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Se dice de mí

Although written for the Uruguayan singer Carlos Roldán in 1943, Tita Merello made Se dice de mí  her own in 1954, and it has been sung by women ever since. At Milonga Falucho at Café Argentino in Brooklyn, Renée mimed the lyrics as John recited his English translation of the version made famous by Merello. It was the first milonga in this series. Live music for the evening was provided by Emiliano Messiez (piano) and Adolfo Trepiana (bandoneón).

Se dice de mí
Milonga 1943
Letra de Ivo Pelay
Música de Francisco Canaro


They Say This of Me
Milonga 1943
Lyrics by Ivo Pelay, trans. J. Osburn
Music by Francisco Canaro

Se dice de mí...
se dice de mí...
se dice de mí...
Se dice que soy fiera,
que camino a lo malevo,
que soy chueca y que me muevo
con un aire compadrón,
que parezco Leguisamo,
mi nariz es puntiaguda,
la figura no me ayuda
y mi boca es un buzón.

They say this of me…
They say this of me…
They say this of me…
They say that I’m a beast,
that I swagger like a tough,
that I strut like I’m hot stuff
with airs like I’m a wiseguy,
that I’ve bow legs like a jockey,
that my nose is big and pointy
that my figure doesn’t help me
and my mouth’s a drop for mail.

Si charlo con Luis,
con Pedro o con Juan,
hablando de mí
los hombres están.
Critican si ya,
la línea perdí,
se fijan si voy,
si vengo o si fui.

If I chat with Louie,
with Peter or with John,
they talk about me
oh how they go on!
Already berate
the line that I lost,
check up if I leave,
if I come, or I left.
Se dicen muchas cosas,
mas si el bulto no interesa,
¿por qué pierden la cabeza
ocupándose de mí?

So many things they’re saying,
’specially if the package doesn’t int’rest,
why don’t their minds give it a rest
busying themselves with me?
Yo sé que muchos
me desprecian comprar quieren
y suspiran y se mueren
cuando piensan en mi amor.
Y más de uno se derrite si suspiro
y se quedan, si los miro,
resoplando como un Ford.

I know of many
who demean me to get what they want
they drop dead, they sigh and pant
when they think about my amor.
They lose it if I sigh, more than one o’ them,
and they are left, if I see 'em,
huffin’ and puffin’ like a Ford.
Si fea soy, pongámosle,
que de eso aun no me enteré.
En el amor yo solo sé
que a más de un gil, dejé a pie.
Podrán decir, podrán hablar,
y murmurar y rebuznar,
mas la fealdad que dios me dio
mucha mujer me la envidió.
Y no dirán que me engrupí
porque modesta siempre fui…
¡Yo soy así!

If I’m ugly, let’s just say,
that’s somethin’ I didn’t learn ’n that way.
As for love, I’ll certainly say
that from many a jerk I’ve just walked away.
They can say things, they can talk,
and whisper and gossip and bray,
what’s more, the ungainliness god gave me
has been envied by many a lady.
They won’t say I think that I’m the best
because I was always modest…
I am that way!
Y ocultan de mí…
ocultan que yo tengo
unos ojos soñadores,
además otros primores
que producen sensación.
Si soy fiera sé que, en cambio,
tengo un cutis de muñeca,
los que dicen que soy chueca
no me han visto en camisón.

What don’t they say of me…
they fail to mention that
I’m blessed with dreamy eyes,
just one quality I prize
that’s a sensation in this town.
If I’m a beast, whatever, tit for tat,
I’ve got skin smoother than a doll’s,
and those who say my shape appalls
have never seen me in a nightgown.
Los hombres de mí
critican la voz,
el modo de andar,
la pinta, la tos.
Critican si ya
la línea perdí,
se fijan si voy,
si vengo, o si fui.

So these guys of mine
make fun of my voice,
my manner of walking,
my look and my cough.
Berate already
the line that I lost,
check up if I leave,
if I come, or I left.
Se dicen muchas cosas,
mas si el bulto no interesa,
¿por qué pierden la cabeza
ocupándose de mí?
So many things they’re saying,
’specially if the package doesn’t int’rest,
why don’t their minds give it a rest
busying themselves with me?

Watch Tita Merello sing Se dice de mí  here.

Notes
This was a more straightforward translation than expected, with relatively few difficulties finding English equivalents for the catalog of physical and psychological characteristics the narrator rattles off. Sometimes an idea is shifted from one place to another, as in associating the bow-leggedness implied by chueca in the sixth line with the jockey two lines later. It retained the idea of a jockey without having to explain that Leguisamo was a famous one whose features were well-known. Rhythm and rhyme can’t be ignored in translating the punchiness of a milonga and can be “completed” by the reciter’s choice of where to put the more optional stresses.
–John Osburn

Comments

  1. Fun! Congratulations! It reads like a spoken word performance! Did you record the recital and do you have a link?

    I wasn't quite convinced by "the line I lost". Then as I watched the video I was reminded of something. I wonder if she is talking about her figure. The song is so physical, after all especially in the clip. I know it says "figura" elsewhere in the song. But in French I'm have a feeling (I can't remember how it is in Italian), your figure can be described as your "ligne". So the idea if that were the case, would be that the guys are remarking (criticising) that she's already lost her figure. Just a thought, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, "line" refers to her figure. I wasn't sure myself that "line" worked in English, although you do hear the phrase "a dancer's line," which is somewhat parallel. It works in recital because you can combine it with a gesture. So I went with it, by way of echoing the Spanish, although I toyed with alternatives up to the last minute; perhaps "the figure I lost" would be better. Of course, "línea" is slang for "a line of cocaine," just as in English, and I wondered if the original might have implied something along those, er, lines. Be that as it may, Merello makes it pretty clearly about her figure. I wish we had videos of the recitations, but, alas, we don't. We should make a point of getting some going forward.

      Delete
    2. >>Yes, "line" refers to her figure.
      Oh!

      >>I wasn't sure myself that "line" worked in English
      Sorry, I had thought you had meant it as in "phrase / sentence" which is why I wasn't sure that it worked.

      >>Of course, "línea" is slang for "a line of cocaine," just as in English, and I wondered if the original might have implied something along those, er, lines.
      :)

      >>I wish we had videos of the recitations, but, alas, we don't. We should make a point of getting some going forward.
      I'm sure your international audience would love to see any videos you make. Do consider videoing this particular song for us - I'm sure it'd be a special one.

      Delete
    3. It's understandable that "line" might be unclear on the page... whether sung or recited, it comes out in performance. I too hope that we can add a video and/or audio feature at some point.

      Delete

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