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Heureux qui comme Brassens


Georges Brassens (1964) by Erling Mandelmann

Lucky sod, Ulysses. Having a home to return to, I mean – not sure I could have coped with the male equivalents of Circe, let alone bally Scylla and Charybdis. Oh, hang on a minute: I already have! But that’s another story. And a thoroughly tedious one at that, so we shall leave it untold.
I feel homesick. Yes, yes, I know: utterly pathetic, as well as entirely irrational. I haven’t got one of those – a home. I had one, and I miss it. Most mornings I wake up wondering where I am before I even begin to work out how
But faced with zero choice, there’s nothing that can be done. Simple as that.
So briskly back to that title. I am not raving in lunacy. Honestly (as ever, you’ll have to take my word for that). I’m not referring to Heureux qui, comme Ulysse by Du Bellay either, lovely as the poem is. I have been listening to the song sung by Georges Brassens.
Brassens was an artist whose passion for poetry colours all his compositions, from the mournful resignation of Le petit cheval blanc to mischief and mockery, eg Le gorille. Combine all this with beguilingly rhythmic melodies, and you have all the profundity and playfulness required to fight off a fit of the glums.
Brassens: now there was someone who never lost his love of home, and who knew how to form a family from friends – and hang onto it. Who cares if the ties that bound the latter to the former were at least in part monetary? Aren’t they always? Friend Eugénie and I reached this conclusion several years ago (Jane Austen, of course, got there long before us – albeit with immeasurably superior intelligence and talent). What matters to most wanderers is having somewhere to go at journey’s end. A place of safety and solace that is in itself a reward for successfully surmounting trials, tribulations – and shady sirens. And Brassens, while transplanted and travelling, never lost his attachment to his roots or to those who would always nurture him. He was wise in his generosity.
Brassens also had a marvellous sense of humour – as do so many of those rare, empathic types – and his own particular take on the generation gap, especially as it applies to those masculine versions of Circe and Co, is a characteristically elegant comic turn in itself.  Sheer connerie – such a lot of it about; but hasn’t there always been? Yes, answers Brassens: le temps ne fait rien à l’affaire*. Best to laugh at it. And who better to laugh with, than Georges?
Bon weekend!

* text

More about Brassens (in French).

Pic sourced from Commons Wiki.

Copyright © Minnie at Les Minimes (minniebeaniste) 2009-2011. This content is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this content feed on other websites breaches copyright.


Honourable Ladies – a consumer’s guide


A bit preoccupied at present, so this is a re-posting of something I made earlier which came into my mind when I was chatting with a woman I know in the quartier. We’d been discussing neighbourliness and its spiteful opposite, and she commented that it is still important to do good, on however small a scale, and that this is open to all: you don’t need to stray from your own neighbourhood or go out of your way especially, whether literally or figuratively! Enjoy – or not, as the case may be (;-)):

Ladies Muck and Bountiful – two different types, or is it ‘archetypes’? It seems that way all too often. Is there a factory somewhere, where they are cloned – along the lines of Max Boyce’s lyrics about Welsh internationals?

