Give Me the Old, the Old Horses of the Merry-Go-Round

I was looking up the etymology of the Spanish word ‘tiovivo’, which is another word for carousel, and I suddenly remembered this line ‘Dadme los viejos, los viejos caballos del tiovivo’. Instantly I looked it up on Google, and I came across a story by Pío Baroja which I had not read in many, many years, perhaps not since elementary school. It is so full of nostalgia and the past that I just had to share it.

I have translated the original Spanish version (I don’t know whether there is an English version somewhere, but I don’t care. It seemed more intimate and personal to translate it myself), and I present it here. A few notes on the translation; I have translated ‘tiovivo’ as ‘merry-go-round’ instead of as ‘carousel’ given that the word carrusel is the alternative (and more common) word in Spanish. I like the childlike simplicity of ‘merry-go-round’ for the same reasons I prefer ‘tiovivo’. Also, I translated the phrase ‘A mí dadme los viejos…’ as ‘To me, give me the old…’, although it could easily also be translated as ‘For me, give me the old…’, or the first prepositional phrase could even have been removed altogether.

Without further ado, here is first the Spanish version, and following that, the English translation. I hope you enjoy this lovely short story, and that it makes you reminisce upon your own childhood.

Elogio de los Viejos Caballos del Tiovivo — de Pío Baroja

A mí dadme los viejos, los viejos caballos del tiovivo. No, no me entusiasman esas ferias elegantes, con sus cinematógrafos y sus barracas espléndidas y lujosas. No me encantan esos orquestiones, grandes como retablos de iglesia, pintados, dorados, charolados. Son exageradamente científicos. Mirad esas columnas salomónicas que se retuercen como lombrices; mirad esas figuras de señoritas de casaca y calzón corto que llevan el compás dando con un martillito en una campana, mientras mueven la cabeza con coquetería; mirad esas bailarinas que dan vueltas graciosas sobre un pie, con una guirnalda entre las manos. Oíd la música, chillona, estrepitosa, complicada de platillos, flautas, bombos, que sale del interior del aparato. Yo no quiero quitarles su mérito, pero…A mí dadme los viejos, los viejos caballos del tiovivo.

No son mis predilectos esos tiovivos modernistas, movidos a vapor, atestados de espejos, de luces, de arcos voltaicos, que giran arrastrando coches llenos de adornos, elefantes con la trompa erguida, y cerdos blancos y desvergonzados que suben y bajan con un movimiento cínico y burlesco. No les niego el mérito a esas montañas rusas cuyo vagón pasa vertiginosamente, con un estrépito de hierro y una algarabía de chillidos de mujer, pero…A mí dadme los viejos, los viejos caballos del tiovivo.

Dadme el tiovivo clásico, el tiovivo con que se sueña en la infancia, aquel que veíamos entre la barraca de la Mujer-Cañón y la de las figuras de cera. Diréis que es feo, que sus caballos azules, encarnados, amarillos, no tienen color de caballo; pero eso ¿qué importa, si la imaginación infantil lo suple todo? Contemplad la actitud de estos buenos, de estos nobles caballos de cartón. Son tripudos, es verdad, pero fieros y gallardos como pocos. Llevan la cabeza levantada, sin falso orgullo; miran con sus ojos vivos y permanecen aguardando a que se les monte en una postura elegantemente incómoda. Diréis que no suben y bajan, que no tienen grandes habilidades, pero…A mí dadme los viejos, los viejos caballos del tiovivo.

¡Oh nobles caballos! ¡Amables y honrados caballos! Os quieren los chicos, las niñeras, los soldados. ¿Quién puede aborreceros si bajo el manto de vuestra fiereza se esconde vuestro buen corazón? Allí donde vais reina la alegría. Cuando aparecéis por los pueblos, formados en círculo, colgando por una barra del chirriante aparato, todo el mundo sonríe, todo el mundo se regocija. Y, sin embargo, vuestro sino es cruel; cruel, porque, lo mismo que los hombres, corréis, corréis desesperadamente y sin descanso, y lo mismo que los hombres corréis sin objeto y sin fin…A mí dadme los viejos, los viejos caballos del tiovivo.


