All in the Family

IMG_1772Hardware stores are my happy place. They promise solutions to problems. Often know-how is required (where it all falls apart for me), but still, those neat shelves of fixes lower my blood pressure. Hardware stores set the world straight again.

One day a while back, I was happily strolling through a hardware store when for some reason I found myself actually listening to the piped-in radio. And tears started streaming down my face.

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Doors and windows of Toulouse, to accompany reflections about staying and leaving.

The song, “Je Vole,” was a hit in 1978, written and performed by French pop idol Michel Sardou. The song inspired a movie, “La Famille Bélier,” about a girl whose parents and brother are deaf. She is their indispensable translator. But she discovers she has a gift–an incredible voice–and her music teacher is encouraging her to go to a special school, far from her family.

Here are the lyrics. I’m crying just typing this. It gets me, as a mother and as a daughter.IMG_1790First in French:

Mes chers parents

Je pars

Je vous aime mais je pars 

Vous n’aurez plus d’enfant

Ce soir

Je n’ m’enfuis pas je vole

Comprenez bien je vole

Sans fumée sans alcool

Je vole je vole

C’est jeudi il est 5 heures 5

J’ai bouclé une petite valise

Et je traverse doucement l’appartement endormi

J’ouvre la porte d’entrée

En retenant mon souffle

Et je marche sur la pointe des pieds

Comme les soirs

Où je rentrais après minuit

Pour ne pas qu’ils se réveillent

Hier soir à table

J’ai bien cru que ma mère

Se doutait de quelque chose

Elle m’a demandé si j’étais malade

Et pourquoi j’étais si pâle

J’ai dis que j’était très bien

Tout à fait clair

Je pense qu’elle a fait semblant de me croire

Et mon père a souri

En passant à côté de sa voiture

J’ai ressenti comme un drôle de coup

Je pensais que ce s’rait plus dur

Et plus grisant un peu

Comme une aventure

En moins déchirant

Oh surtout ne pas se retourner

S’éloigner un peu plus

Il y a la gare

Et après la gare

Il y a l’Atlantique

Et après l’Atlantique

C’est bizarre cette espèce de cage

Qui me bloque la poitrine

Ca m’empêche presque de respirer

Je me demande si tout à l’heure

Mes parents se douteront

Que je suis en train de pleurer

Oh surtout ne pas se retourner

Ni des yeux ni de la tête

Ne pas regarder derrière

Seulement voir ce que je me suis promis

Et pourquoi et où et comment

Il est 7 heures moins 5

Je me suis rendormi

Dans ce train qui s’éloigne un peu plus

Oh surtout ne plus se retourner

Jamais

Mes chers parents

Je pars

Je vous aime mais je pars 

Vous n’aurez plus d’enfant

Ce soir

Je n’ m’enfuis pas je vole

Comprenez bien je vole

Sans fumée sans alcool

Je vole je vole

Je n’ m’enfuis pas je vole

Comprenez bien je vole

Sans fumée sans alcool

Je vole je voleIMG_1735And in English:

My dear parents

I’m leaving

I love you but I’m leaving

You won’t have children anymore

tonight

I’m not fleeing but I’m flying

Understand well, I’m flying

Without smoke without alcohol

I fly, I fly.

It’s Thursday it’s five-o-five.

I’ve buckled a small suitcase

And I softly cross the sleepy apartment 

I open the front door

And hold my breath

And I walk on tiptoe

Like the nights

I came home after midnight

So they wouldn’t wake up.

Yesterday evening at dinner

I really thought my mother

Was suspecting something

She asked me if I was sick

And why I was so pale

I said that I was fine

It’s very clear

I think she pretended to believe me

And my father smiled.

Passing next to the car

I suddenly felt something strange

I thought that it would be harder

And more exhilarating a little

Like an adventure

At least less heart-breaking.

Oh, above all don’t turn back

Go a little farther

There’s the train station

And after the train station

There’s the Atlantic

And after the Atlantic

It’s bizarre, this kind of cage

That blocks my chest

That almost stops me from breathing

I wonder whether later 

My parents will suspect

That I’m crying

Oh above all don’t turn back

Neither eyes nor head

Don’t look back

Only see what I’ve promised myself

And why and where and how

It’s five to seven

I fell back to sleep

in this train that gets a little farther away

Oh above all don’t turn back

Never

My dear parents

I’m leaving

I love you but I’m leaving

You won’t have children anymore

tonight

I’m not fleeing but I’m flying

Understand well, I’m flying

Without smoke without alcohol

I fly, I fly.

