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Mano a mano

Celedonio Flores was a poet of bohemian Buenos Aires turned tango lyricist when, in 1920, Carlos Gardel read his poem "Por la pinta" in a newspaper. His letras are distinguished by the use of lunfardo, the famed Argentine street slang. Lunfardo was banned when the military took over in 1943, and "Mano a mano" in particular was barred from the radio in unsanitized form. Flores died in 1947, too late to see enforcement of the ban lifted by President Juan Domingo Perón in 1949. At the first Milonga Falucho of 2020, Renée and John shared this evocation of tango bohemia in the authentic environs of Café Argentino. Emily Cheeger was the DJ, and master violinist Machiko Ozawa provided live music along with Pablo Cafici on piano.

Mano a mano (1923)
Letra de Celedonio Flores
Música de Carlos Gardel/José Razzano

Just You and I (1923)
Lyrics by Celedonio Flores, trans. J. Osburn
Music by Carlos Gardel/José Razzano

Rechiflado en mi tristeza, te evoco y veo que has sido
en 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.

In pain and enamored with sadness, I remember you and recall our past,
how in my poor deprived life there appeared just one good woman.
A man like me being seen with a woman like you brought warmth to my nest,
you were good, did as you said, and I know for sure you loved me best,
as you had loved no one before and as you never can again.

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,
Ios morlacos del otario los jugás a la marchanta
como juega el gato maula con el mísero ratón.

It spoke to me as a game of skill, when you, such a poor lovely lass,
evaded destitution in a house of cheap rent-a-day flats.
Today life laughs with you and sings, you are truly a woman of class,
with the money you win from the fool you play with, in a game that’s
the kind a cowardly cat plays with miserable rats.

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

Now you go about with a head infused with infidelitous illusions,
the suckers, and the friends, and the lover, gathered you to their part;
the milonga, among all the rich men, with their wild temptations,
where milongueras triumph or fail by their pretensions,
has burrowed deep down inside your poor little heart.

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 me ha olvidado,
en la cuenta del otario que tenés se la cargás.

There’s nothing I owe you thanks for, because it’s still just you and I;
it doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done, what you’re doing, or you’ll do…
All the favors that you gave me I’ve paid off, that’s no lie,
and, if there’re any other teensy-weensy loveless debts that I
’ve forgotten, charge them to the fool’s account, to pay those too.

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 de las paradas con cafishos milongueros
y que digan los muchachos: Es una buena mujer.

Meanwhile, may they become a parade of wealth and pleasure,
your poor passing victories, every temporary win;
may the man-about-town who keeps you build up an enduring treasure,
may you outplay the milongueros who pimp women for men’s leisure
and may all the pretty young men say: That there’s a good woman.

Y mañana, cuando seas descolado mueble viejo
y no tengas esperanzas en tu pobre corazón,
si precisás una ayuda, si te hace falta un consejo,
acordate de este amigo que ha de jugarse el pellejo
pa'ayudarte en lo que pueda cuando llegue la ocasión.
And tomorrow, when you’re thrown like old furniture into the cold,
and in your poor wounded heart you harbor no further hope,
if you asked my advice, if you seek a helping hand, here’s what you’ll be told,
remember the friend who risked a life that he bought and sold
to help you however he could when you were unable to cope.

 Carlos Gardel sings "Mano a mano":

There is no obvious equivalent to lunfardo in English, at least not with which I am familiar. I settled on a colloquial tone that alluded where possible to the double meanings of the slang terms. In the third stanza, for example, matein ordinary Spanish, the receptacle for the bitter tea known as yerba—means "head" in lunfardo. So I translated it with a reference to "infusion" to hint at both senses of the word. My commitment to maintaining rhyme schemes and a rough adherence to line lengths resulted, no doubt, in an occasional liberty, including with parts of speech; a couple of adjectives, for example, have become nouns or verbs.
—John Osburn


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