside in songs, rather than in newspapers which were no important sources of information in an overwhelmingly illiterate country. Only the most important events or the great personalities deserved to be sung about in a corrido, but they sometimes also immortalize scenes of the everyday life of the internal parts of the country.

Mexico, Revolution. Women disembarking from a train. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb0v19p09c/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
The corrido is characterized by spontaneity, and by a simple language and melody. It uses few poetic tools, but it is very concise, and gives more importance to the rhythm than to the form. Its classical form is the quatrain 8a 8b 8a 8b which also permits more than one poems to be sung with the same melody. This is why they can also easily be modified and actualized, so that one corrido lives on in several versions.

Mexico, Revolution. Soldiers in family circle. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content-s10.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb6199p2k3/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
According to the man of letters, politician, speaker and poet of native Mexican blood Andrés Henestrosa, the circumstances favorable to the birth of the corrido were provided by the formation of national feeling and identity. It was born together with the Independence, but it reached its climax during the Revolution, with the collective rejection of “Porfirism” that took its name from the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911) and of forced Europization (Díaz was one of the great promoters of French culture among the Mexican high society). This was the longest and most supported phase of national rebirth, the one with the deepest roots in Mexican reality, and therefore the most popular one.

Mexico, Revolution, Photo of a woman walking next to a line of mounted Zapatista. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb1p300718/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
The Revolution originated in the conflict between the new parties, as the old ones ceased to exist with the arrival of Porfirio Díaz to the power. The resistance against his reelection was organized by Francisco I. Madero who also launched the armed rebellion. Later the movement was divided in factions, as in fact it was never united but by the hatred against the common enemy, that is Díaz. The factions were formed according to the most influential generals and the regions where they camped. The most important ones were Venustiano Carranza in the North (it was him to prepare the Constitution of 1917, still in force in Mexico), Emiliano Zapata in Central Mexico, Pancho Villa, Pascual Orozco and Álvaro Obregón in the North (Obregón was to become the co-founder of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario, predecessor of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional that maintained the power from the foundation of the PNR in 1929 until 2000).

Mexico, Revolution. General Zapata on horseback. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb6p3009q4/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
However, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata were the personalities embraced by the greatest popular devotion, and their names have been used to give credit to certain movements, like the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) or the Frente Popular Francisco Villa (FPFV).

I have chosen some of the most famous corridos, and some of those that I like the most, hoping that you would also love them. Enjoy.

Mexico, Revolution. Revolutionary soldier aboard a train holding the hand of a woman on the ground. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb8c601174/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
La Rielera. I learned this corrido while singing in the school choir, and I have always loved it. The rielera – the railwaywoman – worked for the railways, in this case for the central railways connecting the city of México with the North. Lerdo, Gómez and Torreón are cities in the northern states (Durango and Coahuila) which at that time were important mining regions, especially Torreón. This song is from the period of the Revolution splitting into factions, when the Carrancistas (of Venustiano Carranza) fought against the Villistas (of Francisco Villa).



I’m a railwaywoman and I love Juan
he’s my life and I’m his delight;
when they say the train is leaving,
adiós, my railwaywoman, your Juan is leaving.

When the engine-driver says
that the train is leaving for San Juan,
I already bring his basket
with which he’s going to refine.

I have a pair of pistols
with an ivory head
to defend myself, if necessary,
against those of the railway.

I have a pair of pistols
with a precise aiming
with one shot for my lover
and another for my enemy.

Adiós, boys of Lerdo,
of Gómez and of Torreón
the maintainers are already leaving
the turn is over forever.

I have a pair of horses
for the Revolution
one is called Robin
and the other Sparrow.

They say the Carrancistas
are like scorpion
when the Villistas are coming
they run away with lifted tail.

I know that as you see me in uniform
you believe I come to ask of you
although I come to you, brown girl,
to look for your favors.

As you see me in boots
you believe me to be a soldier
although I’m only a poor railwayman
at the Central Railways.

Yo soy rielera y tengo mi Juan,
él es mi vida yo soy su querer;
cuando me dicen que ya se va el tren,
adiós mi rielera ya se va tu Juan.

Cuando dice el conductor,
va salir para San Juan,
le llevo su canastita
con la que va a refinar.

