"Landscape Painting"

What a fascinating thing—the way art can mysteriously transform something and give it a new nature. What is this process that makes things more than what they are? Letters on a piece of paper, or colors on a canvas, or movements around a room somehow become more than just words or colors or physical movements. And music may be the most mysterious transformation of all.

How is it possible to make vibrations in the air into something more? How, for example, is it possible to make sound waves become a certain time of year? Obviously there are birds chirping in the summer, and the winter is sometimes quieter—but I don’t normally think of the seasons as having a different sound. Yet after I translated this tango, it began to sound like autumn. Not just the words—but the music itself! It began to sound like "the ache of autumn". Like the sound of fall slipping into winter. How do you put something into the cadence and the tone of an orchestra that does that?


PAISAJE, Laurenz con Podestá


I'm always looking for words to describe the music on these pages. But it doesn't take very long before you run out of adjectives. I like these tangos so much that I keep falling back on descriptions like "great" or "beautiful" or "important". But then what's left? You can go to "really great" and "very beautiful". Then there's "fantastic", or "really, really great"—but it gets silly fast. Still, I have to say it: This vals really is very beautiful. These feelings always change, but lately I've begun to think of Paisaje as possibly the most beautiful of all the tangos. When I hear it in a milonga, it carries me away with the smell of damp leaves and autumn rain.

But Paisaje is also very difficult—both to translate, and to dance to. Translation difficulties generally fall into two categories. The first is the poetry problem. Language was basically created to communicate ideas as clearly as possible—but poets have another agenda. Poetry is word art, and poets use words in ways that go far beyond listing the contents of a cereal box. They break rules. They use the sounds of the words themselves to convey meaning, and their language carries a heavy dose of the culture in which they live. The result can be something like the figurative language we saw on the last page, where Corrientes Street becomes a "valley of coins for bread", and there are "vagos con halagos de bohemia mundanal"—a phrase that's pretty much untranslatable.

The second kind of translation problem is structural. It involves deciphering verb tenses and pronouns—figuring out who is speaking to whom, who did what, and when and where things happened. A good example of this is "Bajo el Cono Azul". It's not that complicated, but Cono Azul involves action that took place in two, or maybe three, different time periods, in either two or three different places, involving three different people. We'll try to unravel it later, but for now, I'll summarize Paisaje, because it takes a minute to figure out who is speaking to whom. Then we'll look at the lyrics.

The story is about a man who had his girlfriend's portrait on the wall. When they separated, he took it down. Then sometime later, he bought a landscape painting (a paisaje), and hung it across from where her portrait used to be. In Paisaje, he's talking to his new painting, (and maybe also to her), and wondering how the autumn theme in the picture can be so much like his ex-girlfriend. At least, I think that's what's happening...

One afternoon
I bought you,
my painting of a distant landscape,
with your gold frame
and autumn colors.

I hung you on the wall
across from her portrait...
the portrait that's
no longer there.

Maybe that's why
I was recently disturbed
by your dark shades...
your shadows, your gloom,
your sky covered
with clouds and fog...
by your park, crying
in the autumn rain.

Who would have...
who would have painted
on your canvas
the autumn stillness
of the pine forest?

And this dark light
of forgetting,
the lost horizon,
and the road
shaded in blue...
so sad and lonely?

Who could have
met you only once
and captured you...
been able to understand
your color?

What soul,
what good soul
saw the sorrow
of the grey cloud,
the sad blue of the road,
and the ache of autumn?

Te compré
una tarde
paisaje lejano,
el marco dorado
y el tema otoñal.

Te colgué en el muro
frente a su retrato,
frente a su retrato
que ya no está más.

Es tal vez por eso
que recién me angustian
tu tono velado,
tu sombra, tu gris,
tu cielo techado
de nubes y bruma...
tu parque llorando
con lluvia de abril.

¿Quién será,
quien será que
en tu tela pintó
la quietud otoñal
del pinar?

¿Y esa luz
de olvido,
y el confín perdido,
y el camino
herido de azul
y la soledad?

¿Quién será que
una vez te encontró
como sos
y logró comprender
tu color?

¿Qué alma,
qué alma buena
vio la pena, pena
de la nube gris,
del camino azul,
del dolor de abril?


Alej turned on the radio this afternoon and they were interviewing Alberto Podestá. He's alive and well (85 years old), and he sounds like a very humble and sweet man. He was born in the provinces, but he said his life’s ambition was to sing tango. When he was 14 he came to Buenos Aires to start his career, and he claims the only reason he was successful is because of the help he received. He spent most of the interview deflecting attention from himself, and talking about the great musicians and poets he worked with.

Podestá became emotional when people began calling the show from everywhere, telling him how much they loved him. Someone from Brazil called and said, “I met you once in Mar del Plata, but I didn’t know who you were. Afterwards, someone said to me, do you realize you were with Podestá? I couldn’t believe it! I was with one of the giants of tango, and you never even told me who you were!”

One of the pleasures of tango is going to the milongas and rubbing elbows with people from the Golden Age. They're from a different world—they did so much, and they asked for so little.