When people say to us how lovely and quiet living here must be, I laugh and say you are joking! So many different changes from one day to the next. New shops opening including another boulangerie that has created a fuss, neighbours shouting at each other and a lot of uncertainty in French politics. There is much talk in the cafés about how Monsieur Macron, Le Président , is doing and things get very heated as the French tend to interrupt each other and raise their voices several decibels. The polling station here in Salignac was open for two Sundays to vote for the Parliamentary candidates. We cannot vote in this but only for the local elections. We have been watching people come in a steady stream, to talk together and sometimes to continue afterwards with a drink in the café.
There have been quite a few relationship breakups too and we have been listening to many a tale of woe. It's always difficult not to take sides and we patiently listen as each party gets it off their chest.I t does them good but at the end we are exhausted.
There is a new dry cleaning service in the village which is doing a roaring trade. It's called “Le Vapeur Verte” it is eco friendly and specialises in laundry for businesses. It also cleans leather goods. I have started to go there as I work in a gîte during the summer and need to wash the sheets every week. Usually I have done he laundry tbut the Dutch owners wish to try this servic. The proprietor is a very bright and vivacious young lady, who is a fast talker which needs tuning into carefully but I think I manage okay and we are even on first name terms now. I watched the design being painted onto the shop front – Serge Gainsbourg and a wry comment on how to love ironing! So French.
I have been meaning to talk about this man for a long time. He is Gilbert Becaud, a singer and an an absolute icon of the French music business. He began songwriting in 1948, touring as a pianist where he first met Edith Piaf, who encouraged his many talents. He began to sing because of her. He co wrote a song for her “ Je t’ai dans la peau “ which was to become a worldwide standard, 'Let it be Me', and was sung by other artists such as Willie Nelson, the Everley Brothers, and even Nina Simone. He would go on to work in America and discover the style of Frankie Lane and Johnny Ray, adapting these to his own style, a mixture of energetic swing but with a Gallic charm.
By 1954, Becaud had already become something of a legend , and it was at the newly named ex music hall in Paris, the Olympia that he became known as Mister 1000,000 Volts because of his energy and immense stage presence. However, not everybody liked him and at the time he was mocked for his strong Southern France accent and his peculiar action of holding his ear whilst singing . His style of playing the piano was unuusal at the time, thumping out with his fist on the keyboard. He would always wear his trademark blue tie , with white polka dots that had been inspired by his mother’s dresses in the 40’s. His song “Et Maintenant “ would become the biggest hit in French history and would be recorded as 'What Now My Love?' by both Shirley Bassey and Frank Sinatra.
Becaud wrote for Neil Diamond “September Morn” and” Love on the Rocks” for the film 'The Jazz Singer' and another hit called “Natalie “ which was deemed quite controversial as it was about the Russian Revolution and a female guide from Moscow. He would continue to tour around the world and every year return to his beloved L’Olympia –always with always something new to surprise the public.
One year he had a new piano made out of blue Plexi glass which was inclined deeply onto the stage, and in another he had real trees planted in the hall.
Unfortunately, he succumbed to a cancer as he was a very heavy smoker and sadly died of in 2001 surrounded by his family and children. Never forgotten and his children continued his legacy with a comedy musical “Madame Roza “, written by Bécaud, and a series of DVD’s recorded at L’ Olympia , plus many compilations of his outstanding work which are still available. I watch on YouTube and am still enchanted.
The national emblem of the French Republic is called La Marianne and is to be found as busts in town halls, law courts and on Government logo. Her image is also found on French euro coins , documents and postage stamps but where did she originate from? It was born during the French Revolution, 1792, the monarchy was dissolved and a new image was found to represent La République – a woman dressed in antique clothes, holding a flag in her right hand and in the left hand carrying a rifle. She wears a red bonnet depicting freedom. Two popular names, Marie and Anne resulted in Marianne. The famous painting by Delacroix “La liberté guidant le peuple “ shows a bare breasted woman leading the way forward, through the smoke and fire of battle with her people following bravely. A striking image. There would be paintings of the signing of “L’Entente Cordiale” between France and Britain in 1904 and official busts were to be seen in all the mairies in France.
They had anonymous faces of women until 1969 when it was decreed to have them depicting famous French women. Brigitte Bardot was the very first and every year the stars such as Mireille Mathieu, Catherine Deneuve, Ines De La Fressange and latterly Sophie Marceau would be sculpted in bronze or marble.
I wish you all a peaceful summer from rural France . Until the next time.
“Fifi’s story from La France Profonde” . June 2017. www.salignacfoundation.com Dance and film courses SW France.