Tengo mi par de pistolas,
con sus cachas de marfil,
para darme de balazos
con los del ferrocarril.

Tengo mi par de pistolas
con su parque muy cabal,
una para mi querida
y otra para mi rival.

Adiós muchachos de Lerdo,
de Gómez y de Torreón,
ya se van los garroteros,
ya se acabo la función.

Tengo mi par de caballos
para la Revolución,
uno se llama el Jilguero
y otro de llama el Gorrión.

Dicen que los carrancistas
parecen un alacrán,
cuando ven a los villistas
alzan la cola y se van.

So porque me ves de traje
crees que te voy a pedir,
solo quiero prieta chula
tus favores conseguir.

Si porque me ves con botas
piensas que soy melitar, [militar]
soy un pobre rielerito
del Ferrocarril Central.

Mexico, Revolution. Armed soldadera. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb909nb8h6/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
La Adelita. This is one of the most famous Mexican corridos. The Revolution was not only the case of the soldiers. The troops were also followed by women and children who took care of the solders and feeded them, healed the ill and the wounded, etc. [This is a scene with the famous actresses María Félix and Dolores del Río, in a film from the golden age of the Mexican cinema, that presented the women following the soldiers in the time of the war.]



On the top of the rocky mountain
there was an army camped
and a courageous women followed them
fallen in love with the sergeant.

Everyone appreciated Adelita
who loved the sergeant
as she was courageous and beautiful
even the colonel estimated her.

And they heard that it was told
by him who loved her so much:

If Adelita wanted to be mine
if Adelita wanted to be my wife
I’d buy her a silk garment
to take her to dance in the caserm.

And if Adelita went with another
I’d follow her over land and sea
with a battleship on the sea
and with a military train on land.

And as the cruel battle was over
and the army retired to the camp
the sobbing of a woman was heard
her crying filling the whole camp.

The sergeant heared it, and fearing
to loose his adored forever
concealing his pain in himself
he sang like this to his lover:

And they heard that it was told
by him who was dying so much:

And if I died in the battle
and my body was buried there
Adelita, I ask you for God
to come there and cry over me.

En lo alto de una abrupta serranía,
acampado se encontraba un regimiento,
y una joven que valiente lo seguía,
locamente enamorada del sargento.

Popular entre la tropa era Adelita,
las mujer que el sargento idolatraba,
que además de ser valiente era bonita,
que hasta el mismo coronel la respetaba.

Y se oía, que decía,
aquel que tanto la quería:

Y si Adelita quisiera ser mi esposa,
si Adelita fuera mi mujer,
le compraría un vestido de seda
para llevarle a bailar al cuartel.

Y si Adelita se fuera con otro,
la seguiría por tierra y por mar,
si por mar en un buque de guerra,
si por tierra en un tren militar.

Y después que termino la cruel batalla
y la tropa regresó a su campamento,
se oye la voz de una mujer que sollozaba,
su plegaria se escucho en el campamento.

Al oírla el sargento temeroso,
de perder para siempre a su adorada,
ocultando su dolor bajo el esbozo
a su amada le cantó de esta manera:

Y se oía, que decía,
aquel que tanto se moría:

Y si acaso yo muero en campaña,
y mi cadáver lo van a sepultar,
Adelita por Dios te lo ruego,
que con tus ojos me vayas a llorar.

Mexico, Revolution. General Pancho Villa on horseback
El Mayor de los Dorados. The dorados (“gilded ones”) were the “elit forces” of Pancho Villa, the most famous general together with Emiliano Zapata. Villa fought in the North. Parral is in Chihuahua, a border state near to the United States. This corrido is also from the splitting of the Revolution in factions. Álvaro Obregón was a very important and very competent general, later President of Mexico.



I was the soldier of Francisco Villa
of the world famous general
who, even if sitting on a simple chair
did not envy that of the President.

Now I live on the seashore
remembering those immortal times
Ay… Ay…
Now I live on the seashore
remembering Parral and Villa.

I was one of the dorados
made a Major by chance
and made crippled by the war
while defending the country and honor.

I remember of times past
how we fought against the invader
today I recall the times past
the dorados of whom I was a Major.

My horse, ridden so many times by me
died under me in Jiménez
a bullet intended to me
run across his body.

