El ciruja   Leave a comment

EL CIRUJA
The ‘surgeon’ (1926)
LYRICS by: Alfredo Marino
MUSIC by: Ernesto de la Cruz
TRANSLATION by: Alberto Paz
Last updated on: 11/18/13
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Sing along with EDMUNDO RIVERO

 When you thought that your Spanish was good enough to add that touch of authenticity to your tanguero personality, somebody with connections dropped the word “lunfardo” in between sips from a silver metal straw, similar to the one Pablo Veron was sucking from when he first received Sally Potter at his Parissian pad. ‘Lunwhat’ you said? Then you got this academic explanation about secret languages used by lawyers, medical doctors, engineers, and how the scoundrels of early Buenos Aires also had their own secret language. Now you not only have to deal with the cliche about the pimp and the prostitute, but you may have to put up with some creep muttering strange words with an air of importance.Relax, the only connections that the guy has, are a modem and a Company provided e-mail address. Tango passion is not a substitute for good sanitary practices, so also forget about sucking the mate brew from the communal metal straw. If the bacteria doesn’t get you, the laxative effects of the green concoction will.Take what Tango brings to you in stride and accept the fact that it has taken over one hundred years of evolution for the music, the poetry and the dance to reach us at this stage of our lives. It does not matter what others do or have done before. Nobody can really improve their dancing by pretending to be someone else. What counts is your own experience, how you live your life and how the Tango is now part of it.

This had been the subject of a conversation with La Mariposa a.k.a. Valorie, as we were cruising along I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley in California on a scorching August afternoon. This is the fastest way between Northern and Southern California, and it is also the gateway that connects you via I-10 to Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans.

We had done the trek upand down I-5 many times passing the time and watching the straight line of asphalt dissapear as far as the eyes can see. CD after CD was being popped in and out of the car stereo by the best DJ on wheels any man can hope for. She has a knack for picking out the right set to go along with the scenery and the time of the day. Rodolfo Biagi in the early hours of the morning when the eyes sneak in a few treacheous winks after an all night ride. Osvaldo Pugliese in the middle of the night under a star studded sky bathed in a milky mist by a silver dollar size full moon, as the Joshua trees of the Arizona desert wave their petrified salute. Carlos Di Sarli early in the evening, when local commuters slow down our pace
unaware of our eagerness to get swiftly to wherever it is that our Tango travels take us. But I digress…

Long car trips have given us the opportunity to catch up with the music we haven’t had the chance to listen to for a long time. Such was the case one evening when the thundering voice of Edmundo Rivero filled the air with the quintessential lunfardo lyrics of El ciruja. “What does ‘ciruja’ mean?” she asked. A couple of hours later she was still writing the story of The Surgeon after having listened to Rivero countless times while I tried to interpret the lunfardo content of the lyrics into a context of English that even Lucy Ricardo would understand.

For inquisitive minds, there is a Lunfardo Dictionary written by Jose Gobello, who is the founder and president of the Lunfardo Academy in Buenos Aires. I have used it for many years because contrary to popular belief most Argentines of my generation only picked up a few words of lunfardo here and there as we grew up on the streets of the city. The language originated as a fusion between the dialects brought to Buenos Aires by the rogue elements from all over Europe, and a code of words used by thieves and criminals in jail in order to confuse the guards. With the passing of time new generations of tenement inhabitants incorporated a characteristic dialect which became the unofficial language of the slums. For the cultural elite,
lunfardo represented the idiom of the uneducated and the lower class. In spite of all their prejudice, popular theater plays, known generally as sainetes, the circus and the encounters of the rich and well-to-do with the populace at seedy bars and brothels, began a steady migration of lunfardo words into the mainstream of popular jargon.

In 1917 Pascual Contursi wrote some verses for a melody already in existence. The music had been around for a while under the name of Lita composed by Samuel Castriota. Contursi’s ironic account of a sappy pimp in love bleeding over the flight of a whore began with the lunfardo expression, “Percanta que me amuraste…” (Woman who abandoned me…) They say that Gardel fell in love with the song, risked his reputation as a Creole Crooner, and going against sound advice, he presented it it on stage under the name of Mi noche triste. It was the beginning of a new era for the Tango. Tango lyrics had arrived. For years to come, popular bards burned the midnight oil pouring out chronicles of love, hate, pain and sorrow.

A fledging middle class just loved the vocals which somehow reflected their own lives. Everybody could identify with infidelity, treason, broken hearts, blind ambition and revenge. In 1926, Alfredo Marino had the brilliant inspiration of writing the lyrics of a Tango with a heavy lunfardo content. It has become the quintessential lunfardo Tango lyric. The story is very simple and predictable, but the talent of Marino has made El ciruja a classic.

The word ‘ciruja’ at first brings the image of a hobo, a vagrant, a scavenger, and that is what probably our friend with the connections would try to impress you with, but the truth is that Marino uses a pure lunfardo expression to nickname his protagonist, the surgeon, because of his knack for the handling of the blade. Not only does he call him the surgeon, but he uses a shortened version of the actual Spanish word ‘cirujano,’ ciruja.

CASTELLANO
ENGLISH
Como con bronca y junando
de rabo de ojo a un costado,
sus pasos ha encamindo
derecho pa’l arrabal.
Lo lleva el presentimiento
de que en aquel potrerito
no existe ya el bulincito
que fue su unico ideal.Recordaba aquellas horas de garufa
cuando minga de laburo se pasaba,
meta punga al codillo escolaseaba
y en los burros se ligaba un metejon.
Cuando no era tan junao por los tiras
la lanceaba sin tener el manyamiento,
una mina le solfeaba todo el vento
y jugo con su pasion.

Era un mosaico diquero
que yugaba de quemera,
hija de una curandera,
mechera de profesion.
Pero vivia engrupida
de un cafiolo vidalita
y le pasaba la guita
que le chacaba al maton.

Frente a frente dando muestra de coraje
los dos guapos se trenzaron en el bajo,
y el Ciruja, que era listo para el tajo,
al cafiolo le cobro caro su amor.
Hoy ya libre ‘e la gayola y sin la mina
campaneando un cacho ‘e sol en la vereda,
piensa un rato en el amor de la quemera
y solloza en su dolor.

Appearing “angry” and “looking”
through the side of his eyes
he has directed his steps
straight for the slum.
He just knew what was going to happen
his intuition took him to that place,
to that vacant lot, where he just knew
his little shack, his ideal little place, no longer existed.He remembered those hours of great parties
when “lacking” “work,” he spent his time
“pickpocketing” and “playing cards”
and he had a passion for the “ponies.”
When he was not “well known” by the “cops”
he could “rob at knife point” without “knowing”
that a “girl” was “robbing” all the “money” from him
and toyed with his love.

She was a “common woman” with “airs of grandeur”
that “toiled” around as a “burning dump scavenger”
she was the daughter of a quack woman,
“shoplifter” by trade.
But she was “deluded”
by a pimp of long standing
who’s got all the dough
that the bully spent on her.

Face to face showing big courage
the two brawlers crossed knives in the dark
the Ciruja who was fast with the knife
made the pimp pay too dearly his love.
Out of jail now and with no maiden
staring at the sun on the sidewalk
thinks awhile in the girl’s love
and sobs in his pain.

Copyright (c) Planet Tango 1998-2013 All Rights Reserved

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