Saturday, March 8, 2008

Para Mis Amigos Mexicanos - Dos Monedas En Inglés

One of my Mexican friends asked me to find this song, a favorite of his by the accordionist Ramon Ayala, just before he went back home. We'd been drinking together, and listening to it quickly brought him to tears. My Spanish is adequate but slow, but I gathered from what he said that it reminded him of some experiences from his own childhood (I hope not nearly as bad). We played the video over and over, and as he sobbed beside me, I began making out what the lyrics meant. It took me a while to grasp just how morbid the song is, given the sprightly waltz tune and the chittering accordion. (And, in the live version we were watching, the audience singing lustily along with Ramon Ayala.) It goes beyond American country music, to Victorian tales of starving children. Later I found that other Mexican friends knew and adored "Dos Monedas" too.

I'd been thinking about translating the song into English, to help me learn to sing the Spanish. (If I ever get my guitar fixed, I'll learn it.) But then I found the video embedded above, which wasn't there (gracias a Dios) when my friend and I were looking for the song online last year. Whoever put it together found the most powerful photographs to illustrate the lyrics, which I finally grasped. Yes, it's sentimental, and its religiosity makes me gag (couldn't God have punished the father without killing the boy? and why punish him, when omnipotence could just as easily heal him?) but it's also real, and I wept as I was translating it -- not for the people in the song so much as for the real children who suffer in every country, including my own, while their gods ignore their misery.

(By the way, I'm creeped out by the callousness of middle-class atheists who fume about people who go to faith-healers. The reason why poor people pray to their gods for miracles is that they can't afford doctors. An older woman I used to work with showed me how her arm was crooked: she'd broken it as a girl, during the Great Depression, and her parents were too poor to do anything but set it themselves and hope for the best. They probably prayed too, but it wasn't religiosity that kept the doctor away. But I digress -- or do I?)

The Spanish lyrics are easy enough to find online, though I found while working on this that they're not always reliable: I worked with two rather different versions, and then found that both of them sometimes disagreed with what Ayala was singing. I've tried to keep the translation as literal as I could -- it's not a singing version -- and to convey some of the Dickensian floridity of the original.

Dos Monedas / Two Pennies

I’ve got the worst luck in the world
And the fault belongs to this vice
The wife that I had left me
Now I also lose my son
He never knew I was a father
Because I was always drunk
He begged for pennies in the street
So I could keep on drinking

One night it was raining, near winter
The poor boy showed up where I was
And he told me Forgive me daddy
Today nobody gave me nothing
I’m hungry and I’m really cold too
Please today don’t say nothing to me

But I was so blind with rage
I beat him almost to death
And I told him, you go back to the street
I won’t put up with this any longer
Now you have no home nor father
If you don’t bring me nothing for drinking

So the boy left shivering with cold
And crying after what I said to him
While I, stupefied, in the house
God knows how much I cursed him

The alcohol and sleep overtook me
I got up just before dawn
When I opened the door of the house
I didn’t believe what I saw

There was the son I’d thrown out
Dead from the hunger and cold
In his hand I found two pennies
He’d brought me to buy more wine
And I too drunk to hear him knocking

So he died from my inattention
From drunkenness I lost my son
And my wife I adored so much
So now I plead with all fathers
Never do such harm to your child
Maybe God sent me this punishment
To drive me from the path of vice