While dying, he neighed of pain
and gave his life for the country
Ay… Ay…
while dying, he neighed of pain
how much I cried when he died!

Pancho Villa, I keep you
in my memories and in my heart
even if sometimes we were beaten
by the troops of Álvaro Obregón.

I was always your loyal soldier
until the end of the Revolution
Ay… Ay…
I was always your loyal soldier
fighting always in front of the cannons.

Fui soldado de Francisco Villa
de aquel hombre de fama mundial,
que aunque estuvo sentado en la silla
no envidiaba la presidencial.

Ahora vivo allá por la orilla
recordando aquel tiempo inmortal.
Ay… Ay…
Ahora vivo allá por la orilla
recordando a Villa allá por Parral.

Yo fui uno de aquellos Dorados
que por suerte llegó a ser Mayor,
por la lucha quedamos lisiados
defendiendo la patria y honor.

Hoy recuerdo los tiempos pasados
que peleamos contra el invasor,
hoy recuerdo los tiempos pasados
de aquellos Dorados que yo fui Mayor.

Mi caballo que tanto montara
en Jiménez la muerte encontró,
una bala que a mí me tocaba
a su cuerpo se le atravesó.

Al morir de dolor relinchaba
por la patria la vida entregó
Ay… Ay…
Al morir de dolor relinchaba
cómo le llorara cuando se murió.

Pancho Villa te llevo grabado
en mi mente y en mi corazón
y aunque a veces me vi derrotado
por las fuerzas de Álvaro Obregón.

Siempre anduve como fiel soldado
hasta el fin de la revolución
Ay… Ay…
Siempre anduve como fiel soldado
que siempre ha luchado al pié del cañón.

Mexico, Revolution. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content-s10.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb1d5nb3n0/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
Caballo Prieto Azabache. (My dark horse) Ah, this is one of my favorite corridos. It speaks of a soldier crying for his horse who had saved his life when the troops of Villa were going to execute him. The Mauser were the firearms used in the Revolution. They were first imported from Germany to Mexico by Porfirio Díaz who also founded a local factory to produce them.



My dark horse, how could I
forget you, I own you my life
when the troops loyal to Pancho Villa
were going to execute me

It was a cloudy night
and I was surprised by an outpost
and having disarmed me
they sentenced me to death.

As I was already in the death cell
Villa was saying to his aide-de-camp
put this horse for me aside
as it is educated and obedient.

I know I cannot escape
but I kept thinking about it
and you, my dark horse
were thinking exactly like me.

I remember being asked of what is
my last desire before the death
and I told, I wanted to die
sitting on my dark horse.

And when I was put on you
and were going to execute me
you only expected my command
and jumped over the wall.

With three Mauser bullets in your body
you galloped, my dark one, saving my life
what you’ve done for me, my horse,
my friend, I will never forget you.

I was unable to save yours
and I can only cry of grief
therefore, my dark horse
I will not forget you ever.

Caballo prieto azabache,
como olvidarte te debo la vida.
Cuando iban a fusilarme,
las fuerzas leales de Pancho Villa.

Fue aquella noche nublada,
una avanzada me sorprendió.
Y…después de… de…sar…marme,
fui condenado al paredón.

Ya cuando estuve en capilla,
le dijo Villa a su asistente,
me apartas ese caballo
por educado y obediente.

Sabia que no iba a escaparme,
solo pensaba en mi salvación,
Y tú mi prieto azabache
también pensaste igual que yo.

Recuerdo que me dijeron
pide un deseo pa'[para] justiciarte
yo quiero morir monta'o [montado] en mi caballo
prieto azabache.

Y cuando en ti me montaron
y prepararon, la ejecución,
mi voz de mando esperaste
te abalanzaste sobre el pelotón.

con tres balazos de mauser,
corriste azabache, salvando mi vida,
lo que tu hiciste conmigo
caballo amigo no se me olvida.

No pude salvar la tuya,
y la amargura me hace llorar,
por eso prie…to a…za…bache,
no he de olvidarte nunca jamás.

Mexico, Revolution. Soldiers. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content-s10.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb400008gc/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
La Cucaracha. (The cockroach) One of the most popular songs of the Revolution in Mexico and the best known one in abroad. As children, we were taught a very innocent version in the school, with no marijuana and no revolutionaries in the lyrics.

