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. ❤️

Les saints de glace

We had snow the other day. Not precisely in our village but just a few hundred metres above on the foothills.

This seemingly surprising meteorological phenomenon is not as unusual as it seems. The French hold great store in old proverbs and folklore when it comes to the weather. Les anciens, the old timers who have been around long enough to know better, will not take sayings like ‘En Mai, fais ce qu’il te plâit‘ too much to heart. They will rather think of ‘Les saints de glace’ and be wary of planting or ‘uncovering by a thread‘ until after they have safely passed.

Les saints de glace, or the ice saints in English aka St. Mamertus, St. Pancras (or Boniface) and St. Servatius, are the saints whose birthdays fall from May 11 to 13, dates which are thought to correspond to a time when the weather often gets colder. This is why popular wisdom has it that you should never plant your tomatoes before mid-May.

We are certainly experiencing the proverbial early May cold snap this year. After an early, hot start to spring back in April, when I foolishly put away all my winter sweaters and dusted off the garden furniture, we are freezing again. It is hard to imagine that in a few weeks we will be back in sandals and bathing suits, complaining about the heat.

This year’s late cold weather can also be explained by a phenomenon known in France as ‘la lune rousse’. This is the lunar cycle that follows Easter, which came late this year. In agricultural terms, it does not bode well. “La lune rousse sur la semence aura toujours mauvaise influence,” goes one proverb, meaning: “Red moon on seed will bad influence bring.” Another says, “En lune rousse, rien ne pousse” or “Moon of rose, nothing grows.” (I am using poetic license here but I did read that the translation of this moon can be red, pink or rose).

We will survive but it could be touch and go for wine growers. I heard on Sunday that some were taking drastic measures like spraying, heating and smoking to save the crops in wine-growing regions at greatest risk of frost. Here’s an interesting article that explains some of the techniques.

For now, the weather can only be described as ‘maussade’, meaning damp and miserable. Cold and rainy with low cloud cover. Only the birds relentlessly chirping outside my window remind us that summer is just around the corner.

What’s your weather like?

En bisbille

Bisbille en Terrasse by Catherine Haro

The precise origins of the French expression, être en bisbille avec quelqu’un, are mysterious. The word ‘bisbille’ apparently comes from the Italian ‘bisbiglio’ meaning to murmur or whisper. How the meaning evolved in French to mean a quarrel or difference with someone is unclear. And yet it speaks volumes: whispering behind someone’s back is exactly the kind of behaviour that starts such disputes.

What is clear to me is that this ability to pick a fight and turn petty differences into a life-long feud has strong Latin roots. I have observed such behaviour in particular in my Italian and Portuguese friends and in every set of French neighbours.

I’ve posted before about how the French are so good at ignoring those they dislike. They either literally can’t ‘see’ each other (On ne peut plus se voir) or they sulk when they do (Faire la gueule).

I love the above painting, ‘Bisbille en Terrasse’ by French artist Catherine Haro, as it perfectly captures the mood of disgruntled people on a café terrace who seem to be at odds with all of those around them.

As for me, I’ve gotten better at not picking fights and am successfully avoiding conflict with others at the moment.

Are you ‘en bisbille’ with anyone?

Ella, elle l’a

Voici ma chanson pour un samedi — here’s my song for Saturday.

The year was 1987. We were living in Toronto when France Gall released this song, written for his wife by the incredibly talented and gone-too-soon Michel Berger. It became a hit in France along with several countries in Europe.

I must have listened to this song a hundred times before I realized what it was actually about. The song, whose title literally means, ‘Ella, she has it’, is a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, the first lady of song, and an anti-racism anthem. Here are the lyrics, with a bit of a translation in English:

C’est comme une gaité, comme un sourire
Quelque chose dans la voix qui parait nous dire “viens”

Qui nous fait sentir étrangement bien
C’est comme toute l’histoire du peuple noir
Qui se balance entre l’amour et l’désespoir

Quelque chose qui danse en toi, si tu l’as, tu l’as

It’s like a joy, like a smile
that thing in her voice that seems to be saying “Come!”
that makes us feel strangely good
it’s like all the history of the black people
that swings between love and despair
that thing that dances inside of you, if you have it, you have it.

Ella, elle l’a, ce je-ne-sais-quoi
Que d’autres n’ont pas, qui nous met dans un drôle d’état
Ella, elle l’a Ella, elle l’a, cette drôle de voix
Elle a, ou, ou, ou, ou, ou, ou, ou, cette drôle de joie
Ce don du ciel qui la rend belle

She has it, the thing I know about
that others don’t have, that puts us in a funny state
she, she, she has it, she has that funny voice, that funny cheerfulness
that gift from up above that makes her beautiful, she has it

Elle a ce tout petit supplément d’âme
Cet indéfinissable charme, cette petite flamme

She has that extra bit of soul
that indefinable charm, that little flame.

Tape sur des tonneaux, sur des pianos
Sur tout ce que dieu peut te mettre…

Montre ton rire ou ton chagrin
Mais que tu n’aies rien, que tu sois roi
Que tu cherches encore les pouvoirs qui dorment en to
i
Tu vois ça ne s’achète pas

Hit the barrels, the pianos
and everything that god can put in your hands
show your laughter or your sadness
but if you are nothing or if you are a king
if you are still looking for the power that is sleeping inside of you
you see it can’t be bought

Ella, elle l’a… (etc.)

Around that time, my husband and I had the incredible privilege to see Ella perform live at the Imperial Room of the Royal York hotel in Toronto. It had to have been one of her final performances. She used a cane and was helped onstage by her manager. But once she began singing, her voice was as fresh as spring

On that note, here she is singing of my favourite songs.

Faire des vagues

I caught the wind making waves in this field and the sky above it yesterday. Usually I am the one making waves around here…it is nice to have company.

‘Faire des vagues’ is one of those rare expressions that works as well in French as it does in English. To make waves, to rock the boat.

The wind also makes waves in water, and we get our share of those on Lac Léman, aka Lake Geneva (although don’t call it that to certain purists for whom ‘le Léman’ is much more than the international city!) This area is known as the Arc Lémanique and includes the entire ‘arc’ on the Swiss side from Geneva to Lausanne all the way to Montreux.

From whence the group Deep Purple wrote the song that defined a certain period of my youth…

The wind has died down today and with it the waves. I can almost see the smoke on the water across the lake. And am waiting with baited breath for a new season to begin.

Bonne fin de semaine!