Tribute to the Old Horses of the Merry-go-Round by Pio Baroja, translated by AR.

To me, give me the old, the old horses of the merry-go-round. No, those elegant fairs with their cinemas and their splendid and luxurious tents do not excite me. I do not fancy those orchestrions, large as church altar-pieces, painted, gilded, varnished. They are overly scientific. See those solomonic columns that twist like earthworms; see those figurines of ladies in dress coats and short skirts that keep time by hitting a little hammer on a bell, while they move their head flirtingly; see those ballerinas that spin gracefully on one foot with a garland in their hands. Hear the music, shrill, deafening, complex of cymbals, flutes, drums, that emerges from the interior of the device. I do not want to take away their merit, but… to me, give me the old, the old horses of the merry-go-round.

Those modernist merry-go-rounds are not my favorites, those powered by steam, packed full of mirrors, of lights, of voltaic arcs, that spin dragging cars full of decorations, elephants with their trunks raised, white shameless pigs that rise and fall with a cynical and burlesque movement. I do not deny the merit of those rollercoasters whose cart passes swiftly with a clatter of iron and a cacophony of female shrills, but… to me, give me the old, the old horses of the merry-go-round.

Give me the classic merry-go-round, the one dreamt of in childhood, that one we saw between the tent of the Canon-Woman and the wax figures. You might say it is ugly, that its horses, blue ones, red ones, yellow ones, do not have the color of horses; but that, what does it matter, if childhood imagination supplies everything? Behold the posture of those good, those noble cardboard horses. They are fat, that’s true, but fierce and dashing like so few are. They hold their heads high, without false pride; they see with their living eyes and remain waiting for someone to mount them in some elegantly uncomfortable posture. You might say they don’t go up and down, that they have no great skills, but… to me, give me the old, the old horses of the merry-go-round.

Oh noble horses! Gentle and honored horses! The small ones, the nannies and the soldiers love you. Who can abhor you if underneath the mantle of your fierceness hides your good heart? Wherever you go reigns happiness. When you arrive at towns, formed in a circle, hanging from a bar of the noisy device, everyone smiles, everyone rejoices. And yet, you are also cruel; cruel because, like men, you run, run desperately and without rest, and like men you run aimlessly and endlessly… to me, give me the old, the old horses of the merry-go-round.


Final note: The picture is of the Carousel of Ponce, which used to be in ‘Plaza del Caribe’ (a shopping mall) but was taken to Guayanilla because Plaza couldn’t afford it any more. It is one of my (and every person who grew up in the south in PR) fondest memories, and although it probably is the type of merry-go-round that Baroja criticizes, it is the one I think of whenever I read this story. It’s ‘my’ merry-go-round, and it still holds my childhood and all my half-formed illusions.

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One thought on “Give Me the Old, the Old Horses of the Merry-Go-Round

  1. luckyjim says:

    It’s pretty funny you having nostalgic feelings for the very type of merry-go-round that Baroja despises. I guess it’s just another case of generational divide, but presumably it’s only going to get worse as technology progresses at ever greater speeds, and we’re going to find it getting harder and harder to relate to people who are not our exact age. That’s quite a large slice of humanity to drift apart from and that’s pretty sad.
    The good thing about good writing is it elevates moping around moaning about the past to a higher level where everyone (even lovers of those awful modern steam carousels) is able to relate the nostalgia to parallels within their own experience, and for a moment the generational divide is removed. It’s nice to have an example the process in action here.
    The expression of a personal feeling that other people feels echoes something in them is a really clever feat to be able to achieve, I wonder if you aim for it as a writer, or if it just emerges naturally for some people?


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