I think not. The two are invariably one-and-the-same in my experience. They’re the women who are quick to volunteer for charities – mining the experience forever after for moral capital, all profits their own.
The women who turn up at night shelters to prepare and serve the evening meal for two dozen homeless men (and a few women. Oh, yes, Britain’s only growth industry: homeless girls and women). Gosh, isn’t that nice of these dear ladies – for, let it never be forgotten, ladies they are – the Ladies Muck and Bountiful? Aren’t these Ladies wonderful? More than kind, they are: a fathomless source of maternal goodness, generosity and selflessness, the Ladies M (& B).
Are they?
When they dash in, conspicuously caring expressions firmly in place, avoiding the eyes of the men (and handful of women), interacting as little as possible with the professionals (who, sighing, regard them in return with the beady eye of bitter experience). When they dish up, fast, eyes averted – refusing to return the gaze of the avid faces in the queue on the other side of the hatch. When casting their pinnies into the linen basket they rush off, relief writ large all over their carefully made-up faces.
Back to their lovely homes and their husbands (usually described as ‘grumpy’. Well, wouldn’t you be, having to live with such a paragon of conspicuous virtue?) and those of their children who haven’t ‘fled the nest’ (‘fled’? Aren’t nests left either in flight or freefall? In these cases, yes indeed …). Back they go, back to warmth and safety, familiarity – and gleeful deployment of cliches as protection, the better to shield them from anything that threatens to penetrate the surface of their even-tenor’d lives. Back they go, the Ladies M (& B).
Leaving behind a rest-room full of people – who are people. Who are recognisably human. Who have the same need for acknowledgement and respect as do these ladies, the Mucks, the Bountifuls. People sitting around the stained, battered formica-topped tables, whose feelings of isolation and desolation are vastly increased by the attitude to them displayed by the good Ladies M & B.
The Ladies M & B, who will not hesitate to do such a thing as take in off the street Martina, a homeless East European teenager, providing her with free bed and board for months. Complaining throughout the duration of her residence about how Martina eats them out of house and home. Sneaking down to their basement kitchen at night to launch shock-and-awe assaults on their fridge while the family sleeps the sleep of the just, Martina gorges. The family never sees Martina, only the half-empty fridge she leaves in her wake.
Yet the same Lady M (& B) demurs when asked by a friend of decades at whose wedding she played a major role, for the same room, now free –
“On a temporary basis, ’till I get settled and find somewhere more permanent … at a fair rent, of course. If I get the job … which, of course, means I’d be out all day, and sometimes at weekends too.”
The friend wouldn’t be in Lady M (& B)’s way; no, not at all. And would naturally be paying her way, for hasn’t she always done just that? And isn’t she known for doing just that? Lady M (& B) remains silent, head turned away, her only response a slight moue of distaste. So the answer’s clear, if unspoken.
That’s Ladies M (& B) all over: no kudos in merely helping an old mucker, is there? Surely everybody does that … don’t they?
Oh, Ladies M (& B): if you don’t, then who does?
The Ladies M (& B) who are Active in the Parish, and sit chatting and comparing and contrasting offspring, houses and gardens until they become an incoherent blur:
“My little Willie’s little Willie got 11 GCSEs – all at Grade A.”
“Really? My daughter’s little Willie got 12 Grade As …”
“You’re so lucky with your ankylosing spondilitis. Try as I might, I simply can’t get mine to grow …”
“Yes, but you’ve got that super tertiary syphilis in your house, you lucky thing, you! Must have cost a packet!”
“Louisa’s famous for her acute cerebral sterco-lithiasis – aren’t you, Louisa, dear?”
“Well, I don’t know, really. I’ve rather got into erisypilas and oedema recently, actually.”
Ah, the tinkly, twinkling tones of the Ladies M (& B) at play, like so many shimmering wind chimes – and about as substantial. Does the heart – well, if not good exactly, then certainly something stimulating to the blood pressure. While the Vicar’s wife slaves away in her wholly-inadequate kitchen, wincing with pain from an injured shoulder while negotiating slippery tiled passageways with heavy trays – and all to serve the Ladies M (& B) who are, of course, the backbone of the Parish. The Ladies M (& B) all sit there, smiling with their glossed mouths, doing nothing but talk – they do it so well.
The Lady M (& B) whose nice, cosy life is punctuated by Good Works – occasionally, you understand, for she has Important Family Things to Do. Oh, how does she do it all? How does she do it? A mystery! Well, having plentiful ‘help’ is part of the answer, of course. But dear Lady M (& B), she’s now training to be a counsellor. Well, yes – isn’t everybody? Everybody among the Mucks and Bountifuls, that is. Well, no: this one’s hitting the moral compass bang on the spot – she’s going for [hush now, soften your tone and be respectful] hospice care.
At Lady M (& B)’s hospice of choice, the dying will have the pleasure of being monitored and encouraged towards their last moments by the delightful, the fragrant, the groomed from the tip of her fastidious nose to her dear little tippy-toes Lady M (& B). Aren’t they the lucky ones?
Oh dear Lady M (& B), who’ll elbow an outsider to her clique out of the way, to deliver an invitation to friends who were guilty of such bad taste and temerity as to stray far enough from the fold to talk to an otherwise excluded other. An outsider whose crime is to be alone and poor in later life. Who might have appreciated an invitation to coffee or a drink. Who, although used to spending days, months, birthdays, anniversaries and Christmases alone, might have liked to have felt welcome – if only for a fleeing moment – for a change. A change of mind, of scene – of heart, even.
But dear Lady M (& B) has her mind on far higher things – of course she does! And all around her the chorus rages, “dear Lady M (& B), how good she is! She’s marvellous – really she is: maaaaarvellous!”
And “I don’t know how she does it!” they exclaim, admiringly. How stupid – of course they know how she does it. If they bothered to look further, they’d know why she does it as well.
Me, I don’t know how she can live with herself. I couldn’t, in her shoes. But then, I can live with myself  – maybe that’s just as well, too.

