The zorzal

Zorzal colorado / Rufous-bellied Thrush / Turdus rufiventrisAll this talk about nightingales in the previous posts has brought to my mind what could be considered their equivalent at us, around the Rio de la Plata: the zorzal (Turdus rufiventris, rufous-bellied thrush).

America does not have the same bird which is called nightingale in the Old Continent, although for example in the Caribbean there are a few that had been given that name. (It is really fascinating how the European names were gradually given to new and different species on American soil, as a consequence of the nostalgic vision of explorers and conquistadors.)

The zorzal is undoubtedly the best known songbird in the Rio de la Plata Basin. Just like the nightingale, it has a very melodious song and it is heard specially between night and dawn, in springtime, when the courting and mating season begins.

In cities, many zorzals are to be found in harmonious coexistence with humans. And in the springtime, that is between the months of October and November, many porteños, even those who know nothing about ornithology, begin to identify it as the bird which makes them wake up at dawn. To tell the truth, however charming the zorzal be, I can vouch that its penetrating and repetitive call at night can be unnerving for a light sleeper.

Like the mockingbird and the nightingale, the zorzal does not have one unique song. It varies not only according to the season of the year, but also according to the geographic zone and even from one individual to another. This is due to the fact that they imitate the songs of other birds, so that on occasions they create very particular “remixes”, even imitating the noise of motors, windmills or bells that were near their nests, thus puzzling many an ornithologist. Moreover, the song is the males’ weapon of seduction, so that while some individuals are very young and inexpert, others are mature and own a wide and proved repertoire of complex songs which have already afforded them successful conquests.

The song of the zorzal, from here

Carlos GardelThe zorzal is such an emblem of a melodious voice that Carlos Gardel, the most famous tango singer of the last century was known as “El Zorzal Criollo” (“The Creole Thrush”).

The two tangos that Gardel sings here are classic and very well known (even by those who, like myself, know nothing about tango). Many lines of these songs have become standard sayings, proverbs and aphorisms. They are also very good examples of the use of lunfardo porteño, the argot of Buenos Aires, which probably few Spanish speakers from other regions are able to decode without difficulty.

The first tango, “Mano a mano” (We’re Even) tells of a woman who, being of humble origins, now considers herself a “bacana” (a wealthy person who puts on elegant airs). In former times she accepted the singer’s love but now she holds it in contempt, because she has a rich “otario”, (a sucker, a fool) who keeps her and lets her throw “morlacos a la marchanta” (money around). He therefore speaks up with the intention of warning her that her vain illusions, her ephemeral triumphs will not last long and will soon leave her “like an old, unstuck, piece of furniture”: forgotten and hopeless.

I think we agree that this is the discourse which all of us spited by unreciprocated love would like to inflict on those by whom we have been forsaken. Al least, it is a feeling that well depicts a porteño: if something makes him suffer, he will always try to show to the other that he is beyond insults and contempt because he “knows” that the other will end up worse than himself.

Mano a mano – We’re Even
Music: Carlos Gardel & José Razzano. Lyrics: Celedonio Flores

(The lyrics of the tangos, just like the text of the whole post, have been translated from Spanish to English by María Lía Macchi to whom I’m infinitely grateful for the great job!)

Rechiflao en mi tristeza,
te evoco y veo que has sido
de mi pobre vida paria
sólo una buena mujer
tu presencia de bacana
puso calor en mi nido
fuiste buena, consecuente,
y yo sé que me has querido
como no quisiste a nadie,
como no podrás querer.

Se dio el juego de remanye
cuando vos, pobre percanta,
gambeteabas la pobreza
en la casa de pensión:
hoy sos toda una bacana,
la vida te ríe y canta,
los morlacos del otario
los tirás a la marchanta
como juega el gato maula
con el misero ratón.

Hoy tenés el mate lleno
de infelices ilusiones
te engrupieron los otarios,
las amigas, el gavión
la milonga entre magnates
con sus locas tentaciones
donde triunfan y claudican
milongueras pretensiones
se te ha entrado muy adentro
en el pobre corazón.

Nada debo agradecerte,
mano a mano hemos quedado,
no me importa lo que has hecho,
lo que hacés ni lo que harás;
los favores recibidos
creo habértelos pagado
y si alguna deuda chica
sin querer se había olvidado
en la cuenta del otario
que tenés se la cargás.

Mientras tanto, que tus triunfos,
pobres triunfos pasajeros,
sean una larga fila
de riquezas y placer;
que el bacán que te acamala
tenga pesos duraderos
que te abrás en las paradas
con cafishios milongueros
y que digan los muchachos:
“Es una buena mujer”.

