Category Archives: Heidi’s Crushes

Volver a los 17. A translation.

One of my favorite songs of all time was written by the late Chilean poet Violeta Parra and made famous by the now-also-late belovèd Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, who was affectionately known as “la negra”. This song makes me incredibly homesick: homesick for Chile, homesick for Latin America, and homesick for smells and sounds I can only, maybe, find in dreams. It even makes me homesick for places I’ve never actually been. (Honey, I think we call that last one “longing.”)

Over the years, I’ve played “Volver a los 17” a few times for people —usually lovers at that point in the relationship when they show you theirs and you show them yours (I’m talking music, people, music!) — who don’t speak Spanish. Invariably I end up feeling tongue-tied and rather inept at the prospect of simultaneously translating its rapidly flowing metaphors, and certainly not without detracting from the melody and the kick-your-heels-up Chilean folk-dance (“la cueca”) rhythm, which the song springs into every time the chorus comes around.

So usually I just end up mumbling something about how it’s about going back to being 17, and then I sigh and drift off to a nebulous place of homesickness and longing for the length of the song.

But, back to now…

Finally and actually having given its translation a whirl, if you were my lover today and it was my turn to show you mine I’d tell you that yes, it’s a song about going back for yourself at 17. But also it’s about the moment —so fragile and powerful at once— and about how an instant can change everything. Also I’d tell you that while the whole thing is about love, it’s not about the shiny and brand spanking new ‘oooh baby I’m so in love with you’ kind of love that seems to get all the airwaves’ coverage, but rather the giant and gnarly kind that we actually end up living, the kind that includes the shiny bits, sure, but no less of the heartache-y dark stretches between the shine. Also? I’d tell you that there are many words and turns of phrase whose beauty get lost in translation, if they can be translated at all.

I tried to translate the poem in a way that allows you to read in English to the meter of the Spanish verse, so you can, if roughly, actually sing along. A few times I favored that kind of flow and meaning over literal accuracy. I press “publish” with a bow of apology to Violeta Parra for what is lost in translation.

One last thing… I chose this YouTube version of the song not for its recording quality but because of the gorgeous energy of these five belovèd Latin American singers: Mercedes Sosa, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento and Gal Costaand. There are many heart-melty moments –many!– but my favorite might be when Caetano softly reaches for a high notes (at about minute 1:35 or so).

Volver a los 17 (Violeta Parra)

Returning to seventeen
after having lived through a century
is like deciphering signs
without benefit of wisdom
to be suddenly once again
as fragile as one second
to feel things as intensely
as a child in front of God,
that’s what it is like for me
in this very fertile instant

Gathering moss so the stone rolls
like a thick ivy on the wall
sprouting and sprouting so it grows
like tender moss covering a stone
like tender moss on a stone ay sí sí sí.

The steps I take all go backwards
while theirs continue advancing
the arch of our connections
has penetrated my nest
in all its colorful swagger
it’s taken a walk down my veins
and even the hardest of chains
that destiny uses to bind us
is like the finest of diamonds
that lights up my calm soul

What feeling can bring about
knowledge never could,
nor the clearest course of action
nor the grandest of all our thoughts.
Everything is changed by a moment
like an affable magician,
it sweetly steers us away
from bitterness and from violence
only love with its science
will turn us so innocent.

Love is a swirling whirlwind
of primal purity
even the wildest of beasts
will whisper and trill its sweetness,
it stops pilgrims in their travels,
it liberates those imprisoned,
love, with the tenderest of touches,
turns the old (wo)man into a child
and only the most loving care
turns bad into pure and sincere.

Eventually the window
was flung open as if by enchantment,
and love entered with its blanket
to give cover like a warm morning
to the sound of its lovely reveille
it made jasmine burst into bloom,
and taking flight like an angel
it hung earrings upon the heavens
and my years of 17
were transformed by the cherubim.

[Translation (c) Heidi Fischbach, 2014]

Katzenjammer: Welcome to my crush list!



Oh noes! You don’t know them? Let me fix that, like, now!

I’m surprised by how many of my friends in the States have never heard of this sassy, irreverent and ballsy, sweet and dark but ever-playful Norwegian girl-band, because, seriously? They are the best thing ever. (A special thanks to my friend Barbara in Bath who introduced them to me). Their style is eclectic, a bit folksy, a bit pop, a bit gypsy, a bit rock… but always its very own Katzenjammerishy magical thing.

