Né quelque part

I was born in Toronto, at St. Michael’s Hospital, somewhere in the wee hours of the first day of August in the middle of the last century. I did not ask to be born but I’m glad I was. I am grateful to have been born at a time and in a place that has allowed me to live, to be safe and have enough to eat, to grow up and get an education and be able to go out and see the world freely.

We are all born somewhere, as Maxime Le Forestier evokes so beautifully in the song that provides the inspiration for this post. I was happy to find this cinematic gem of a music video from 1988.

I remember the song well. It was on the charts shortly after we’d married and before our son was born. We were travelling back and forth between Canada and France a lot back then, with families on both sides. Ultimately we chose to live in France but we can still go back to the country I still think of as home and live there if we choose. How lucky we are, and our children too, to be able to choose between two countries, through accidents of birth.

I was struck by this when the story of the ‘Open Arms’ broke last week. The hundreds migrants packed on board the NGO rescue ship just a couple of hundred metres from Italy’s nearest shores on the island of Lampedusa. Waiting for nearly three weeks while a political battle waged over their right to disembark. Growing increasingly sick, impatient, angry. In desperation, some jumped ship and tried to swim ashore. The saintly people who kept them safe until finally, after the Italian government collapsed, the order came to allow them ashore. Their joy at finding themselves alive and on terra firma.

They are there and I am here because of being born somewhere. Né quelque part. An accident of birth, of time and of place.

Yes, I am white, privileged, rich by some standards. Yes, it is easy for me, a bi-national, with enough food on my table, to be liberal in my thinking. I have not had to fight for a place, or my beliefs, or my rights as a human being. Yet all of those things only make me more convinced that we are all the same. None of us deserves more than any other to be here. Or there.

I recently watched a drama on the BBC called ‘Years and Years’. It brilliantly explored this theme along with that of the future we are living in, today and tomorrow, within a xenophobic political post-Brexit context that was frighteningly real. Emma Thompson was entirely credible as  the populist Prime Minister. It made me think: what is this world we have created in which we scroll through our newsfeeds and skim over the real-life horror stories of human suffering to giggle over cute animal memes and admire each other’s holiday photos?

I am glad to have been born, to have lived through so many changes and hopefully continue to do so for many years more. Yet I wonder: would I feel this way, would I even be here at all, if my parents had lived somewhere else?

So tell me: where were you born? How has it affected your life?

Bonus: Here are the lyrics (with a rough English translation)
from ‘Né quelque part’ by Maxime Le Forestier:

We do not choose our parents, we do not choose our family
On choisit pas ses parents, on choisit pas sa famille

We do not choose the sidewalks of Manila
On choisit pas non plus les trottoirs de Manille

Or Paris or Algiers to learn how to walk
De Paris ou d’Alger pour apprendre à marcher

To be born somewhere
Être né quelque part

To be born somewhere, for one who is born
Être né quelque part, pour celui qui est né

It’s always a coincidence
C’est toujours un hasard

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

There are farmyard birds and birds of passage
Y a des oiseaux de basse cour et des oiseaux de passage

They know where their nests are
Ils savent où sont leur nids

Whether they return from their trip or stay at home
Qu’ils rentrent de voyage ou qu’ils restent chez eux

They know where their eggs are
Ils savent où sont leurs oeufs

To be born somewhere
Être né quelque part

To be born somewhere is to leave when you want
Être né quelque part, c’est partir quand on veut

Come back when you leave
Revenir quand on part

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

Whether people are born that way or not
Que les gens naissent pareils ou pas

We do not choose our parents, we do not choose our family
On choisit pas ses parents, on choisit pas sa famille

We do not choose the sidewalks of Manila
On choisit pas non plus les trottoirs de Manille

Or Paris or Algiers to learn how to walk
De Paris ou d’Alger pour apprendre à marcher

I was born somewhere
Je suis né quelque part

I was born somewhere, leave me this landmark
Je suis né quelque part, laissez-moi ce repère

Or I lose my memory
Ou je perds la mémoire

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

(Name’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)
(Nom’inqwando yes qxag iqwahasa)

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

Whether people are born that way or not
Que les gens naissent pareils ou pas

Are people born equal in rights
Est-ce que les gens naissent égaux en droits

Where they are born
À l’endroit où ils naissent

Whether people are born that way or not
Que les gens naissent pareils ou pas

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Bruno Jean Bernard Le Forestier / Jean Pierre GuignonNé quelque part lyrics © Salut Ô Éditions, SO2 Édition, Quatryo Éditions

Le monde est stone

Starmania cast and producers, 1988

Here’s this week’s song for a Saturday — voici ma chanson pour ce samedi.

