Se bella giu satore.

Boris Dralyuk, sterling son of Odessa that he is, has been posting about his visit to that storied port, and in this post he mentions an old Soviet favorite whose films were screening at the City Food Market:

That evening, as bevies of Odessans ate and drank, a little tramp got up to all sorts of antics above their heads. The Market was screening short films featuring Charlie Chaplin, and this brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. Chaplin’s character was a hero of the Soviet public; neither the highbrows nor the lowbrows could resist him. Owen Hatherley has analyzed the early Soviet avant-garde’s fascination with the Little Tramp in The Chaplin Machine (2016), which Tim Kohut reviewed for LARB, and Clare Cavanaugh has offered a brilliant reading of Osip Mandelstam’s two poems on Chaplin from 1937, among the last he ever wrote, in a chapter of Osip Mandelstam and the Modernist Creation of Tradition (1994).

Of course, my little friends and I didn’t know thing one about Mandelstam’s poems in the late 1980s, when we were getting up to Chaplinesque antics of our own. We did know this little song, of unknown origin, that is sung to the tune of Léo Daniderff’s foxtrot “Je cherche après Titine,” which Chaplin immortalized as “The Nonsense Song” in Modern Times (1936).

I’ve long loved “The Nonsense Song” (which you can see in a clip at Boris’s post), but I’ve always wanted a transcription of the lyrics, and it occurred to me that in this day and age, such a thing must be available online. Of course it was, so here they are for your edification:

Se bella giu satore
Je notre so cafore
Je notre si cavore (Je la tu la ti la twah)

La spinash o la bouchon
Cigaretto Portabello
Si rakish spaghaletto
Ti la tu la ti la twah

Senora pilasina
Voulez-vous le taximeter?
Le zionta su la seata
Tu la tu la tu la wa

Sa montia si n’amora
La sontia so gravora
La zontcha con sora
Je la possa ti la twah

Je notre so lamina
Je notre so cosina
Je le se tro savita
Je la tossa vi la twah

Se motra so la sonta
Chi vossa l’otra volta
Li zoscha si catonta
Tra la la la la la la

(I’ve added a close paren because I couldn’t stand seeing the lack of it.) And the “little song” Boris and his little friends sang to the same tune, beginning “На палубе матросы/ Курили папиросы” (“The sailors on the deck/ were smoking cigarettes”), is at the end of his post. Enjoy!


  1. The French original of Je cherche après Titine, the lyrics and the story behind it. Plus an English version, and a Hebrew one.
    There’s another, more famous Hebrew version, from 1958, but I just hogged up five links.

  2. I like the “Fox-Trot-Schimmy” label.

  3. Speaking of immortalized songs..

  4. January First-of-May says

    Not sure why, but that “French”… both looks and sounds suspiciously Italian to me. (Of course it’s not really Italian either, but it makes for better Italian than it does French.)
    …On second thought it’s probably because French doesn’t usually have anywhere near that many final vowels.

    Reminds me of this classic faux-Italian song that at least doesn’t have any pretense of being (or, at least, representing) anything but Italian… I could swear I’ve seen it discussed on LH before, but Google doesn’t find any instances.
    (On further search it’s apparently real Italian, it just… isn’t exactly a real Italian song.)


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