Fiona Alderman: The Lady in Black
From time to time the old Convent in Salignac hosts cultural evenings and the other weekend we were invited to a musical tribute to the French singer Barbara. A lovely lady, Mireille, sang and accompanied herself on piano, recalling the life of this wonderful singer.
Born Monique Serf in 1930 with Russian background and Jewish family, Barbara grew up during the war. She escaped the hunt for the Jews by the Nazis but had a personal drama herself. By the age of 10 she was sexually abused by her father but in those days it wasn’t spoken about. She did however try to talk to someone later on but wasn’t believed. Her father would leave the family in 1949 and would never return.
She found refuge in music and already very accomplished she went to Belgium where she tried to enter into cabaret. It was there she met the young Jacques Brel and they formed a lasting friendship.
She chose her stage name there and was singing the songs of Edith Piaf but wasn’t hugely successful.
However by 1959 she was spotted and would record her first single, followed by an album called Barbara sings Brassens. Brel would encourage her throughout these years including with lyric writing.
Her career would develop rapidly and her now famous songs Ma Plus Belle Histoire, which was dedicated to her audiences, and L’Aigle Noir came from her horrors of incest. The black piano she played symbolised this dark period in her life.
She toured extensively throughout the world too with her distinctive voice – crystal clear and emotional at the same time. Despite her difficult childhood she was a warm and kind person with a wry sense of humour. Moving to the countryside of the Seine et Marne to an old farm where she transformed a barn into a small theatre. There she started to write her memoirs.
She was awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest recognition of service given in France but by the 1990’s was failing in health. She died in 1997 of respiratory problems surrounded by friends and family and her legacy now lives on with the Barbara Prize, awarded annually to a young French speaking singer.
Happy Birthday Moulin Rouge
This famous cabaret in the Montmartre district of Paris celebrates it’s 130th birthday this year.
Dating back to La Belle Epoque of 1889 and the building of the Eiffel Tower, Paris was at this time in the throes of great cultural change. The Moulin was distinctive by its red windmill on top of the theatre and was at the heart of cafe nightlife where everyone would mingle and enjoy the birth of the lively dance the Can -Can.
Artists like Henri Toulouse -Lautrec would sketch the dancers and these colourful posters were used as adverts for the theatre, which itself was unique for the architecture of its auditorium and the facility to change sets rapidly.
It was know for titillating costumes and beautiful girls. The champagne flowed and the scandals started. The famous writer of the time,Colette, writer of Gigi, would be seen kissing a duchess one evening and allegedly the show was cancelled. Even an elephant was rumoured to have escaped from the enclosed gardens behind the theatre and was seen roaming around Paris
Stars would be born there through from Mistinguett a French singer, and eventually an International one, to Broadway artists Adelaide Hall, The Cotton Club and Ray Ventura and his Orchestra, who all played there at some stage.
During the Second World War shows were a sellout for the troops and by the time of the Liberation Edith Piaf and a young Yves Montand would be appearing there with huge success.
American singers such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Lena Horne and Liza Minelli would also perform later on as would ballet stars Zizi Jeanmaire and Michael Baryshynikov.
Since the 60’s the shows would only be named with the letter F, like Frou-Frou, Fascination, Festival and now only called Feerie. The beautiful tall dancers are highly trained and wear the trademark feathers and sequinned costumes with pride and they all exude glamour. I remember when I was a young dancer, the Moulin Rouge was the very epitome of the business and an audition with them would be something to be proud of.
A sumptuous meal plus the show now costs about 200 euros but it is always packed with both French visitors as well as tourists from all over the world.
Happy Birthday Moulin Rouge!
And the last word
Photo of Mo on the left with her son Toerag on the right.)
It goes to our beloved cat Mo, who died recently at the amazing age of 19. I have mentioned her here many times over the years as she was so special.
Her name came about when her mum, Fifi, had 4 kittens, three golden coloured and the last one a pretty dark tabby cat. We thought of calling them Eeeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo! The name stuck with Mo and in French she was le dernier mot. The last word. Sleep well my brave girl.
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