If there is a song that defines my early days in France, it is this one. Stunning, heartbreakingly beautiful, yet somehow beyond my grasp.

“Why do they sing about the world being ‘stone’,” I asked my husband.

“Because it was the 70’s, everyone was high.”

“So why don’t they say ‘stoned’?”

“We don’t pronounce the ‘d’ in French.”

Hmm. This confuses me. Perhaps he is right but the lyrics mostly talk about the world being a cold, hard place, of being alone and looking for the light. Perhaps it is this very duality that makes the lyrics so enchanting.

This song was one of the biggest hits of the French rock opera, Starmania. We saw the French production in Paris, in 1988, with the second cast featuring a young Maurane, featured on this blog last week. Written by Michel Berger and Luc Plamondon, the musical went on to be adapted in English as ‘Tycoon’, with the lyrics of the English song, ‘The world is stone’ by Tim Rice, immortalized by Cyndi Lauper.

I am torn – which version of this song do I like best? Both are incredibly moving. The beauty of Fabienne Thibeault’s voice in the French version, the energy and originality of Cyndi Lauper’s version. I read that Michel Berger, who wrote the music, not only approved of Lauper’s version but even preferred it.

You decide.

J’ai la tête qui éclate
J’voudrais seulement dormir
M’étendre sur l’asphalte
Et me laisser mourir
Stone
Le monde est stone
Je cherche le soleil
Au milieu de la nuit
J’sais pas si c’est la Terre
Qui tourne à l’envers
Ou bien si c’est moi
Qui m’fait du cinéma
Qui m’fait mon cinéma
Je cherche le soleil
Au milieu de ma nuit
Stone
Le monde est stone
J’ai plus envie d’me battre
J’ai plus envie d’courir
Comme tous ces automates
Qui bâtissent des empires
Que le vent peut détruire
Comme des châteaux de cartes
Stone
Le monde est stone
Laissez moi me débattre
Venez pas m’secourir
Venez plutôt m’abattre
Pour m’empêcher d’souffrir
J’ai la tête qui éclate
J’voudrais seulement dormir
M’étendre sur l’asphalte
Et me laisser mourir

Stone, the world is stone
It’s no trick of the light, it’s hard on the soul
Stone, the world is stone, cold to the touch
And hard on the soul in the gray of the streets
In the neon unknown, I look for a sign
That I’m not on my own, that I’m not here alone
As the still of the night and the choke of the air
And the winners’ delight and the losers’ despair
Closes in left and right, I would love not to care
Stone, the world is stone from a faraway look
Without stars in my eyes through the halls of the rich
And the flats of the poor wherever I go
There’s no warmth anymore
There’s no love anymore
So I turn on my heels, I’m declining the fall
I’ve had all I can take with my back to the wall
Tell the world I’m not in, I’m not taking the call
Stone, the world is stone but I saw it once
With the stars in my eyes when each color rang out
In a thunderous chrome, it’s no trick of the light
I can’t find my way home in a world of stone

Which one do you prefer?

Toutes les mamas

Here is my song for Saturday — Voici ma chanson pour un samedi…

Mamas and mothers the world over are on the whole entirely under appreciated. Just as was the singer of this song, ‘Toutes le mamas’ (All the mammas). It was one of many hits by the Belgian singer known as Maurane, who sadly passed away on May 7th last year.

I remember dancing to this tune back in 1988 when it first came out. It was upbeat yet sort of jazzy with the the rich, velvety undertones of Maurane’s voice.

As it turns out, the song was less about mothers in general than a tribute to a certain idea of the African ‘mama’. Racially questionable yet joyously musical nonetheless.

I first discovered Maurane when she played Marie-Jeanne in the 1988 production of the rock opera Starmania in Paris.

The song of hers I love best is this one, ‘Sur un prélude de Bach’, written and composed by Jean-Claude Vannier. It is hauntingly beautiful and still gives me the shivers.

May all of the mamas around the world enjoy their day in the sun. Here in France, country of the cultural exception, we will have to wait until the end of May.

RIP Maurane. ❤️