Y mañana cuando seas
deslocado mueble viejo
y no tengas esperanzas
en el pobre corazón
si precisás una ayuda,
si te hace falta un consejo
acordate de este amigo
que ha de jugarse el pellejo
p’ayudarte en lo que pueda
cuando llegue la ocasión.
Out of my mind with sadness
I think about you again, and I see that
in my poor miserable life
you were just a good woman.
Your elegant beauty
gave warmth to my nest,
you were kind and loyal,
and I know you’ve loved me
like you’ve loved no one
like you’ll never love again.

We fell for each other
when you were a poor girl
who was trying to outsmart poverty
in a boarding house:
Today you’re a lady,
life smiles and sings to you,
you squander your sucker’s bucks
just like an evil cat
plays around
with a wretched mouse.

Today your brain is crammed
with unattainable daydreams.
you’ve been deluded by your suckers,
your girlfriends and your beau.
The parties thrown by tycoons
with their mad temptations
where the ambitions of
dance hall girls triumph or fall apart
have become deeply embedded into
your wretched heart.

I have no reason to be grateful,
we’re even.
I don’t care what you’ve done,
what you do now, or what you’ll do.
All the favours I have received,
I’m sure I’ve already paid for.
And if I’ve unwittingly
forgotten some small debt,
you can charge it
on your current sucker’s account.

Meanwhile, I hope that your success,
poor, ephemeral success,
stretches out as a long line of
riches and pleasures,
that the tycoon who keeps you
has lasting money
that you can show off in public places
with swinging pimps
and that all the guys may agree
“That’s a fine woman!”

And tomorrow, when you are
an old, discarded piece of junk,
and no hope is left
in your poor heart,
if you will need help,
if you’re in want of advice,
remember this friend
who would risk his skin
To help you in everything that he can
when the need arises.

Carlos Gardel eterno en el alma y en el tiempo
This other tango, also very famous, is by Enrique Santos Discepolo, a great porteño musician and poet. As it can be seen, it exhales nothing but bitterness and skepticism, a vision of life very typical of tangos and particularly characteristic of Discepolo, also the author of the well known “Cambalache”: “El mundo fue y será una porquería/ ya lo sé, en el 503 / y en el 2000 también” (“The world has always been and always will be trash, / I know, in the year 503 / and also in 2000”).

We again find the singer who assumes that he possesses supreme knowledge and therefore warns his listener to harbor no hope because it would be in vain (it’s remarkable how we porteños are defined by this image of the know-it-all…, I want to believe that not all of us are so, but its presence is constant in popular beliefs). Everything is a lie, nothing is love; nobody cares about what happens to the other and no one will help you when you are in need. He knows it because he’s already been through it and he knows about “rajarse los tamangos buscando ese mango que te haga morfar”, Mantegna: Occasio, detailwearing out your shoes in search of money with which to eat. So when the other gets to realize that those around him are preparing to step into his clothes when he fails: “manyés que a tu lado se prueben las pilchas que vas a dejar” (manyés, ‘realize’ is another argot word that comes from the Italian, mangiare, to eat, because when you become aware of something it’s as if you ate it, you incorporated it spiritually), he will remember the warnings that were made to him.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect is the image with which the tango begins on which all the subsequent development is based. “Cuando la suerte, que es grela”, that is, ‘luck, who is a woman’. Since ancient times luck, opportunity or fortune has been represented as a woman, and here is important not only the tradition of representing vices and virtues with allegorical feminine figures, but also the supposedly changing moods attributed to women or, what is more admissible, their changes of status, like those of the moon. Opportunity or fortune was therefore represented as a woman on a wheel or a sphere, because she is never stable, she goes turning and thus changing the fortunes of men. This is precisely what the tango suggests by saying “yira, yira”, that is, it goes round and round, (with another contamination by the Italian girare). But “yiro” was also the name given to prostitutes in lunfardo, because they wander around (yiran) corners of the city in search of clients. We have then the concept of luck that’s a woman, that lets you down (“fallando, fallando”) and leaves you without what you have expected of her (“Te largue parao”). Fortune goes round like a prostitute and she IS a prostitute. And this is the image of the world which has nothing stable or sure, except this bitter truth.

Yira, Tira – Going Round and Round
Music & Lyrics: Enrique S. Discépolo, 1930

Cuando la suerte, que es grela,
fallando y fallando
te largue parao…
Cuando estés bien en la vía,
sin rumbo, desesperao…
Cuando no tengas ni fe,
ni yerba de ayer
secándose al sol…
Cuando rajés los tamangos
buscando ese mango
que te haga morfar…
la indiferencia del mundo
que es sordo y es mudo
recién sentirás.
Verás que todo es mentira,
verás que nada es amor…
que al mundo nada le importa
Yira… Yira…