Mexico, Revolution. Song sheet of the corrido La Cucaracha


The cockroach, the cockroach
cannot walk any more
as he has no more
marijuana to smoke.

The Carrancistas are leaving
they are leaving with empty stomach
for the Villistas say
they are going to die of hunger.

Poor cockroach
is bitterly complaining
that he has no ironed clothes
because of the lack of carbon.

(Choir)

Poor Madero is left
by almost everyone
Huerta, the drunken bandit
is only good for an ox to plough.

We take unstarched clothes
day after day
and without such chic
we are considered blockheads.

(Choir)

Everyone is fighting for the chair
which is the source of much money
Pancho Villa at the North
and at the South viva Zapata!

I am excited to laugh at one thing:
to see Pancho Villa without a shirt
and I am terrified by one thing:
to see the vile Huerta in a shirt.

(Choir)

I need a good Ford
to arrive to the place
where the Convention
was sent by Zapata.

A colorful parrot
says to a mottled one
whoever jokes with my country
let him be taken by the …

(Choir)

Some plunder a lot
and then are hidden far away
protected by the law
while we are considered guilty.

(Choir)

How beautiful are the camp-followers
when dancing the fandango
Viva Pánfilo Natera
the pride of Durango.

The cockroach is already dead
he is taken to be buried
he is followed by four eagles
and by the mouse of the church.

La Cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar,
porque no tiene, porque le falta,
marihuana que fumar.

Ya se van los carrancistas,
ya se van por el alambre,
porque dicen los villistas,
que se estarán muriendo de hambre.

Pobre de la Cucaracha,
se queja con decepción,
de no usar ropa planchada,
por la escasez de carbón.

(Coro)

Pobrecito de Madero,
casi todos le han fallado,
Huerta el ebrio bandolero,
es un buey para el arado.

La ropa sin almidón,
se pone todos los días;
y sin esas boberías,
se me figura melón.

(Coro)

¡Todos se pelean la silla
que les deja mucha plata;
en el Norte Pancho Villa,
y en el Sur Viva Zapata!

Una cosa me da risa:
Pancho Villa sin camisa,
otra cosa me da horror,
al vil Huerta en camisón.

(Coro)

Necesito algún "fortingo"
para hacer la caminata,
al lugar donde mandó
a la convención, Zapata.

Una guacamaya pinta
le dijo a una colorada,
quien se meta con mi patria,
se lo carga la…

(Coro)

Hay unos que roban mucho,
y luego huyen muy lejos,
validos de fuero y mando
y de que nos creen pen…itentes.

(Coro)

Qué bonitas soldaderas
cuando bailan el fandango.
Viva Pánfilo Natera,
el orgullo de Durango.

Ya murió la Cucaracha
ya la llevan a enterrar,
entre cuatro zopilotes
y un ratón de sacristán.

Mexico, Revolution. Soldiers dancing. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content-s10.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb5x0nb6gc/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere
La Valentina. Another famous song of the Revolution, and one of my favorites. Even if it does not speak about the war, but about one fallen in love with “Valentina”, while he knows how dangerous it is to love her.

Song sheet of the corrido “Valentina”, Mexico, 1915


Valentina, Valentina,
I would like to tell you
what a passion rules me
that made me to come here.

They say that your love
is a curse that follows your lover
but let the devil take it
I also know how to die.

Even if I drink tequila today
tomorrow I’ll drink sherry
even if I’m seen drunk today
tomorrow they’ll not see me like that.

Valentina, Valentina,
I fall on my knees at your feet
if tomorrow they will kill me
I’ll only be killed only once.

Valentina, Valentina,
yo te quisiera decir
que una pasión me domina
y es la que me hizo venir.

Dicen que por tus amores
un mal me van a seguir,
no le hace que sean el diablo
yo también me sé morir.

Si porque tomo tequila
mañana tomo jerez,
si porque me ven borracho
mañana ya no me ven.

Valentina, Valentina,
rendido estoy a tus pies,
si me han de matar mañana
que me maten de una vez.

There are also corridos that are a veritable history class in verse, like for example these ones.

Mexico, Revolution. Photo by Agustín Victor Casasola (1874-1938). Cf. http://content-s10.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb2f59n9r0/?layout=metadata&brand=calisphere