If your eyes are still dry, you are a tough cookie.IMG_1787It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I truly appreciated my own parents. Especially my mother. She would do anything and everything for her children. And yet, I felt tethered to a leash. I was pushed to succeed, but in a very narrow sense, defined by traditional gender roles. Good grades in math were not appreciated–nobody would marry me, she warned.IMG_1780IMG_1781All the same, she wasn’t happy with traditional roles. She was an artist and completely uninterested in housekeeping or cooking. We her children stifled her, too. When she would sing with the radio, we would cover our ears and howl for her to stop. Leashes are attached at both ends.IMG_4324But I was rarely there for her. Flying the nest wasn’t enough–I felt the need to cross an ocean, too. I dreamed of seeing the world. I didn’t want to end up like my mom, my life a series of laundry loads and of getting supper on the table. And yet. If “Let It Go” is playing somewhere, and of course I sing/belt along, my kid gives me the same treatment I gave my mom. The circle of life.IMG_1766In a way, I was her translator. She was very shy, insecure, worried about being a problem. She joked that she was Edith in “All in the Family,” and my dad certainly did a good imitation of Archie Bunker. In a store, if she didn’t find what she wanted, she would slink out. If I said, let’s ask a clerk, she’d be horrified–“don’t bother those people! They’re busy!” But I would do it anyway, and almost always they would have exactly what she wanted. All she needed to do was ask. Or have me ask for her.IMG_1771I wish I had been easier on her, had held her hand more through situations that made her uncomfortable. How did she, such an introvert, manage teach me not to be afraid, which is not at all the same as being brave? If you’re brave, you’re aware of just how badly things can go but you feel compelled or obliged to do something anyway. If you’re not afraid, you’re confident everything will turn out fine. IMG_6034She’s the one who gave me my wings, so I could fly.

I don’t approve of Hallmark holidays, and every day should be mother’s day, something you realize most pointedly when you’ve lost yours. If your mom is still around, give her a big hug many big hugs or, if she’s far away, a phone call … and cherish every word.IMG_1792Here are links to the immortal Sardou singing his song, “Je Vole.” And here is the version by Louane, who played the daughter in the 2014 movie.IMG_1788

So Many Questions

IMG_2594One of my favorite French authors is Marcel Proust. There is something about la Belle Époque (1871-1914) that’s so romantic, even though clearly life for even a well-to-do woman back then would have been horribly restricted. No yearning for that! Just look at Collette’s heroines and Coco Chanel’s chafing against social strictures.P1060666But there’s the gorgeous wedding-cake architecture, the fantastic Art Nouveau designs (like the ads of Mucha and the Paris Métro entrances of Guimard), the heyday of writers in Paris. The impressionists–Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Manet, Degas…. And the music–Erik Satie, Gabriel Fauré (this one makes me cry; I sang it once at a singalong in NYC. Nerdy thrills), Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel.IMG_0349 2Proust captures the Belle Époque beautifully in his seven-volume chef d’oeuvre, “À la recherche du temps perdu”–“In Search of Lost Time” (previously known as “Remembrances of Things Past”). Even if you’ve never read Proust, you probably know about dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea, which brings back memories, and all these recollections make up the novel. I admit to a weakness for parenthetical phrases, but Proust turns every sentence into a matryoshka doll of phrases within phrases, filling nearly an entire page. I would skim back to see: What was the subject again? And the verb? It was the very best bedtime reading, whisking me away to another time and space, and the sentences so intensely complex that my brain would explode and I would sleep. It took me three years to read the whole thing, a bit over 2,000 pages. In English. I cannot even imagine tracking those sentences in the original French.IMG_1605The Proust Questionnaire wasn’t written by the man himself, but he was such a big fan of this parlor game/personality test, which he first did as a teen, that his name became associated with it. Vanity Fair magazine posed the questionnaire to a series of celebrities. The wonderful newsletter BrainPickings featured David Bowie’s answers to VF. There’s a short version of the questionnaire by Bernard Pivot, the host of a TV show, “Bouillon de Culture,” an intellectual/literary prime-time talk show that ran for 20 years. So French.IMG_1604Many years ago, some friends and I held a salon. We all worked together, but our spouses didn’t. To keep our twice-a-month dinner parties from turning into work gripe sessions that would bore half (if not all) the table silly, we would pick a topic and a leader. We’d all read up on the (usually controversial) topic, and the leader would moderate the discussion and yank us back if it veered into boring tangents about work. It wasn’t as pretentious as it might sound. Just fun for a bunch of nerds.P1090124The Proust Questionnaire, even small bits of it, could serve as a similar device, a way to move past chatter and into deeper exploration of what matters. Research isn’t necessary, but introspection is. Here it is. Feel free, in the comments, to answer some of the questions.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

