Le monde est fou

A bit of comic relief for a world gone mad. Crazy. Fou!

This song was released in 1990 and became an instant hit on the French music charts. Never has it seemed more timely than it does today.

The world is indeed a crazy place. Is it not ‘fou’ that Brits are preparing to vote in a referendum that could forever – or at least for the foreseeable future – change the face of Europe?

Isn’t it ‘fou’ that a Donald McTrump (at least that’s how I always think of him given his all-American menu, crazy wig and clown-like behaviour) is seriously a contender to lead the free world?

Can we even talk about a free world anymore when people of all genders and orientations aren’t safe at a nightclub in the land of Disneyworld? At a concert in Paris? In the editorial offices of a satirical magazine? Even police officers, the very people who are meant to protect us, in their own homes?

Add to that the particular insanity and violence of football hooligans here in France during the Euro 2016.

The world’s gone mad and there are times, especially this week, when I despair of it ever becoming sane again. What’s worse, there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing we can do about it.

It’s a crazy old world, mes amis. So we might as well sing, dance, and celebrate the crazy in us all.

Bisous xo

Le travail c’est la santé

Henri-Salvador-Le-Travail-C-est-La-SanteIt occurred to me the other day that I will probably never retire. Quoi!? I can hear the cries of outrage echoing across France.

The French have a love-hate relationship with work. They spend a good part of their adult lives seeking it, and once they get it, spend the rest of their careers plotting how to retire early. They work very intensely for short bursts, then take long holidays to recover. What saves them is knowing it will all be done and dusted at 62.

Retirement with full benefits is a hard-earned right in France. I won’t go into how the system works here – c’est compliqué. Suffice it to say that like most pension plans, the whole thing will go bust unless the French agree to raise the retirement age. It’s been all over the news lately as the unions negotiate with the powers-that-be over incentives to get people to work for more years.

As I began working in France late in the game, I will likely never qualify for much of a pension. I am trying to max my retirement savings but, realistically, I am destined to become one of those very, very senior consultants.

And guess what? I’m fine with that. I happen to believe that work keeps you happy and healthy. It’s all about doing what you enjoy and getting that work-life balance thing right.

Working as a freelance writer has its ups and downs but at least it is not a physically challenging job like window washer, or as mind-numbingly boring as bean counter. Hopefully it will enable me to stay gainfully self-employed until they roll me away from my computer, hunched and decrepit as I hunt and peck for the keys with fading eyesight.

I had to put my writing career on hold when first we moved here. Back in those pre-social media days, there just wasn’t the demand in provincial France for English copywriting. Over the years I worked at different jobs: teaching English (which I loathed), as an independent translator (which helped my French enormously), translator-speaker at Euronews (I got to use my dulcet voice), executive assistant in the corporate world (I lied and said I’d be happy to serve coffee in between translating emails). Eventually I worked my way back into communications and am now happily building my freelance writing business.

Throughout my career, I’ve jumped back and forth between full-time and freelance work styles. There are benefits to both but at this stage of my life, the advantages of being able to work from home most days outweigh the attraction of daily interactions with a team and a month of paid vacation.

Henri Salvador figured out the secret of youth early in his career. Oddly enough, the bossa nova crooner came to fame in France with this silly song, a far cry from the relaxed, sensual tones of his later recordings.

Contrary to the song’s title, the lyrics parody those who work hard, and advocate a life of leisure activities like pétanque. Here they are if you’re interested:

Le travail c’est la santé
Rien faire c’est la conserver
Les prisonniers du boulot
N’font pas de vieux os.

Ces gens qui cour’nt au grand galop
En auto, métro ou vélo
Vont-ils voir un film rigolo ?
Mais non, ils vont à leur boulot

Le travail c’est la santé
Rien faire c’est la conserver
Les prisonniers du boulot
N’font pas de vieux os.

Ils boss’nt onze mois pour les vacances
Et sont crevés quand elles commencent
Un mois plus tard, ils sont costauds
Mais faut reprendre le boulot

Dire qu’il y a des gens en pagaille
Qui courent sans cesse après le travail
Moi le travail me court après
Il n’est pas près de m’rattraper.

Maint’nant dans le plus p’tit village
Les gens travaillent comme des sauvages
Pour se payer tout le confort
Quand ils l’ont, eh bien, ils sont morts.

Homm’s d’affaires et meneurs de foule
Travaill’nt à en perdre la boule
Et meur’nt d’une maladie d’cœur
C’est très rare chez les pétanqueurs !

How do you feel about retirement? Do you work to live or live to work?

La zique: The changing face of French music

La musique or ‘zique’ as it’s called in slang is celebrated all over France each year on June 21stLa Fête de la Musique. This popular French music festival kicks off the summer on the longest day of the year and inspires me to share a few of my favorite French artists.

No matter how well you know France, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of its most famous rock star: Johnny Hallyday. Johnny, as he’s universally known to tous les français, came to fame in the early days of rock ‘n roll with French versions of songs like the above cover of ‘If Black is Black’. Although he officially hung up his guitar a few years ago, he’s still an icon here.