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Boys will be boys


Main ingredient of a warming stew

No shit?
No hypocrisy, either? No cop-out intended?
Having read, watched and listened with increasing outrage while a bunch of fuckwitted twunts pompous pundits attempted to excuse the inexcusable, the unthinkable has happened: I’m speechless. Well, almost. I’m certainly so angry I can barely type, let alone string together a coherent sentence. And the anger keeps getting fed …
Yesterday evening I saw representatives of the Inner Circle (? ‘Sanctum’) of Parisian political journos stating their case for privacy with relation to youknowwhat (or, perhaps, ‘whom’?). I don’t know whether or not the accused at the centre of this French furore is guilty, but I do know a pitifully thin case when I hear one – and this one, on ‘necessary’ restrictions to press freedom, was based entirely upon the premise that were the press in France to adopt the US or UK model, then the French would be subjected to a never-ending diet of mischief, mad speculation and malevolent gossip. All of which, I agree, exist in both the US and  UK media. But that’s not the whole story – and those polemicists mentioned above bloody well know it. For a start, they’re ignoring what the native press does with regard to foreign stories where personalities involved are routinely and callously subjected to idiocies and indignities (eg the treatment of  ‘Lay-dee-Dee’) .

A pig in muck; stinks to high heaven

Those contentious hacks on the screen yesterday also know – and if they don’t, then they’re even more arrogantly narrow-minded than I had supposed – that the gutter press is not by and large taken especially seriously, even by many of its readers. We know we’ve got a rather rancid press (and guess what: we can ignore it – yes, really!). The upside is that it is bloody hard for people in the public eye to hide deeds that are liable to affect not only their reputations (and by extension that of the institution they represent) but also their efficacy and reliability. We, the people, must be able to hold our leaders accountable. If we can’t, what does this make of our entire system of government? A cynical little joke to be sniggered over by a bunch of over-paid, smug hacks in a telly studio while the poor, bloody electorate goes to hell in complete – and completely puzzled – ignorance?  Hardly healthy – no wonder France is the Promised Land for the conspiracy theorist!
During the brief debate absolutely no mention was made of the FACT that the name of Acronym’s alleged victim has not only been splashed all over the French media but her native village visited and reported from, her neighbours/rellies/friends interviewed and the whole shameful shebang.
Hypocrisy, much?

As for the alleged ‘perp’, his reputation is hardly enhanced by the company he keeps, given the array of excuses made on his behalf. I won’t even begin to address them – other and better writers have done it for me. And, in my view, the best analysis so far has been made by this talented young journalist (for francophones only: sorry and all that).

The Dodo; extinct

On a personal note – and, yes, I do believe ‘the personal is political’ – I have experience of rape among far too many other manifestations of male fear and hatred of women, including DV.  I know perfectly well the differences between harassment, attempted seduction and violation. To most women, these are obvious. To a number of men, also – or so I hope. As for the rest, time for these overgrown, superannuated boys to become fully adult, ie capable of assuming responsibility and in doing so demonstrating respect for those they represent. How many more centuries is that process liable to take?

All pix sourced via Wiki Commons (click to enlarge) – and, yes, they’re all French puns: so?

Copyright © Minnie at Les Minimes (minniebeaniste) 2009-2011. This content is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this content feed on other websites breaches copyright.

Nous ne les oublions pas


TV grab via France Télévisions, 12 April 2010

A year has  now passed since the post below was published.  What is happening to this pair and all the other hostages is unimaginable, as is the suffering of those who care for them.  Formerly an exerciser of their trade in safety,  I salute their courage in risking all to bring us the news we depend upon so much. Whatever we may say about the press, we still – for the most part – benefit from its freedom. A precious freedom which must be protected and never lost.  Like all that is worth having, it comes at a high price.

From 13 May 2010:

This weekend the boss of France-Télévisions Patrick de Carolis (un Provençal, d’origine arlésienne) flies to Afghanistan to see what may be done to free two French journalists who have now been been held hostage there for 135 days – since 29 December 2009, in fact.
Their names are Stéphane Taponier and Hervé Ghesquière, and a campaign for their release has been underway for some time. Florence Aubenas, who is fronting the campaign, has said that there is no such thing as a small gesture – ie even the smallest contribution counts. So as I was once a journo myself, I’d like at the very least to show solidarity with their cause.
Apparently, the pair are in good health; but I cannot begin to imagine how fearful they, their loved ones, and their friends and colleagues must be. God bless them and all those trying to ensure that Stéphane and Hervé soon descend the stairs of their plane to set foot once more on French soil.