2. What is your greatest fear?

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

5. Which living person do you most admire?

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

7. What is your current state of mind?

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

9. On what occasion do you lie?

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

11. Which living person do you most despise?

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

16. When and where were you happiest?

17. Which talent would you most like to have?

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

21. Where would you most like to live?

22. What is your most treasured possession?

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

24. What is your favorite occupation?

25. What is your most marked characteristic?

26. What do you most value in your friends?

27. Who are your favorite writers?

28. Who is your hero of fiction?

29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

30. Who are your heroes in real life?

31. What are your favorite names?

32. What is it that you most dislike?

33. What is your greatest regret?

34. How would you like to die?

35. What is your motto?P1060662 2And if you want to wallow in Belle Époque beauty just before it’s crushed by war, check out the 1999 movie, “Le Temps Retrouvé” (Time Regained), in which Marcello Mazzarella plays the narrator/Proust; Catherine Deneuve plays the main character, Odette; Emmanuelle Béart plays Odette’s daughter, Gilberte (and OMG they look SO MUCH like mother and daughter! The eyes! The eyebrows!); Deneuve’s real daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, plays the narrator’s crush, Albertine; and John Malkovich plays the eccentric Baron de Charlus, aka “Mémé” (Granny!!!!).IMG_2596

Bella Ciao

P1080529As I write this, a Euro-electro cover of the Italian folk song “Bella Ciao” is blasting into my window from a boisterous gathering. Sound travels easily in the countryside.

If you don’t know this song, listen here (not the techno version).tree and rocksYears and years ago, an eternity really, when my kid was a little round sausage of yumminess and naïvété, the (first grade?) class learned the song “Bella Ciao” for the year-end show. They always learned something that would bring great applause from all the grandparents in the audience, and there was something adorable about these little tykes belting out hits from half a century earlier.

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Once again, random photos. This time from a search for a brocante where the Carnivore and I got lost in the countryside.

Thus I’ve known Bella Ciao for a while. Obviously it was an Italian song, so I didn’t understand the lyrics (unlike another song my kid learned in school even earlier: “Si Tu Vas à Rio”–“If you go to Rio….don’t forget to go up yonder, to a little village, hidden under wild flowers, on the side of a hill….” a song about reminiscences and good old times, which is kind of hilarious coming out of the mouths of four-year-olds).P1050713Several years later, my kid was studying World War II, and “Bella Ciao” came up again in the context of families deciding whether to weather the terrible fascist political climate or to flee, to become refugees. The song’s origins were the women of the Po river valley who weeded the rice paddies and who suffered terribly. (How did a song about suffering women manage to be sung by so many men?) (Italian and English lyrics here)P1020416Later (although one article said the partisans came first, in 1919, and the rice weeders came after World War II), it was adopted as an anti-fascist anthem, and then as a pro-communist song. These kinds of liaisons are difficult, because you can be very anti-fascist and also downright cold to communism–the original idea might have been nice but in reality communism was a huge con job and an economic and social failure. Yet, in binary, black-and-white situations, you don’t get to be anti-communist AND anti-fascist, because those get lumped as one and the same. So either you have to choose to be anti-fascist and just ignore the communist part or you shrug and walk away from everything altogether. In some parts of southern France, communists haven’t gotten the memo about its demise. There also are plenty of refugees or descendants thereof from Franco’s Spain, so there’s a strong anti-fascist streak as well (a Spanish cover of the song was censored in Spain in 1969…Franco died in 1975, for those of you who don’t remember Chevy Chase on SNL’s Weekend Update). “Bella Ciao” became the hymn of labor strikes in the 1960s and then crossed the Atlantic in service of the government of Salvador Allende in Chile, which, you might recall, ended badly, thanks to the CIA.

P1050710“Bella Ciao” has been in my head lately because it was a theme of the hugely popular Spanish series (picked up on Netflix) “La Casa del Papel”–“Money Heist” in English. What an interesting series! I didn’t see all of it, but it was fascinating, with the corrupt victims, the good-hearted villains, the messed-up police….nothing rote, everything complicated. AlloCiné compared it to “Ocean’s Eleven,” but it was free of smugness and made you question everything. Maybe it was an intellectual “Ocean’s Eleven.” It also was devoid of fashion, yet had such indelible looks. The red jumpsuits! The Salvador Dali masks!chateau rooftopsIn looking around for who in the world did the electro version I was hearing, I discovered that “Bella Ciao” is in a renaissance as it were, thanks to “La Casa del Papel,” which made it hip again.  French-Congolese rapper Maître Gims did a version with lots of la, la, la (which translates as la, la, la, whether Italian to French or French to English). French DJ Jean Roch (I do NOT approve of that silky green jacket. Nor of the backup dancers) and American electro house musician Steve Aoki also did it. And French-Spanish singer Manu Chao, though he was before the current craze. In fact, his family fled Franco’s Spain, which is how he was born in France.P1070751Have you heard Bella Ciao before?P1080530