29 February 2012

About losing your marbles...

Losing your marbles...

Everyone who knows me knows that I like to sing and whenever I am singing, then people know that I am happy. I strive to be happy as much as I can and there is nothing better than a song in my heart or on my lips to make me feel that way. It just so happens that the first half of the last century was rich in Mexican composers of the type of songs that are wonderful for singing. There were two composers of that time whose songs I like the best because they relate to children and families and the adventures of growing up. The first of these composers is Francisco Gabilondo Soler who is lovingly known as Cri-Crí. I have already written about him and you can access the page by clicking on this link; Cri-Crí - El Grillo Cantor.

The second of my favorite composers is Salvador Flores Rivera who people fondly call Chava Flores because "Chava" is the "hipocoristic" (diminutive) of Salvador. He is considered by many to be the
musical chronicle composer of Mexico City where he grew up and his songs are drawn from real life experiences. Don Chava was born in Mexico City on January 14, 1920 and he eventually devoted his life and work to portraying the personality of the inhabitants of this populous and diverse place. He, more than anyone else, left a chronicle of life in the barrios in the form of songs to document the customs and preferences of his fellow citizens. His father died when he was only eight years old and at thirteen he went to work in a tie factory sewing ties to help his mother support his brothers, Trinidad y Enrique. He started out by sewing the labels on the ties and he received five centavos per dozen ties which was only enough money to buy a couple bread rolls. Little by little he moved up the ladder, first by ironing ties, and then by cutting the cloth, and then by sewing shirts, et cetera. Finally, after years of work, he got to the point where he owned his own clothing store. He wasn't a good businessman, however, and he went through a succession of businesses before he entered the entertainment business. There he found his home.

Before you can really sing a song you have to understand the words and with a song that tells a story you also need to know the history and the related culture. For me, as a non native speaker of Mexican Spanish, this is a real challenge. It has taken me thirteen years of study to come to the point where I could tackle something like this and even then I couldn't do it without the help of my Mexican friends. I suppose this effort is a bit presumptuous of me but nevertheless I found the task to be very rewarding. I intend to translate a number of Don Chavas songs into English and try to explain what they mean because direct translation makes no sense at all without something to guide you. The first song is called "Pichicuás" (pee-chee-KWAHZ) and it is about some boys playing an unruly game of marbles. I translated the lyrics as well as I could and added some notes of my own as you will see below. Remember, these are boys who are playing a game and are bantering back and forth in slang and the song was written well over a half century ago. At the end of this post there is a video that will add the music to the lyrics.

by  Chava Flores

Pichicuás y Cupertino 
Nicknames of two boys in the barrio. The name Pichicuás may have come from a nearby tienda del barrio (small neighborhood grocery) called “El Pichicuás” and the name "Cupertino" may have come from San José Cupertino who supposedly had a gaping mouth.and a habitual blank stare or perhaps the boy was born on September 18th which is the feast day of San José de Cupertino. In real life the boy named Pichicuás was the best friend of Chava Flores and his name was Raúl Mercado.
Se pusieron con canicas a jugar.
They began to play a game of marbles (Chava Flores is the narrator).
Pichicuás que pide mano; 
Pichicuás called out to go first (In English we would say he called out "first dibs")
Cupertino, rin tin cola, cola y tras' 
Cupertino didn't call it in time so he went second.

Una raya y un hoyito
The "raya" is the line from where the players shoot their marbles and the "hoyito" is the circle that contains the target marbles.
Que pintaron en el suelo del solar.
That they marked out on the ground of the schoolyard. (Note: A "solar" could mean anything from a back alley lot  to a patio where laundry is hung to dry, et cetera.)
Se advirtió que “Tres y el fuerte” 
It was called out that whoever knocked three of the other fellow's marbles from the ring would be the winner.
Que “prohibido comer mano” 
That it was forbidden for the shooter to move beyond the line. (Note: In English we would say "no hunching")
Y que “Al quede no tirar” 
That whoever has no clear shot and "passes" loses his turn.
Que “las chiras son al tiro” 
That a glancing blow is considerd a shot. (Note: A "chira" is the sound made by one marble glancing off another)
Que “hay calacas y palomas” 
That there a dead ones an live ones  
Y “El ahogado muerto está” 
And if your shooter fails to leave the circle you are dead (Note: literally "The drowned one is a goner)

Mi Pichicuás, te sigue Cupertino. 
My Pichicuás Cupertinno follows you
Mi Pichicuás, te quiere calaquear.  
My Pichicuás he wants to do you in.
Si ya las traes, apuntale con tino. 
If you have already had success then aim carefully
Mi Pichicuás, lo tienes que ponchar.
My Pichicuás you need to do him in.

Pichicuás y Cupertino
Las canicas se empezaron a ganar. 
Pichicuás y Cupertino began to win marbles from one another.
Como se jugó de a devis
Because they were playing honestly 
Buenos tiros se cambiaron de lugar. 
Both of them took turns winning.

Cupertino que hace trampas
Y hartos dengues pa' ciscar al Pichicuás. 
Cupertino began playing tricks on Pichicuás wnen it was his turn to shoot by saying things to distract him and throw him off his game.
Pichicuás que se lo poncha, 
Pichicúas trounced his opponent,
Cupertino que hace concha 
Cupertino started goofing off
Y no le quiere ya pagar.
And he didn't want to pay to pay up.

Mis canicas me las pagas,
Pay me my marbles
y que empiezan las trompadas, 
And they beagan to fight and beat each other up
¡Ay, mamá¡, que feo es jugar!
Oh Mama, playing games is ugly business!

Mi Pichicuás, de a devis nunca juegues.
My Pichicuás never play fair and square.
Mi Pichicuás, de a mentis es mejor. 
My Pichicuás it is better to cheat.
Pos no esta bien que ganes y les pegues, 
Well it isn't right that you win and you throw punches
¿Que va a decir de ti tu profesor? 
What will your teacher say about you?

Yo, como tu, también fui pelionero. 
I was also a fighter like you.
Yo, como tu, también fui re hablador.
I, like you, also used to brag about how I was the best
Pero una vez me puse con el “güero” 
But then one time I came up against the light haired fellow. 
Y ya lo ves: ¡se me acabó el rencor!
And now you see?, I don't act nasty any more!

There is a sad story associated with this song. The song is actually a tribute to Raúl Mercado, the boy named Pichicuás. Almost every day the boys played marbles after school in the lot behind their grammar school to see who had the greatest prowess. Pichicuás lived the farthest from the school and when he saw the bus coming he always ran to catch it. The buses were invariably jam packed with people hanging on every which way. Pichicuás would wait until someone jumped out and he would jump in to take their place as best he could. One day they were playing marbles and Chava Flores was the shooter and he was hot dogging it and winning all the marbles. Pichicuás became upset and threw his marbles down at the feet of Chava Flores and ran for the bus but as he jumped for an opening he fell to the pavement and the bus ran over him and killed him. Chava Flores and the other boys were devastated and were traumatized for life by this incident. You see, this is both a happy song and a sad song at the same time. I guess the moral of the story is "Always play fair, keep your cool, and don't lose your marbles."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bob, I like your translation of Pichicuas and the rich background you provide. I was born and raised in Mexico City and find Chava Flores' music an archival treasure of how things used to be.

One comment about your translation in the context of the song: The term "de a debis" in this case refers to playing "de a deveras" being playing for keeps (playing seriously), so the marbles you win from you opponent you keep for good. De "a mentis" is de a mentiras, not playig too seriously hence you return to your opponent the marbles you win during the game.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.