Aunque te quiebre la vida,
aunque te muerda un dolor,
no esperes nunca una ayuda,
ni una mano, ni un favor…
Cuando estén secas las pilas
de todos los timbres
que vos apretás,
buscando un pecho fraterno
para morir abrazao…
Cuando te dejen tirao
después de cinchar,
lo mismo que a mí…
Cuando manyés que a tu lado
se prueban la ropa
que vas a dejar…
¡Te acordarás de este otario
que un día, cansado,
se puso a ladrar!
When Fortune, who’s a woman,
leaves you
on the lurch…
When you’re completely broke,
aimless and desperate…
When you no longer have faith
nor yesterday’s mate leaves
drying in the sun…
When you wear out your shoes
in search of a buck
to buy food…
Only then will you feel
the indifference
of the deaf and dumb World.
You’ll realize that everything’s a lie
that nothing is love…
that the world doesn’t care at all,
it just keeps going round and round…

Even though life is tearing you apart
even though you’re broken by pain,
don’t ever expect any help,
an aiding hand, or a favour…
When you’ve dried out the batteries
of all the doorbells
that you’ve rung
looking for a brotherly bosom
to embrace and die…
When you’re thrown away
after you’ve slaved
as they did to me…
When you realize that
they’re trying on the clothes
that you’re leaving behind…
You’ll remember this jerk
who one day got fed up
and started to growl!

But maybe the voice of the “Creole Thrush” is best appreciated in the famous “El día que me quieras” (The Day When You’ll Love Me), which isn’t a proper tango but a tango-ballad. It was composed for the movie by the same title in 1935. Leaving aside the flamboyant gestures and acting of the two leading characters, the matchless melody and the poetry, which is perhaps somewhat kitschy but nevertheless enchants me, is one of our national prides.

El día que me quieras – The Day When You’ll love Me
Music: Carlos Gardel. Lyrics: Alfredo Lepera.

Acaricia mi ensueño
el suave murmullo de tu suspirar,
¡como ríe la vida
si tus ojos negros me quieren mirar!
Y si es mío el amparo
de tu risa leve que es como un cantar,
ella aquieta mi herida,
¡todo, todo se olvida!

El día que me quieras
la rosas que engalana
se vestirá de fiesta
con su mejor color.
Al viento las campanas
dirán que ya eres mía
y locas las fontanas
me contarán tu amor.
La noche que me quieras
desde el azul del cielo,
las estrellas celosas
nos mirarán pasar
y un rayo misterioso
hará nido en tu pelo,
luciérnaga curiosa
que verá… ¡que eres mi consuelo!


El día que me quieras
no habrá más que armonías,
será clara la aurora
y alegre el manantial.
Traerá quieta la brisa
rumor de melodías
y nos darán las fuentes
su canto de cristal.
El día que me quieras
endulzará sus cuerdas
el pájaro cantor,
florecerá la vida,
no existirá el dolor.

La noche que me quieras
desde el azul del cielo,
las estrellas celosas
nos mirarán pasar
y un rayo misterioso
hará nido en tu pelo,
luciérnaga curiosa
que verá… ¡que eres mi consuelo!
My daydream is caressed
by the light murmur of your sighs.
How mirthful life is
if your black eyes are willing to look at me!
And if your laughter,
soft like a song, gives me shelter,
my wound is soothed,
everything, everything, is forgotten!

The day when you’ll love me
the embellishing rose
will attire itself
in its best colours.
Bells sounding to the winds
will ring out that now you’re mine.
And the fountains, insane with joy
will tell me of your love.
The night, when you’ll love me,
peering from the blue of the sky,
jealous stars
will watch us go by
and a mysterious beam
will nestle in your hair:
an inquisitive firefly
who will realize that you’re my solace!


The day when you’ll love me,
there will be only harmony,
daybreak will be clear
and the spring will be merry
the breeze will quietly bring
a rumor of melodies
and the fountains will offer us
their song of crystal.
The day when you’ll love me,
the songbird
will sweeten its cords,
life will blossom
pain will not exist any more.

The night that you love me,
peering from the blue of the sky,
jealous stars
will watch us pass,
and a mysterious beam
will nestle in your hair:
an inquisitive firefly
who will realize that you’re my solace!

Zorzal colorado / Rufous-bellied Thrush / Turdus rufiventris

2 comentarios:

MOCKBA dijo...

"Y en zorzal su voz ... ella es asi! " - yes, comparing with a nightingale would make it ring for us Europeans!

Thanks for the argot excursion! I'm really curious about comparisons between the Guardia Vieja's lunfardo and the latter-years "lunfardo reenactment" of D'Arienzo / Weiss ... when the argot emerged from the onstage ban but now probably more like a theatrical prop rather than a live language. Still it cuts right to the national character either way. Carton Junado etc. Any interesting thoughts / observations?

MOCKBA dijo...

Just revisited this post after coming across a post about Carlos Di Sarli's "Zorzal" milonga and its beautifully singing character who has gone to the stars. Isn't it wonderful to have old poetic links of this blog?

Happy March 8th to you, Julia!