Katzenjammer is bursting with all-things-life and when you listen to them, you cannot help but sing, grin and tap, if not full out stomp, your goddam feet! I dare you not to. One reviewer wrote, and I quote(!): “Prepare to orgasm from your ears.”

Their band name is German (means “cat-wail” or “cat cry”), they sing in English, and they are four young women. Their song lyrics are a breath –nay, make that a gust!– of fresh air.

They play, oh, something like eleventy seven instruments (some of which they discovered and saved from a dusty demise in one of the girls’ attics), including accordion, contrabass balalaika (a 3-stringed, big-ass Russian instrument), guitar, zither, melodica, ukulele, trumpet, banjo, and, as far as I can tell, pretty much anything they can shake, rattle, roll, strum or blow air into. They constantly switch up who plays what instrument and, also, who sings lead.

I could not love them more. They may be new(ish) to these parts of the world, but I’ve got them singing in my heart right next to Leonard Cohen, and if you know me at all, that’s saying something. And no, their style does not at all remind of Leonard Cohen, except in ballsy, open-hearted, say-it-like-it-is-ness.


Oh yes! It’s one of my favorite qualities in all the world. If you say it like it is and you have things to say, why, it is pretty much a guarantee that I will like you, and, if then you set your say-it-like-it-is-ness to music or verse or story? Why, for certain I will crush on you. And for sure I am crushing on Katzenjammer: expressive and, often, dramatically so, but never in a put-on kind of way.

Also, be prepared to be inspired by how comfortable they are moving in and being at home in their bodies and expressing themselves in a bodily way, just as their bodies are: curvy, straight, tall, short, light, dark, small medium or large. In a culture where women on magazine covers all look pretty much a yawn-inducing shade of same? Katzenjammer zings!

So, you’ve never heard them? I’m about to be bossy, ready? Go! Now! Hear!

From their second album, “A Kiss Before You Go,” not yet available here in the States, but, PleaseGod!, any day now, I Will Dance (When I Walk Away):

YouTube Link to video


From their debut album, “Le Pop,” A Bar in Amsterdam:

YouTube Link to video


And for irreverent, ballsy and bursting with life-juice, Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back is a hands-down win in all categories:

YouTube Link to video


Sometimes listening to Katzenjammer makes me sad. Not while listening, but after, and it’s not them, but me. It’s got something to do with an expressive and playful part of me that is tired to death of being stuffed into and made to be quiet in a dusty closet. It wants to say and sing all there is to say and sing exactly as it is.

So yes, I’m adding Katzenjammer to my list of crushes, right alongside Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Rufus Wainwright and the Indigo Girls, sharing a scene with Johnny Depp and Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, clinking glasses with directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Suzanne Bier, the Coen Brothers, the Wachowski Brothers, and street artist Shepard Fairey, exchanging verses and stories with Paul Durcan, J.K. Rowling, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda and T.S. Eliot…

Dear Katzenjammer, Welcome to my crush list! You are in fantastic company. xo Heidi

P.S. You can find Katzenjammer on Facebook. It’s a fun and hopping page. They are very generous with their postings.

Take that, If Only! (Or, practicing to sing back up for Leonard Cohen)

You know those dreams you’d do if only? If only you had a good voice… if only you didn’t freeze up… if only you didn’t blush… if only you had the technology… if only you knew the technology… if only you knew people…

And then one day you’re on German Guy’s porch reading “Stranger Music, Selected Poems and Songs by Leonard Cohen.” Leonard Cohen, your hero, your inspiration, your number one crush (when it’s not Clint Eastwood. Or Pablo Neruda. Or Billy Collins. Or or…). Leonard Cohen, whom you secretly fantasize singing back up for.

Then German Guy comes out and finds you singing and just like that he says, let’s record it.

And so you do.

Here you go, my friend. Sisters of Mercy. Take 1. As is. Because if I mess with it I’ll spend my whole Sunday on technology and it’ll never get done. Or be good enough for If Only. And if I think about it for 2 more seconds I’ll chicken out.

Press here to listen.

Heidi’s Table

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Cambridge, MA 02140


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