Entente musicale


Angel, ceiling of Muchelney Church, Somerset – photo by Sarah Smith, The Geograph Project

Nadia appeared on my doorstep yesterday, pyjama-clad and brimming with excitement.
“Come with me tonight – the choir are singing at the church over the road! My friend is with them, and it’s for a good cause!” Sensing indecision, she yanked on my arm: “Come! It’ll be fun!”
Off she scampered across the landing, the compact bundle bursting with youthful energy and enthusiasm that she both is and is not.
An evening in front of Arte’s transmission of Adriana Lecouvreur with none other than Jonas Kaufmann beckoned, so the choice wasn’t easy.  Still, Nadia is nearly impossible to resist.  Besides which, why bother?
After supper Nadia, Mado and I went forth, charging across the main road and then another street, attempting to intercept a taxi’s progress without success. I dragged a disapproving Nadia out of his path.
“He must be gay” tutted Nadia, “otherwise he would have stopped for us, such belles filles as we are!”
In the churchyard, volunteers had set out their wares – a choice of snacks and cakes, drinks hot and cold, that we eyed with intent: something for the interval.
Inside the joint was jumping, or rather a crowd of small children, dressed to the nines in page-boy or princess style, were. Although they were remarkably quiet, their restiveness compensated for by buttoned lips all round.
But not for long: the concert began with the children’s voices competing with tom-toms. No contest, I fear: kids nil; tom-toms 3. Proud parents (except those of the tom-tom smiters) tried to hide their disappointment in mobile phone flashes and digital camera filming. I sighed inwardly, already feeling deprived of der Jonas, and his ability to balance unrestrained romanticism with integrity of heroic proportions. The kids and, later, the adult choral singers had … competition.
Or so I thought. Gradually, the sheer convivial energy of live music-making worked its habitual magic. On most of  the audience, that is. A few sneaked away after the first set. Their loss, for the offending drums were discarded and the second half of the evening consequently came alive: an unforgiving acoustic was triumphantly overcome, and the concert ended with wholehearted audience participation followed by a cheering, stamping standing ovation.
In the interval, Mado, Nadia and I had joined the crowds in the churchyard to eat cake and slake our thirst. I met some of the choir who’d recognised Nadia as a former member (she’d been too busy with other matters this year to participate), and we all agreed that those blardy drums had been too much: “they spoiled everything,” lamented Nadia, as Mado and I nodded in frustrated agreement. “It would have been better not to have had any drumming.”
We went back inside to join a more … intimate audience.
The two soloists, Coline and Alex, were fabulous in their own ways: Coline a trained mezzo, and Alex with a less refined – but still rounded, rich and full – pop-style voice. The material selected was just right for each one, with the inevitable trotting out of Gounod’s syrupy Ave Maria, which at least served to showcase Coline’s voice as the powerful and beautiful instrument it is, and complemented Alex’s full-throated and dramatic interpretation of the old Aznavour standard, La Bohème.
Time sped by, and suddenly it was the end: the place erupted with a final rendition of Oh, Happy Day – complete with Nadia, Mado and me all bawling along loudly (and with entirely appropriate cheerfulness) – before we all spilled out into the semi-darkness of late night on a Saturday.
Walking the short distance back home, our conversation tripped and bounced from topic to topic like the child choristers at the beginning of the evening. Tipping ourselves into the lift, we toyed with the idea of disturbing the residents – “Our turn,” said Nadia, “to show them what it’s like!”
Mado and I grinned ruefully.
I asked if they’d heard the racket last week, when the lad on the top floor held a mid-week party that went on ’till after 4 o’clock in the morning. They had; how could they not?
“I came back from my shift around the time they were leaving,” snapped Mado, “and so had the dubious pleasure of bumping into some of them – they were rat-arsed and stinking of booze!”
“Monsieur Pastorelli told me he’d asked them to pipe down at 2 o’clock,” I reported. “But they just carried on. Honestly, the very idea of anyone ignoring Monsieur Pastorelli!”
Three minds duly, simultaneously and tacitly, boggled at the thought.
As we sighed, agreed our musical evening had been fun and made our farewell embraces, another thought struck us: the event had been a huge success, raising an impressive sum for the charity it was sponsoring. Thanks to one of the charity organisers, we had already heard the good news: “Musicality, conviviality and solidarity,” he’d said. “All conjoined to great effect.” A recently-founded charity catering for homeless youngsters had received just the cash booster it required. In raising the roof of the church, they – and we – had helped provide shelter for people in need.
So Jonas Kaufmann (and Cilea) can wait. For a while anyway.