Unlike its wine, food and fashion, French music doesn’t tend to export well. Which isn’t to say it’s not hugely influential. Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg…French* music greats have inspired talents near and far.

The tradition of la chanson française or chanson à parole is lyric-based music or sung poetry. Les paroles – the words – are the dominant feature. Which means you have to speak French to really appreciate it. And being of a nature to enjoy music that is more melodic, I was never much of a fan of the spoken-word style of song.

But understanding the words makes a difference. I’ve come to appreciate the quality of writing that goes into the lyrics of many French singer-songwriters. Like Stromae, a hugely original and talented Franco-Belgian singer who came to fame recently with the song ‘Alors on danse’. This new clip, ‘Papaoutai’ tells the story of a boy in search of his father.

Zaz is the name of a fresh French female singer who shook things up with this song, ‘Je veux’ (I want). Love the kazoo.

Franco-Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra relased an album called ‘Handmade’ a few years ago. Here she is singing the hit song, Beautiful Tango:

It’s a little bleak but I quite like this song, also in English, ICU, by singer-songwriter Lou Doillon. She’s the daughter of singer and activist Jane Birkin, who, by the way, is popular royalty in France for her marriage to the late Serge Gainsbourg and her other daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The fact is, more and more French artists are recording in English these days. I suppose it only makes sense from a commercial point of view but seems a shame for the chanson française.

I’m also a fan of starlet-harlot Vanessa Paradis. Since her split with Johnny Depp she’s looking and sounding better than ever. She’s rumoured to be in a relationship with French musician (also one of her band) Benjamin Biolay. Here she is with him performing a soothing chanson at this year’s Victoires de la Musique (French Grammys):

I love electronic music and there’s a lot of it in France. One of my favorite groups is Daft Punk. The French duo set the world on fire this year with Get Lucky but have been doing their thing together for several years now (never a word of French!)

I discovered Henri Salvador shortly before his death when he released what became a hit album. The king of the bossa nova still had it going on at 90. Here he is in a live performance of Jardin d’hiver with French-Canadian singer Linda Lemay.

And here’s one in memory of my dear mom. She adored Charles Aznavour, who’s not only the French crooner to have sold the most records worldwide but at 90 is still its doyen:

*Note that when I say French, I mean Francophone. A lot of French music stars are Belgian, including Stromae.

How about you? Who’s your favorite French artist?

 

 

How do you celebrate Noël?

I'm dreaming of a...If there is one holiday I’m religious about, it’s Christmas. This has nothing to do with any religion (although I still believe in Santa). But having grown up in a family that made a big deal about Christmas, I cannot conceive of spending December 25th any other way than with a turkey in the oven and presents on the tree. Cue Bing Crosby, jingle bells and ho, ho, ho.

Living in France makes it challenging to celebrate Christmas my way. First of all, there’s my husband. His idea of the perfect holiday is on the ski slopes. Every year, he trots out the idea of going away somewhere, preferably to a mountain lodge, instead of doing our usual gifts and celebrations. And every year, I nix that (at least until the 26th).

Then there are his parents. Like most French people, their concept of Noël focuses on le réveillon. This is the traditional celebration of Christmas and New Year’s with a long meal on the day before the event, in this case on the 24th. It’s an extravagant feast involving oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras…and, of course, fine wines. The meal can go on for hours. Small children are sent to bed then awoken after midnight to open gifts from le Père Noël.

My idea of Christmas involves a whirl of last-minute preparations on the 24th, then getting up early on the morning of the 25th to open Christmas stockings and presents. We start the day with champagne and orange juice, followed by brunch and a lull to enjoy quiet pursuits and get the dinner ready (in Canada, this would be a 20-lb plus turkey that needs several hours in the oven). By the time we sit down to enjoy our Christmas dinner, the party is mostly over for the French.

Over the years, I’ve tried various ways of bridging the two traditions in our home but it never seems to work very well. My in-laws are vaguely perplexed by our way of doing things, and I find it mildly depressing to try to conform to theirs. Which is why half the time we solve the whole issue by going to visit family in Canada.

But not this year. This year, we are going to stay right here in France and have two Christmases. Which only makes sense. After all, we have dual everything else: cultures, languages, nationalities. We even had two weddings.

So we’ll go out for the réveillon on the 24th. There’s a little hotel in the mountains about an hour from where we live, run by cousins of my husband (and the early exposure to altitude will make him happy). My beaux-parents will stay there and we’ll join them for a festive Christmas eve, exchanging gifts à la française. We’ll even be able to enjoy the champagne – safe in the knowledge that one of our adult children is the designated driver.

We’ll hang out the stockings when we get home and then spend our Christmas day in the traditional way. Which is to say making a huge mess, filling our gullets with goodies, then roasting like chestnuts over the fire while loudly arguing about everything from our favorite dessert to the name of that song we used to sing. We’ll probably even Skype in family from Canada to add their 2 cents.

Hopefully, this way everybody will be happy. Or as happy as any normally dysfunctional family can be while spending time together and trying very hard to enjoy themselves.

How do you spend Christmas? However you celebrate, Joyeux Noël à tous!