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Ubi caritas et amor (et spes)


Bonhoeffer says somewhere that when someone you love dies, they leave a space. And that this space is necessary: it isn’t a mere gap or void within your emotional sphere, it is rather a place which the dear departed may occupy. It’s an attractive idea. But sometimes I do wish that forgetting might be included in the entire, dismal package of loss and mourning.  Some people – some things or even places – leave such abysses behind in their wake that they threaten to engulf you. So for this reason it is vitally important to believe in love. In all its availability and ubiquity, it is there to be grasped – however briefly – whenever it appears.
Ten days ago, stopping at one of my favoured stalls at the Cours I found myself face-to-face with The Keeper of the Shrine. Before I could greet her, she had reached out and kissed me on both cheeks while enquiring about my health and wellbeing. Aha! Not only proof of acceptance by none other than the talismanic KotS but also the prospect of something good in the offing (past experience of TKotS validates my superstition).
No surprise then, when a few days later I received a heartening card from a dear Welsh friend. Closely followed by  meeting Nadia by chance at the post office which led to an impromptu catch-up chat over a cup of chocolate in a café where Mimie is working part-time. Mimie, who’d just come off duty, joined us.  A few hours later, Mado cornered me by the lift and told me her news: she’s about to start the next stage of her prestigious post-grad studies. Well, yes of course she is: that’s Mado!
Then to me – and many others – the Royal Wedding gave further pleasure. For the first time in years I felt proud to be British. Happy to be Anglican. And, best of all, able to rejoice unequivocally in a marvellous combination of state pomp with a deliriously happy, family occasion where all well-wishers were welcome. The occasion was very well-served by France2, who made the most of some rather disappointing footage from the BBC. In London this consisted of reporters led by local correspondent Jacques Cardoze – whose team even managed to find Brits capable of speaking French!  Back in the studio beautiful Marie Drucker’s cool intelligence and high competence coaxed the best out of French telly historian Stéphane Bern and fashion supremo Karl Lagerfeld. All points were covered, from gifts to charity instead of wedding presents to the economies made and to the details of background and protocol. KL, famously blunt, rapped out verdicts good and bad with his customary command of language. Until a ‘hat’ appeared – more an installation than a hat – precariously perched upon a Royal bonce, robbing even KL of both eloquence and self-possession: “atroce!” he barked. Indeed, so shocked to the core was he that he was still muttering “ah, non, non … ça … atroce!” minutes later. Happily, he recovered, shutting his trap with a snap and allowing Stéphane Bern – who wears his learning lightly – to regale us with quotes from George Orwell on the British Monarchy (something British audiences wouldn’t have had, I suspect …).
The next morning I saw a French acquaintance on the Prom’. He, too, in common with most of Nice it seems, had watched The Wedding. “I cried,” he murmured. “Don’t tell anyone!” So I’m not. Telling you who he is, that is.  Anyway, I’d cried too. Later that day, the butcher complained mock-bitterly: “Bloody wedding: bah! No customers – nobody! Not a soul came in here all morning!”  A lengthy queue of Frenchpersons and me jeered cheerfully back at him.
Later still, when hilarious footage emerged, these too were pounced on by the media and displayed for our delectation. [Hit links to see – if you dare – hideous scenes of appalling police brutality and disgracefully oppressive Christianity.]  Suddenly some of the old, characteristically innocent and cheeky merriment of my country had reappeared. Even if only for a while. Enough to show it is … still there.  And for a moment it seemed that the dreary pall created by greed and mean spirits had been dispersed, revealing sunlight. The dreariness is still there, of course; but for a day it was possible to ignore, even forget, its existence.  As the French commentators noted, the atmosphere in central London on that day was extraordinarily happy and the huge crowds relaxed and well-behaved. A world of possibilities was present in that moment shared by people of various ages, creeds, colours and classes.
The only disappointment for me was missing most of the better pieces (in my view) from the musical programme. Accordingly I was Parry’d-out (not being fond of his work, aside from ‘I was glad’). So for all fans of happy endings here’s another I’d like to share with you: in this song a series of trials ends in triumph – and love, well amor vincit omnia. As we hope it may.

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Making a song and dance


‘Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’

East Coker, T S Eliot

I have always loved this couplet of Eliot’s because it suggests so much while apparently simply offering hope.  There’s a sense of an inextinguishable current of beliefs and rituals running through it, powerful and natural.  Time to celebrate: we have come through. Time to allow optimism to override the distractions of thought. The old English song below tells how the annual alchemy is performed, replacing obscurity and exhaustion with enlightenment and renewal. This version of Holst’s setting is the best I’ve heard, and was recorded in the chapel of Exeter College, Oxford, in April 2009 by The Blenheim Singers.  Here is a profound expression of joy in all its playfulness and intent seriousness, where individuality merges with the collective without losing its singularity: just like a superb choir, in fact.  Bravo, bravissimo, Tom Hammond-Davies and the Blenheim Singers! [How I’d love to hear you sing Finzi …]